Slow Down

One of the curses of digital photography is that it’s so easy. It’s so easy to shoot anything and everywhere. We end up shooting too fast and too much. In photography fast is not always better. We may do better by slowing down, be more deliberate in our approach.

In the days of analogue film, it cost somewhere around 25 cents for each click. That cost would make expenses rise quickly if you weren’t careful. It motivated photographers to learn their craft and to focus, concentrate, and compose in a more mindful way. Back then, you couldn’t just hold down the shutter and hope, not even on assignment with a comfortable budget.

Pushing a button is easy, but crafting a good photograph is hard. Lake paddling across the sea, it takes consistent work. If you have a long way to paddle you will quickly tire out if you go out too fast. In the long run slow is fast. The same in photography. If you want to create lasting images, don’t just shoot anything and everywhere. Don’t just hold down the shutter button. Rather be mindful and slow. As Chris Owen, photographer, teacher and best-selling author, says: “In the era of instant, it’s the permanent that stands out from the crowd.”

By slowing down you may actually accomplish more. Creating photographs that stand the test of time isn’t an easy thing to do. And I believe most people can’t make images that last, because they are moving too fast. We worry about moments missed, and we take pictures in a furious pace. In photo circles it’s called “spray and pray”—that is to say holding down the shutter and hope.

I notice it in myself particularly when I do street photography. In the beginning of a session, I run around searching for something, anything that is worth capturing. I am afraid I might miss a moment, I believe maybe around the corner is a better vantage point with more activity on the street. I end up shooting a lot of photos, but nothing worth keeping. It’s when I take a deep breath, slow down and decide to stay in one place, wait and let things happen in their own time and pace, that I slowly start to get images that might be worth keeping.

Making good photos requires effort from us. So we shoot a lot of photos to make up for our lack of skill. However, just because you can shoot a lot doesn’t mean you should. But we still do. Why? Because less takes more time. We don’t have—or don’t take—the time to take better photographs, so we end up settling for good or even inferior. We work quickly and hope for the best.

Creating photographs that last means, we need to change our pace. Even Ansel Adams used to say, “twelve significant photographs in a year is a good crop.” When you slow down and lower your expected output, you can become an artisan in your craft. The constrains of a slower pace beckons you to photograph in a more thoughtful way.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Fujifilm X10 with the lens set at 20 mm (the equivalent of a 80 mm for a full frame camera). Shutter speed: 1/800 s. Aperture: f/7,1. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Do you need some ideas to improve your photography and not having to spend a lot of money on new equipment? My eBook 10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera might be what you are looking for. It’s an inexpensive eBook full of inspiration, and it’s available on my website

87 thoughts on “Slow Down

  1. I’ve been thinking about this topic for the last few months myself. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of what I’m shooting, though I’m still working on learning manual settings, so I confess I often take 3 of the same subject with different settings…then I try to learn from what worked. But in general, once I get past this stage of my learning I am trying to slow down and take one good shot of whatever I’m pointing the camera at. It’s hard though to not want to take another, just in case. But I’m learning that then I just have 2 of the same.

    I remember film. There was still film when we went to Italy in 2006 and my husband was always on me to stop taking pictures because it was so expensive. But it was Italy! Everywhere I looked it was so beautiful! 🙂

    1. I didn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t take more than one image at a time. I certainly do, particularly when there is a lot going on. It all depends what you are photographing, of course. Thanks for sharing your experience from Italy. I can understand that you would keep shooting when there. 🙂

  2. I agree, though I think the current market is rewarding the quantity of quick, easy, and disposable. I think the images that will last will be from the more thoughtful and careful people. In my own work, I find I do best when I slow down, get in the right mental state, and make a plan. Beautiful image!

    1. It’s true that the world we live in now, wants everything fast and rather now than two seconds later. Which does cater for disposable images – or whatever else we are talking about.

