Growing up I was always taught quality over quantity.
We often think more equals mass produced and lower quality, but this idea recently popped up in a book I was reading, and it really got me thinking.
I was really torn about it: more is more, but can it really help you achieve better quality?
Today I wanted to share with you a quick highlight from a book I’ve been loving – Atomic Habits by James Clear
As you may know, as well as being a bit of a photography geek, I’m also an avid reader and this case study was really interesting, and really relevant.
The experiment looked at how to improve photography, and was based on a similar study that had been conducted by a pottery teacher.
The Quantity versus Quality Experiment
Basically, on the first day of class, a professor at the University of Florida divided his film photography into two groups: one was “quantity” and one was “quality.”
The Quantity students were to be graded sheerly based on the volume of work they produced that term.
The Quality students would be graded on their best piece of work: they only had to submit one photo, but to get the top marks it had to be an outstanding image.
Which group did better?
You might think that the best images would be submitted by the Quality group, wouldn’t you? That they’d be very focused, very disciplined, and working flat out to produce the most incredible images…
But the results indicated otherwise.
When grading the images, the professor found that actually the best images were taken by the students in the quantity group, who were going hell-for-leather experimenting with everything: composition, lighting, subjects… All the while they were learning from their mistakes.
In this process, they honed their skills, they failed forward and through the process they corrected their mistakes, got better, and actually succeeded in capturing the best images.
Whereas the other group, the quality group, got hung up on perfection and it held them back.
They tried to avoid making mistakes, and in practice it stopped them from taking images, and so they weren’t able to learn from those mistakes.
Perfectionism holds us back from learning.
This doesn’t just apply to these photography students though. It can creep up on us.
While it might sound obvious in hindsight, how often does it happen in practice?
Maybe it’s about FOMO, or waiting for the “perfect light” or until you can get to the “right location” or have the “right equipment”.
Maybe it’s about impatience, or perfectionism, or perhaps confidence.
Or maybe it’s just ego and wanting to be “different” from everyone else out there and seeking to avoid those cliched shots.
But by making excuses for why we aren’t out there taking every single shot we can, we are perhaps subtly, but all too easily, prioritising quality of quantity, and getting caught up in perfectionism.
The lesson is just go for it.
And it makes sense.
If we focus on getting it perfect, we miss out on the learning experience and precisely the experience which will enable us to improve.
Learning Curves in Photography
I’ve definitely noticed this in my own photography – the times I waited to get the right shot meant I missed out on the opportunity to learn about taking photographs in different lights, of ‘mediocre’ subjects, or with equipment that maybe wasn’t the best.
Now I just try and get out and shoot as much as I can.
That being said – you don’t want to just shoot millions of images, because that’s going to waste your time in the “editing room.”
Final thoughts on Quantity over Quality
Ultimately, the message is to just get out there, start shooting, and keep at it.
Don’t judge yourself too much, just produce the work.
Develop the habit and that muscle of persistence.
And let go of the attachment to perfection.
- Try taking images of things that you wouldn’t normally shoot.
- Get over yourself and go for the obvious shot.
- Experiment with all the angles.
- Try different settings.
- Get out of your comfort zone: shoot something that scares you.
- Have patience and stick with it, stay out longer than you might normally.
Practice is the key.
Practice, practice, practice – and you’ll get closer to perfection than if you simply wait for it to come to you.
It’s about more than the highlights reel.
It’s not about coming back from a day’s photography and only having a stunning highlights reel.
Highlights are exactly that, highlights. You don’t have to show everything that went into it.
You don’t have to publish everything – in fact, I recommend you keep some, if not most things to yourself!
But if you’re feeing bold, share the process.
That’s what has really upped my photography game.
Practice over perfection.
I loved this book, Atomic Habits by James Clear. It is packed with good, practical advice on developing better habits. I’ve definitely found self discipline has been really important in keeping me on course with (and motivated to!) practice. Check out the book, and leave a comment if you’re feeling inspired! What is your biggest challenge in getting better at photography?