Let’s get one thing out of the way first: If your shooting style falls under the umbrella of “spray-n-pray,” there’s a pretty good chance you will, indeed, accidentally or luckily capture a good image.
Maybe even more than one. There’s also a chance you’ll capture a great image! Bully for you. A five-year-old can do the same with the right model and decent lighting with, virtually the same chance as you of capturing some good images providing enough pics.
How many pics snapped does it take before you enter the overkill realm of spray-n-pray?
There’s no definitive answer or number to that question. But let’s narrow it down a bit: Let’s assume you’re shooting one model on the same set and all with the same lighting set-up. Also, if there’s wardrobe involved, let’s say there are no changes of wardrobe during that set of pics. (Removing the wardrobe doesn’t count as a wardrobe change.) For this scenario, how many captures are indicative of spray-n-pray shooting? Again, there’s no single number. (Sorry!) But I guarantee whatever the number might be, it’s going to be a big number. How big? Minimally, three digits worth and the first digit will likely start with a 3 or will more likely begin with a 4… or higher. That’s a lot of pictures!
Playboy Shooters Spray-n-Pray
Some of you might be aware that Playboy photographers are known for shooting many, many, MANY exposures of their models when working for “Hef,” the iconic founder and CEO of Playboy. Until more recently, those numbers of exposures were in the form of film. Make that chromes. (As in Fujichrome or other “slide” film stock.) As you may have already guessed whether you’ve ever shot film or not, spraying-n-praying when shooting film can get fairly expensive! (The cost of film and processing and all.)
Are Playboy magazine’s photographers engaging in spray-n-pray, regardless of the costs, when shooting Playboy’s models? Well… yes and no. Sort of. Maybe. But not totally and not 100% by choice. You see, what those shooters are mostly doing is placating their boss, Hugh Hefner. They are, in a nutshell, following the boss’s orders. (How do I know that? Let’s just say I know some people and leave it at that.)
Whether it’s chromes or digital, Hef wants lots and lots of pictures snapped. Leastwise, for the magazine’s centerfold photos. You see, after the centerfold shoots, Hef himself pours over the many, many images (on a light table if they’re chromes) in his quest to choose just the right image, the perfect image, for each month’s Playboy centerfold pic. Yes, if you’re lucky enough to shoot for Hef – I myself have not been so fortunate, leastwise for the magazine, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying – you’re going to shoot a lot of pictures. Tons of pics. More pics than even the average spray-n-pray shooter snaps. You’re going to do it Hef’s way and you’re going to hope (and maybe pray) that Hef loves at least one of your pics because, frankly, replacing photographers is not such a difficult task. Not for Hef or any other client.
That’s not to say, of course, that Playboy centerfold shooters ever leave much to chance the way many spray-n-pray shooters do. Hef’s shooters can artfully capture awesome photos of awesome models shooting way less images than they are instructed or expected to snap. (That’s how they got the gig to begin with.) And Playboy lighting has been, and still is, famous for including: A) numerous light sources, i.e. a lot of lights, and B) lots of tweaking of those numerous light sources. Add to that an almost over abundance of poses and expressions and, well, they nearly work their models to death on Playboy centerfold shoots. But then, Playboy pays their models well for the work. Very well.
But let’s be honest: None of us are shooting for Playboy. Leastwise, not for the magazine’s centerfold spreads. I’m not, Dan’s not, and I’ll bet all of you reading these ramblings of mine are not. I’m not saying it can’t ever happen for any of us but, in reality, the odds of it happening are fairly long.
Bummer, right? Oh well.
Note: The above-written reality check has little or nothing to do with anyone’s skills or how good of a photographer they might be. But that’s another story. One that speaks to the “business” of shooting commercial nude and glamour – for pay and glory! – rather than the art and craft of doing so.
You Get What You Pay For
Remember me mentioning how Playboy pays their centerfold models very well for the work? Well, they do. They pay them extremely well. And although we also may be paying our models – regardless of why we’re photographing them or how much time it takes us to do so – we’re probably not paying them Playboy centerfold wages; probably not even close to those rates.