  3. I agree. I do find though, that it is sometimes a balancing act. We go on a trip and I come back with a few good shots, and haven’t documented what I wanted to. At another time we go away and i come back with lots of documentary travel album shots and nothing really good.
    It’s hard to find the balance point.

    1. It is indeed about finding the right balance, which can often be hard when you are in the middle of it. However, slowing down doesn’t necessarily mean not shooting when something catches the attention. 🙂

  4. Now, this is one lesson I’ve already learned. Strangely enough, I first learned it when I began my blog. Everyone in the early days of blogging was convinced that the only way to build an audience was to post every day: very short pieces no more than 300 words, games, quizzes, memes, and so forth.

    I rejected that approach, knowing that the sorts of things I wanted to write would take more time to produce. And, if I was writing longer pieces, I had to allow people more time to get to them and read them. So, I decided on a once a week schedule.

    Not long after, I was introduced by a friend to the so-called “slow blogging” movement. Its emphasis was on quality rather than quantity, creativity, and satisfaction for both writer and reader, rather than simply piling up “hits” and “likes.” It seems to me a nice parallel to what you’re advising here: “slow(er) photography” as a way to satisfying the photographer, produce memorable images, and build an audience or clientele.

    One reason I prefer to go out by myself to photograph is that I can slow down. Being on assignment would be a different thing, I suppose, but as it is, I’m free to do as I did yesterday: take six hours and head out, simply to see what I can see. What I’ve learned is that there’s always something to see, and sometimes I even bring home an image worth keeping.

    1. I didn’t know there was a slow blogging movement. But I guess I am part of that, then. And I completely agree with you argument. It’s not about likes and hits, but about communication and connecting.

  5. I learned how to use a Nikon FM in the early 80’s and I shot some of the best photos with that camera. As I look back at some of those images I am still amazed that I did so good given the fact it cost money every time you clicked and I had no way to edit, other than in the darkroom. But there is so much value, (more than just the cost of each click), to slowing down and being more deliberate. I still have that camera but have handed it down to my son who actually uses it from time to time. I should borrow it back and have a day of shooting film. This is a great post Otto! Thank you.

  6. the slow movement is everywhere, slow food, slow travel, and it is when we slow down that we take, or should I say, make, the opportunity to really experience and learn from what we are doing, really feel what is going on. When we are just saying “wow” and click the shutter we are not thinking what is going on or how best to portray the feeling; it is the feeling, the emotion that a photographer portrays in an image that will resonates with both themselves and the viewer of the images and make the image timeless.

    1. Right to the point. Slowing down gives us a change to respond and experience on a deeper level whatever we are doing. And, yes, it is the emotions we want to capture in our images, not just some superficial expression.

  7. I am getting way better at this, especially in the past year. I will now stop and look at the subject, usually wildlife, and see if the photo is worth taking. Sometimes the action is happening so fast, it is a spray and pray moment. I am finding more and more though, that I don’t want to plow through 1000 images after a shoot. I would rather have a smaller group of photos to cull the good stuff from.

  8. I’m convinced taking less photos = less stress and slowing down in a mindful manner is very becoming and I’m with all the way, Otto. We have reduced blogging to twice a month for the reasons you bring up.
    Thank you for sharing and all the best for your book!

  9. Beautiful photograph Otto and as ever, a very good article.
    I started taking photographs in the days of film and my pocket money really didn’t run to processing terribly many pictures so I had a good apprenticeship in making them count.
    When I first got my digital camera, I was blasting away and spending far too much time in Lightroom looking for ‘the’ photo. A ridiculous waste of time.
    I took the decision a few years ago to slow down, remember my film days. Find my vantage point overlooking the landscape photograph I want to take and then wait for the light to be just right. Having limited mobility these days has certainly helped with this approach. I can’t go charging about checking this angle and that and firing off a ton of pictures at each location. I find my spot, remote shutter control in hand and just enjoy the countryside while I wait for everything to be right. I’ve been out today in Fuerteventura and taken just 12 photographs. I’ve picked two. Much less of a headache when one gets home.

