Behind the Scenes - How Many Pics are 'Keepers'?

Although I'm a creative person, I don't mind the supporting tasks of running a business.  I graduated as an engineer and later obtained an MBA - so spreadsheets, finance, and efficiency are second nature.  As a photographer and small business owner, one very important element of efficiency is how many shots are 'keepers' - i.e. what percent of pictures are spared the recycle bin.  For me, it's about 5-10%.  Not much.  And that percentage is...falling.  Huh?

Why isn't the keep rate improving?  With digital imaging, the costs and time required to take hundreds of photos during a client's session are low - so low that during a day's conference work, I'll take several thousand. And as my skills improved, my 'keep' rate - fell.  As I learned to capture better images, I learned to cull, hard.  Because what gets kept needs editing, and average shots need A LOT of editing to make the cut.  Not efficient.

So picture me at the computer the evening after a client's shoot.  Waiting for the images to download.  Middle finger (how appropriate!) on the 'down' key, left index finger on the '1' key.  Ready, set, go:  click click click click click, 1 image per second, and every now and then a 'click-click', meaning it's marked with a '1' as a potential keeper.  At 60 images per minute, that's about 10 minutes to get through the first round of culls.  Then filter for just the 1's.  Next, mark 2's, then 3's and sometimes 4's.  What's left are the best images from the session, which will be presented to the client.  And it sounds like a dull process, but it's not!

Because if you watched closely, every now and then you'd see my face light up, eyes widen and mouth curl into a smile, and left index finger hit '5'.  An exceptional image, far and above the others.  Editing a session is an exciting discovery process, that ends with digital gold.  In fact, it's more satisfying than the shoot itself.  

As my photography improved, that golden treasure got shinier and more valuable.  And now, I only want the most beautiful, surprising, compelling shots.  And so, the 'keep' rate fell.  

As time goes on I expect it will rise again.   I'm becoming more selective about WHAT I capture; I no longer grab the camera for every flower or soap bubble.  Now I wait for the golden moments most likely to produce images that meet my higher standard.  The exception is photographing children - that remains a numbers game, as they are so unpredictable.  But overall, those 5-10% of images are getting better and better, and I'm perfectly happy with that :)    

                                                                 This image was buried in a series - everything came together - his expression and the backlit spray framing him were perfect.

                                                                 This image was buried in a series - everything came together - his expression and the backlit spray framing him were perfect.