For that reason alone, and this is aimed at spray-n-pray shooters, there’s a Fairness Factor that comes into play. In other words, there’s a point in a shoot when the model has completely earned her pay and, to keep working her and snapping the same or similar shots over and over, isn’t fair and doesn’t increase the chances of capturing a truly awesome photo or two. (Modeling can be hard work; harder than many people realize.)
But that’s not my main reason for being opposed to using a spray-n-pray approach. My main reason for believing it’s a poor and amateurish shooting practice is that it’s not only unfair to the model and overkill, it doesn’t say much about the skill of the photographer nor does it advance those skills. In fact, if anything, what it says about the photographer is that his or her skills are seriously lacking. And most experienced models will see that almost right away.
In skeet shooting, the guy with the shotgun takes one shot to try and hit the clay target after it’s been catapulted into the air, simulating a bird in flight. Skeet shooters don’t use rapid-fire bursts of shells to bring down their targets with a barrage of lead pellets. Instead, they practice and practice in order to become skilled at bringing clay pigeons down with a single shot. I’m not advocating hiring a model and only taking a single shot, that makes no sense, but I think you understand what I’m saying here.
There are, of course, a few photo genres where a bit of spraying-n-praying makes good sense. News photographers often engage in the practice in order to capture that perfect decisive moment – one which best captures the story they’re chasing. Makes sense, right? But when you’re shooting a nude or glamour model, the story you’re chasing isn’t one that’s likely to show up on the pages of a mainstream newspaper. Your photos may contain a story, but that story isn’t a news story.
One of the many terrific learning aspects of shooting with film is that it slows you down; it slows you way down. It makes you think more about each shot before you click the shutter. (Each shot costs you additional money, after all.) Shooting film, in my experience, keeps you better focused on your model and relies more on direction, i.e., the direction you give your model, and on what’s happening in front of your camera. It keeps your eye better-trained on details. It doesn’t rely on odds or luck to capture great images. There are times when shooting with film when it feels almost Zen-like.
I’m not suggesting everyone should suddenly toss their digital cameras and start exclusively shooting film. I’m also not saying digital photography doesn’t offer the possibility of experiencing Zen-like feelings when shooting. I’m not going to suddenly give up my digital gear and return to analogue shooting. I might occasionally shoot some film for fun or nostalgic reasons but that’s about it.
Instead, I’m advocating for a somewhat slower, more thoughtful and attention-to-detail approach to your shoots. I’m advocating for greater amounts of interaction between you and your models. And that sort of interaction generally precludes a spray-n-pray approach. Did I mention doing so does not rely on odds, luck or serendipity to capture great images? Oh yeah. I did. Well, I’m saying it again: Not only does slowing down and taking a more thoughtful and interactive approach remove the need for relying on things like luck or odds, more often than not it produces better photos via less photos.
Here’s my advice, in a nutshell, regarding spray-n-pray shooting:
- Don’t shoot like a news photographer at a press conference with your finger pressed to the shutter constantly, capturing way more photos than you’ll ever need. Shoot more like a skeet shooter. Think of every pose your model undertakes like it’s a clay pigeon and take careful aim, working to get your best shot.
- Don’t overwork your model! (I’ll bet you don’t like being over-worked.)
- Don’t shoot like one of Hef’s centerfold photographers even though you’re trying to capture awesome images of awesome models that are every bit as good as Hef’s shooters regularly capture. Hef’s models are getting paid very, very well for that.
- I know it’s fun to shoot beautiful, sensuous, models, but that fun isn’t curtailed because you shoot less photos. In fact, it’s likely to be increased when you slow down, take a more thoughtful approach, increase your interactions with your models, and work harder to make each shot count.
- Resist the digital temptation to spray-n-pray when shooting models. Instead, make the experience a QUALITY experience, rather than simply a QUANTITY experience.
Thanks for reading!
PS: For most sets I shoot, I generally shoot, as an average, around 150 images. I don’t count them as I go, just seems to work out that way for each shoot. If/when I feel I have what I need, that’s it. I’m done. Generally (but not always) the more experienced the model, the fewer images I end up snapping…