    1. I had just the same experience as you. When I went from analog to digital I was blasting away, too. Particularly when I got a really fast camera. It was first later when I changed to a slower camera again, that I discovered I had run rampage before. Since then it’s been a process to slow down again. 🙂

  10. This post oddly brought back memories of the movie “Blowup”, an Antonioni film which I saw in the mid-60’s. At the time I had no idea rapid-fire cameras even existed until I heard the click-zip click-zip of the automatic film advance as the fashion photographer star of the movie fired away making the shots that would become the premise of the movie. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to have a camera like that! Little did I know…and so here we are today with the revelation that fast is not always better!

    1. So it is. And even back then those of us who had a motor drive on the camera (which I did), we still had to change film every 36 frames. That is only a couple of seconds worth of shooting with today’s cameras. 🙂

  11. Great essay about slow down to take pictures. Someone told me a long time back, about something along this line to (think before you shoot). Although, it does not apparent cost but those pictures take up room on memory card and disk space.

  12. Otto, this a great advice for any level of photographer. Myself, I have been taught back in photography school,: aiming your first shot as the best, after that you can play with different variations. I have kept these teachings until now in my work.

  13. Years ago, shooting film and being heavily involved with statistics, I calculated my good v bad shots at about 10% in an attempt to improve the ratio. This analysis led me to believe much of what you are saying here. It’s great advice even for the seasoned photographer.

  14. I’m not a photographer Otto, as much as I would like to be, but when I am taking pictures I find myself in your words, snapping pictures at random rather than stopping, waiting for that “ahh” moment when something outstanding appears, something that one wants to catch in still life to not be forgotten. Such wonderful advice, thank you Otto!

  15. Your posts are always so positive and encouraging. You’re so right about not wanting to miss the moment, yet having the wisdom to truly absorb what’s there.

    In this new location, I often take many photos in hopes of ‘catching’ the elusive bird in order to identify it. The camera often catches things that happen so fast I’d miss them w/the not-so-fast human eye…. like the moment the bird catches an insect or pilfers a worm from the foliage.

    After that, it’s so nice just to leave the camera at arm’s length and watch – truly watch nature. or human nature until an ‘aha!’ moment presents itself!

    1. In earlier years, I would be frustrated if I couldn’t capture moments like you describe here, of when I didn’t even bring a camera. These I am happy just taking in the moment, as you describe, too.

      1. Getting older is such a gift! I’ve always been patient, but now it comes with patience and insider knowledge/wisdom thanks to experience. I think what’s most important is to have a smile in one’s heart, and then everything flows, even when it doesn’t!

  16. Hello Otto,
    What a brilliant and timely post and advice.
    I just pulled out my non iPhone camera after a hibernation period so to read this now was so helpful.
    I’ll certainly keep your words in mind as my camera and I get aquatinted with each other again.
    Thank you. And what a stunning capture at the top of your post.
    Until soon,
    Di 🙋🏻💐💐💐

      1. I am, thank you Otto. And with photography in general. It’s been a busy couple of months and I stopped it.
        And yes….I’m returning to the slow way. Like the ‘slow food movement’ you have created a photographic equivalent 😍

  17. Towards the end of 2012, when street photography seemed to be all the rage, I looked aghast at the amount shots that were taken and uploaded worldwide in just that year. That’s when I said that I cannot contribute to this SP fad. I absolutely must be come more discerning about my shot in street and other photographer genres.

    I’m not just talking about deleting many shots after I have captured them because they’re not up to snuff. My mindset is to really question as to whether I should even bother pressing the shutter release in the first place. I feel it’s imperative that I force myself to use a DSLR as I did many years ago with an SLR and analogue film and slides. I made seriously crafted imagery back then. Stop spraying and praying. Stop taking pictures, and return to making pictures, as Adams once said.

