Recently I went on a trip and took around 400 shots and I thought they are all great, and unfortunately most of them went into trash and approximately 30 pictures considered as a top-notch shots. The other shots didn't have a good frame or some of them were blurry and/or too dark (I'm trying not use live view at all and use M mode most of the time). The question I'm asking from pro photographers is whether a pro takes that many shots? Am I too amateur? Or is this a normal procedure and even a pro will purge many of his/her shots into the trash and give them 1-star?

30 good shots in my amateur point of view is pictures like below that is taken by me:

https://500px.com/photo/130530449/imprisoned-autumn-by-alireza-hosaini https://500px.com/photo/130531969/live-or-die-by-alireza-hosaini https://500px.com/photo/130531329/life-in-golden-autumn-by-alireza-hosaini

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also see: What is the distinction between a professional an amateur photographer? \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Nov 28, 2015 at 14:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why use M mode? M mode requires you to do work to correctly expose your shots and you say you're throwing away a lot of shots because they're not correctly exposed. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 28, 2015 at 19:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ M mode is sometimes the best choice for a specific situation. Sometimes not. The difference between the pro and the amateur is knowing when it is best to use it and when it is best not to use it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 29, 2015 at 0:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a note that does not really belong in my answer: Metering is a fantastic invention, you really should not be using Manual mode indiscriminately. Only when you can take time to meter or make some tests shots. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Nov 29, 2015 at 1:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AlirezaHos It sounds like you feel that it's somehow better to use M mode than any other mode. It isn't. M mode is a tool, like any other mode. The time to use M mode is when you know what the correct exposure is and your camera is getting it wrong. Don't use it just because you feel it's more "pure" or you get photo karma points or something. In particular, don't use it when your camera knows what the correct exposure is and you're getting it wrong. Do you have an external exposure meter? If not, use the one in your camera! \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29, 2015 at 10:02

6 Answers 6


I used to be a pro, so I can answer this:

This is absolutely normal; it is even very good!

I consider 30 good pics out of 400 a very good result! The most important point is IMHO that you go over your shots and select. The "reflection process" is important. It is the place where you learn to take good pictures. This is what most amateurs don't do. And this is what separates you from amateurs. It's not whether you use live view or M mode. (My personal opinion is to use live view and P mode when they deliver the best results.)

Let me add an anecdote from a visit to the photokina (It was probably 1982 or 1986): There was a photographer presenting his works and they were really good stuff. He was asked the question how he does it to get that many good shots. His answer was:

I have a miracle box at home. I can grab into that box and take out a bad picture. Again, I can grab into that box and get another bad picture. Again and again and again.
This box contains all the pictures that didn't make it. And this box is usually quite full.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would put it this way: pros have to reflect and select the best shots; amateurs should. and many skilled and advanced amateurs do, even if they have no intention of ever making a career of it. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 28, 2015 at 13:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm I completely agree. \$\endgroup\$
    – user23573
    Nov 28, 2015 at 15:49

One thing to consider is what style of photographer you fashion yourself as. Some schools take more pictures than others and see different success rates.

  • Are you shooting sports? You have no control over the action so you're probably going to spray-and-pray until you get the perfect shot. You may only get 1 sellable photo out of 1000.
  • Are you shooting on the street? This can be hit or miss; you may or may not have control over anything depending on what you're shooting. Plus you'll be experimenting a lot. You'll keep maybe 10-50 out of 1000.
  • Are you shooting a wedding? You have a little control over the action, things are slower-paced and you can anticipate proceedings. Your client also expects to fill an album with your work so you need to take at least 1000 to give them 100 keepers to choose from.
  • Are you shooting landscapes? Hit or miss. 5-10 out of 100 may be worth keeping.
  • Shooting in a studio? You control everything so there's no excuse for waste unless you're experimenting. You may take 100 and keep 10-30.
  • Photojournalist? You don't have time to take 1000 pictures or to sort through them later looking for keepers. You have deadlines to meet and competition to beat so get it right on the first try or you'll go hungry for another night.

