Keeper Rate, Burst Shots and Other Expert Myths

Shot 1/30th second through the trees at Road America. So, what's your keeper rate? I get this question a lot.

First... who cares? I mean seriously, all that matters are the shots you keep.

Wayne Gretzky said it best, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Second, photography is not "marksmanship" rifle shooting. It's art. It's about composition, exposure and sure, to a certain degree, accuracy. But this notion that burst shooting is "spray and pray" is nonsense. Burst shooting is ESSENTIAL in action photography. That's why it was created. Not just to increase your chances of getting a shot, but to create an opportunity of providing choices and choosing the best of a sequence of shots. For example, in motorsports, if you are a panning an apex there is geometry involved. If I burst five and three are nice, I can choose the best... not simply accept the one I got.


Better. Car is closer to the camera... a little more tension and we have air under the car adding to the height of the elevation.Good shIn a lot of sports, a lot can happen in one second. When a receiver is catching a ball, there will be moments where the ball is not yet in his hands, in his hands, or ideally, JUST touching his hands. Don't kid yourself, even 8-10 frames per second isn't fast enough to always get it right. The same goes for getting those great shots of the ball leaving the bat, or tennis racket… or a golf ball in flight with the golfer staring it down. Burst shooting not only increases the opportunity to get those shots, it allows us to get them better. It's all about BETTER.

My philosophy, if you are not deleting, you are not trying hard enough.

Good.Better.Best. While not taken from the same burst sequence, this series still demonstrates the benefit of burst shooting and shooting a lot. All good, but the third one (to me) is great.Keeper is simply a frame of reference. Keepers are simply your personal benchmark for "ok." They are simply what you accept as good solid shots. They are meaningless in the grand scheme of things... unless your goal is mediocrity.

I'll easily log 5000 frames for a 2-3 day event. I will delete 2000-3000 of them.

Using Aperture, the remaining images will be sorted and ranked. They will be stored "in case" someone calls that needs a specific shot. I've learned over the years, you can never second guess an ad agency… and I really have no reason to delete the photos anyway. Local drive space is cheap.

After ranking and sorting my "keepers," about 650 images that I feel represent my work and the quality I perceive as true to my brand, are given a three-star rank. These are good solid inventory. They are all processed, captioned and keywords added.

Of that 650, about 150 will be promoted to a five-star rank and moved to my online archive at Photoshelter. Maybe 10-20 of those will be tagged for consideration in my year-end portfolio. By year end, after shooting 50,000-60,000 images, about 150-200 will be reviewed and narrowed down to 80-100 for a my Year In Review.

Best. This is a three frame sequence right from the camera. In the last frame, the driver's hand has shifted opening up her face to the camera and the water in the background as closed up creating a nice full curtain for the background. Better.Good.Each year, the degree you improve becomes smaller. And while improvements become more difficult to reach they also become more important in defining your finished work. After all, the devil is in the details. This is no different than any endeavor where you want to perform at your best.

Take the race cars we shoot. When someone brings out a new race car they immediately begin shaving whole seconds of their lap times throughout early testing. The testing provides great strides in their improvement. As they dial things in, the increments of improvement become smaller.... in the next phases they begin chasing 1/10 of a second improvements. With each session, it becomes more and more difficult to shave time. By the time a team and new car are clicking and they're fighting for a championship, they will be working endless hours and spending untold resources chasing down another 1/100th of a second. Those last 1/100th's are the most difficult and most costly (both in dollars and human resource) to attain... but... THAT is what it takes to win!

Good. The two leaders approach the stripe... checkers are up... maybe a touch to early.Good. Cars are position well... but, the flags not open. Not bad, but....Best. Cars are at the stripe, checker is unfurled. Sure, I'd have prefered the flag a little more out over the car and away from the stand, but this is why we shoot burst frames. I can't control what the flag man is doing. The burst allowed me to pick the best from what I had. All three good... one better.Think about a golf tournament.... 100 guys play for three or four days.... over 72 holes. One player wins… and after all those playing holes and all those strokes, how many times is the winning margin more than one stroke? The winner gets something like a million bucks and a Mercedes while the second place guy gets $100K and a Buick. A difference of one stroke. But it's a big difference in the end, isn't it?

You're goal in photography should be no different. It requires you leave nothing on the table and leave nothing to chance. It's not about marksmanship... it's about creativity and pushing yourself. Sure you've got to technically "nail" the shot, but you've also got to create the shot and make it your own.

Don't settle. Don't put limitations on yourself.. EVER…. unless your goal is mediocrity.

Just one man's point of view.