  18. My recent holiday in the Alps was the first time I really slowed down and devoted some days to photographing the detail, as opposed to a day’s walking to reach a specific objective. I think I’ve learnt bad habits when I take images out walking – they are inevitably shots that are ‘grabbed’ rather than thought through because if you spent a few minutes finding the very best viewpoint and waiting for the light for every shot you would never reach the objective you were aiming for. Having days dedicated to photography has made a huge difference. A very useful post, Otto.

  19. This is so true and I have to admit I’m often guilty of rushing and taking too many shots instead of focusing on quality. Thanks for the reminder to slow down.

  20. I agree with the points you make. Whenever possible I like to spend time with the subject before I take the picture, to decide exactly why I want to take that photo and what I want to say. But there is one other point: the opportunities for extending the creative process beyond the clicking of the shutter are far greater now than in the days of analogue film. I spend a lot of time experimenting with my images and often take a picture for its potential rather than as a finished product.

  21. My grandmother was fond of speaking in Russian proverbs. One that has stayed with me can be translated as “The slower you go, the farther you get.”

    One circumstance in which taking a lot of pictures in a hurry seems warranted is when a subject is moving quickly. With waterfalls, for example, I’ve noticed that two frames taken a fraction of a second apart can show the water quite differently.

    1. And the same goes for photographing people in motion. You are right. In certain situations it’s good to have the capability of shooting fast, but generally I think slowing is valuable.

  22. This is such good advice, Otto. I think you’re right. I am certainly one who takes too many photos hoping that in the “mix” something of quality will emerge. You’ve encouraged me to slow down!

  23. Love this, such an accurate look at all things in life, when focusing on quality. Quality beats quantity every time, especially when you are putting your name on it. The Chris Owen quote you use speaks the truth: “In the era of instant, it’s the permanent that stands out from the crowd.” Think, form and then shoot. Although I have to admit how awesome it is to be able to experiment so freely with such things as depth of field/shutter speed in the digital age, and see your results instantaneously 🙂

  24. Great advice, and it bears repeating in our sped-up age. I think it’s becoming harder and harder to slow down, when all around you, the world moves so quickly. That can be addictive, too. So some very conscious decisions have to be made, one almost has to yell to oneself to hear one’s inner wisdom amidst the cacophony. I think you struck a chord with this post!

  25. As always Otto good wise words! I learn to photograph many years ago (so many!) with film, and I was a student so not much money available…therefore I had to learn to slow down and think well what and how to shoot!
    And this is one of the reasons for which I still like sometimes to shoot film…calm and slow…it’s a good exercise!
    Even with digital nowadays I shoot in a “filmic way” maybe I take some more photos but absolutely not machine gun style!
    And editing becomes quicker…

    1. Shooting with film not only makes for a different expression because it has a different quality than digital capture. Just as important is the different approach it forces the photographer to take, as you point out here, Robert.

  26. Underbar och mycket passande bild till ett intressant inlägg Otto. Kloka ord och råd.
    Tack!!!! 🙂

  27. A stunning photograph, Otto, and a wonderful article! I’m only at the beginning to stretch my wings photographic wise and agree with you that it’s not quantity that counts but quality. But especially as a beginner it’s actually nice not to have to pay for every faulty click I make. 😂 But I do remember the days of analogue photography well and sometimes miss the excitement that accompanied the waiting for the shots to be developed…
    Have a lovely and creative day! Sarah

    1. It’s not only for beginners it’s nice not to have to pay for every mistake or every capture that turns out less than good. Thank you for comment, Sarah, and may you have a great day yourself.

  28. Very true words. So much of life is now conducted at breakneck speed I find it very restorative to get out in the landscape with a camera and slow things down.

  29. I think you’ve been watching me, Otto, shooting wildly and accomplishing little! I’m trying to slow down, but need to train my eyes to focus on one point and not swivel round like an owl!

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