Why Am I Taking Forty Frames of the Same Thing?

Cascade Fall, Version 1
Cascade Fall, Version 1

Living near Yosemite I often photograph moving water—big, thundering waterfalls, small cascades, and everything in between. If you watched me photographing some of these scenes, you’d see me pressing the shutter over and over again without moving the camera or changing any of the settings—just click, click, click, click, click…

Am I just wasting space on my Compact Flash card? No—there’s a method to this madness. Water moves. A waterfall or river changes from one second to the next. In fact it’s never exactly the same twice. So while my composition, shutter speed, and aperture may be the same, each photograph is different, and some are bound to be better than others.

In the photograph of Cascade Fall at the top I used the exact same composition, shutter speed, and aperture as the one below. But in version 1 the spray on the left and mist on the right are both more interesting. Nothing changed but the moment. I took 38 identical exposures to make sure I got one good one.

Cascade Fall, Version 2
Cascade Fall, Version 2

Below you’ll find two more examples, this time from Happy Isles. Again, the composition, shutter speed, and aperture were identical in both. But in version 1 the water covers the top of the rocks, hiding the reflections. Version 2 has golden reflections on those boulders, and the fan-like shapes of the water spilling off the rocks are also better. Here I took thirty-one identical frames to get one that really worked.

So when photographing moving water—or any moving subject—don’t be stingy. Take more frames than you think you need—then add twenty more. It’s not like you’re wasting film!

—Michael Frye

Happy Isles, Version 1
Happy Isles, Version 1
Happy Isles, Version 2
Happy Isles, Version 2

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    I agree with this tip, thanks for posting this, I was beginning to feel like I’m a nut, I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and say “why are you taking so many pictures of the same scene?”

    Printing this article for hubby. Actually complains that I could only narrow my fireworks pictures to 600. Hey I took almost 1000, I think i paired them down pretty well. Besides he’s the one who bought me a third digital camera.

    I’m sorry Michael, but I must disagree. I just can’t support the “spray and pray” shooting style. A good photographer can compose in the viewfinder, and have a good idea of what the image will be, before pressing the shutter. Take a few extra images? Sure, but 20+ extra images is ridiculous.

    I’ve shot moving things for over 35 years (sports, creeks, waterfalls, rivers, clouds, etc.) and never felt it necessary to “Take more frames than you think you need???then add twenty more.” To me, that’s a sign of an amateur shooter that really needs to learn their craft.

    If that style of shooting works for you, great, but I could never condone it.

    Have Fun,


    I’d just like to weigh in on Jeff’s comments. I think Michael’s Happy Isles comparison makes his case pretty dramatically. In situations where motion and light are changing with every frame, shooting a lot of images can simply give you a broader selection to choose from. This is why professional portrait shooters may take a hundred frames of their subject. Yes, the face is the same, but the expression can change, the angle of the head may shift very subtly, and the eyes can blink. In both cases, can you take too many frames? Never. Can you take too few? Always.

    Yeah, I’d like to chime in as well. Michael isn’t advocating a “spray and pray” result at all. He’s just saying something that makes perfect sense – when photographing something like fast moving water, you can’t completely predict ahead of time what the image will look like. You can pre-visualize all you want, but you can’t control a random natural process. All you can do is shoot frame after frame until you get the look that you are seeking. I do the same whenever I am shooting moving subjects, and frankly I don’t know of a single photographer who is worth their salt – professional or amateur – who does otherwise.

    And I personally don’t think it is appropriate to be disrespectful when leaving comments. Calling someone an “amateur shooter that really needs to learn their craft” simply because you disagree with what they have said is a little on the cheap side. Anyone who has seen Michael’s work can easily tell that he is anything but amateur. The proof is in the results – Michael’s approach may not be for everyone but one look at his website makes it clear that it works for him, and works well.

    Thank you, Michael, for coherently explainiing and putting into words somethng I’ve been doing since I’ve been shooting but could never quite explain why. You explanation coupled with the examples really put it in proper perspective. Now I know that there’s a rationale to what some have perceived as my madness. Thanks, again.

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