Or you can fancy yourself a lomographer-- take 1000 photos and convince yourself all of them are winners.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Totally agree. And if you are the guy (solely) shooting the (biometric) passport photos, you can have a 4 out of 8 or even a 4 out of 4 relation. I guess even 4 out of 1 is sold, but that may not count ;-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris
    Nov 28, 2015 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: the photojournalist. Nah. They just need to get the WB and exposure right in camera so they can output straight ot jpeg. Then they shoot lots of frames and pick the good ones in camera to move to their editors. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 28, 2015 at 23:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a difference between "pray-and-spray" and taking a calculated approach to maximizing the chances of capturing the shot you want to get. In the later case the pro is going to apply all of the best principles he has learned that apply to a specific situation,and can nail the shot every time the same opportunity presents itself. The amateur often has no idea how he managed to capture the shot and might not be able to do it again under very similar shooting conditions. "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 29, 2015 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know a few wedding photographers who still shoot medium format film. They certainly don't take 1,000 shots to deliver a few hundred images to their client. They do deliver 100+ high quality images without needing to shoot 1,000+ exposures. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 29, 2015 at 14:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know any landscape pros who shoot at a 1:10 ratio. They may bracket three or five shots per composition to use in any one of several high dynamic range imaging techniques, but all of the exposures that go into the final combined images should be considered keepers because they are all a necessary ingredient of that final image. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 29, 2015 at 14:28

It depends on the amateur and the pro. It also depends on the type of work being done.

Some shooters work very methodically and set the table for a specific shot before the lens cap even comes off the camera. They may only take a handful of exposures. Other situations call for a more liberal approach to the number of frames exposed. But even then the seasoned pro is taking an active approach to controlling the things he can control so that when the "decisive moment" happens in front of him the shot will be nailed. When it was often suggested that his teams benefitted from far more than their fair share of good fortune, an iconic American college football coach used to be famous for saying, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

The pro usually discards shots not because they are so improperly exposed as to not be salvageable or because they are totally blurry due to poor camera handling or poor use of the camera's AF system. They are discarded because they're not quite as good as the shots that nailed the moment. Many of the pro's discards may be good enough for some non-pros to include in their keepers.

The pro knows how to setup the AF for a specific situation to increase the chances the AF system will select what he wants instead of what he doesn't want. Sure, AF is not perfect and will occasionally miss a little. But most mis-focused shots are missed because the photographer allows the camera to focus on something other than his intended target.

The pro knows how to read the situation and choose the best exposure/metering mode to maximize the chances that either the camera's metering system will give the desired exposure or that his manually chosen exposure will be correct.

The pro puts himself in the best spot to get the defining shot by actively thinking about how his position will impact the composition. If it's sports, for example, he anticipates where the action is going. He won't "hit" every time, but he will hit more often than someone just standing in the same spot and hoping the action comes to him.

When the pro gets an iconic shot, he understands how he managed to grab it and can reproduce that shot consistently when the same situation presents itself. Many time the amateur proves that "even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once-in-awhile."

In all of these areas, the key difference between the true pro and the less than professional amateur is the experience gained by learning from past mistakes and developing strategies to overcome the obstacles that led to that mistake. It is the lessons learned by examining the best work of the masters of the genre and actively analyzing how those images were captured and produced. It is the active planning, well ahead of the shot, to bring a specific vision to fruition.

Do most amateurs take the time and effort to do the learning away from the camera by reading articles and books by accomplished pros? (As an aside, too many of the articles I see on the internet seem written by people more interested in becoming known as a writer of internet photography articles than as a producer of quality photographs.) Do most amateurs spend as much time as a pro shooting a vast variety of subjects and situations, including many they aren't particularly enthusiastic about? Do most amateur photographers spend a lot of time after the fact self criticizing and reviewing their work as a means to constantly evolving and improving?

Can the amateur do any or all of these things? Of course the amateur can! But most don't.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Very detailed explanation +1. I appreciate for the time and energy you've for this answer, umm article :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Alireza
    Nov 30, 2015 at 7:59

It really depends. What you are referring to is the keeper ratio. There is no standard number because it depends on what you shoot and the quality of what you keep. At National Geographic, a few years ago, I was told it is about 100:1. Meaning 1 publication-worthy-image for every hundred photos taken.

Personally, I dislike throwing out so many images but I delete aggressively. What I started with a high ratio, I have been making a conscious effort to not shoot the photos that will not be kept by trying to pre-visualize and be extremely careful with composition and exposure. Over the years, I managed to reduce my keeper ratio to 8:1. On my first trip with a digital camera, it was over 300:1. Originally, I had kept 6:1 but that is because my standards were pretty low!

Some people shoot an enormous amount of images, thousands per day, to increase their number of keepers. I would dread having to look through so many awful images but it is a valid strategy. What I prefer is to aim for 2 perfect images per day of shooting and about a dozen keepers.

Your strategy should be heavily influenced by your subject matter. The faster a subject moves, the higher your ratio will be. For sports and fashion photography, professionals often shoot in burst mode because minute movements can make or break the image: Eyes not fully open, shadow passing by, weird fold in clothing, hair out of place, etc. Luckily, I shoot architecture and landscape mostly, so it is completely fine to compose each shot for several minutes, doing fine adjustment, waiting for elements to align, etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 100:1? That's worse than the "one per roll of film" I recall hearing. Maybe they have raised their standards... :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – user
    Nov 29, 2015 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, actually their probably started shooting more when going to digital because the cost of a poor image is very low now. I wonder how much more they shoot compared to the days of film. I would not be surprised if it was 10X but I'm just guessing now. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Nov 29, 2015 at 21:41

When I was shooting film,(back when it was not only film, but Black and White film). That's when I learned it was easier to make a good print from a good negative than a bad negative. That's why I shoot less, but better; because I had to develop, contact, edit and print my own stuff, and others too. I learned to more selective of how I shot and I'd get 30 keepers out of 36. Of course, it was in a semi controlled situation. In a studio, doing product shots, I'd get 3 good out of 5. -- but that includes bracketing. At Watkins Glen (races) I was a deliberative shooter, and got 75% keepers. Remember, just because there were shots I didn't need then, Many of them could be used for Stock Photography later.

It all depends on the situation you are shooting. Most of my experience comes from Photojournalism, and knowing what I needed to give to the editor, and what he was looking for. If you can pre visualize and know what you need to shoot, you'll need to shoot much less than you think. In some sports situations, you can Pre-Compose, Pre-Meter, Pre-Focus, and wait for the shot to come to you. Being familiar with the sequence of events is essential too, which saves wasted shots and increases "keepers". Bear in mind, sometimes a motor drive will increase your editing, and maybe the "decisive moment" is in between shots 15 and 16. Don't let the camera decide what is needed by you, YOU decide and it will make you a better photographer.

In my experience, there are two types of shooters, ones who shoot a lot and the edit like a maniac to find some good ones, and then are the ones who shoot considerably less and get a high percent of Keepers. I think you'll shoot less and get better shots -- as times goes on.

I've been exposing film, and now pixels to pay my bills, since 1975; and made more mistakes than most, but I also shoot less for more than ever before too. Every day is a gift. Be Thankful.

Don't let yourself say: "I wish I had camera". Have one, and be a photographer. Even a point & shoot is better than no camera. But don't live your life through a viewfinder either. (choices, choices......).


I shoot either street photography or travel, rarely anything else. I'm experienced enough that missed focus or exposure isn't a common experience but, when I go out to shoot, my eventual keeper rate is really low because that ephemeral 'moment' oftentimes eludes me. When I travel I take and keep a lot, but many of these are 'memory shots'- they aren't good enough really to show except in the context of stories.


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