Are You Neglecting Your GDP?

Also posted in Technique/Articles/Improving the Photographer.

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Bear with me for a moment, I'll get to the point while wandering around it for awhile.

One thing that's not yet being talked about in relation to the COVID-19 virus is something very fundamental and important. I'll bet that when all is said and done, the GDP (gross domestic product) shrinks less than the job force still employed. The reason? Businesses are going to use this crisis to jettison their least productive workers. To put it bluntly: can you stay in business and be profitable with 10% less sales but 20% fewer workers? I'll bet at lot of businesses say yes to that. 

What's that have to do with photography?

Okay, I've already noted we're losing camera dealers, which means that camera companies will have to be more efficient in how they sell products. But no, even that isn't not what I want to discuss today. 

I want to discuss your GDP. Only this time it's your Gross Digital Product. 

Back when I was an undergraduate I photographed college athletics for ABC Sports. For any event I was assigned, I tended to produce four to six rolls of film (or 144-180 shots). My goal, and what kept me employed, was that 10% of those were "keepers." Literally. The rest never made it into the ABC files, weren't coded, weren't stored, never appeared in media, and were literally thrown away. 

So my Gross Film Product Per Game was 14-18. 

Today I shoot sports with digital cameras. The direct costs of shooting more images per event are zero, so it isn't unusual for me to shoot 500+ shots per game. The indirect costs of shooting more images are not zero. It takes time to ingest, browse, select, process, and transmit each image, so I don't want to be indiscriminate about how much I shoot in a game.

Most of the time, I'm delivering about 100 images to a client for a game (or ~20% of what I shot; I'm not always sure how much they're actually using and keeping, so I can't say my "keepers" percent has improved).

One thing I try to always do is ask the client before hand what images they really want, and what they'll be used for. With sports, that almost always results in an answer of "jubes." That's short-hand for jubilation. For baseball, no one wants to see the ball coming off the bat for the winning, game ended home run (though I shoot it and provide it); they want the celebration of the home run hitter being greeted by teammates at the plate. 

This has changed positions that we shoot from. These images, for example:

bythom sports CU vs WSU Nov10 2018 Z726526

Yes, the team wants individual action, and this was the receiver making a key move that resulted in a touchdown. But here's the image they wanted:

bythom sports CU vs WSU Nov10 2018 Z726559

The post-touchdown jube.

I'm shooting from right next to the ESPN end zone camera. Why? Because I know when a player scores, he's going to come over and try to show off to the TV broadcast (in other places, it may be players jumping into stands, but the point is the same, I've moved my position to capture the celebration). My client wasn't particularly interested in the whole sequence of catch, evade the defender, cross the end zone. Nope, they wanted the jube.

This also means I carry three cameras, because that celebration is usually too close for even the 70-200mm. Indeed, you can often tell the real pros on the sidelines by the number of cameras they're carrying, particularly near the end of the game. It will be three (one with 24-70mm, one with 70-200mm, and one with a long lens). 

So where am I going with this meandering story telling? 

You press the shutter release a lot these days (compared to the film days). You have a gross digital product that's some number of shots. Maybe it's 100 shots a day while traveling, or 2000 shots a day while on safari, or 500 shots taken at a significant event in your life. When you ingest all that into your computer you'll have some number of gigabytes more storage used up (and needing to be backed up). 

You're probably not paying any attention to your productivity. You've gotten lazy and bloated in your shooting. You keep shooting after the bird has passed you. You use 10 fps for a second or two to take a portrait. You bracket exposure rather than measuring and setting it. The list goes on and on.

But are you actually assessing the usefulness of your GDP? 

Back when I was needing to get 14-18 clearly usable images from a game, I was thinking long and hard about what those 14-18 images should be. Fortunately, one of the sports I was assigned a lot was baseball, where very little action takes place over a very long time. That gave me a lot of time to think about what the context of the game really was, and what shots I should be really looking for. A pitcher's duel produced different shots than a slugfest. Did I know which one I was shooting as I shot it? Was I really thinking about that or mashing the shutter? Today, obviously, I could just mash the shutter and figure things out later.

But that brings me back to one of those wandering paragraphs earlier: productivity. What's your productivity and do you care?

Obviously, hobbyists might just enjoy doing things, so I'm sure that some of you are more about pointing and pressing than about the actual image you took. Maybe you got something, maybe you didn't. You'll figure that out later (maybe), but in the meantime you're using your gear, which is what you enjoy doing. 

But if your photography isn't progressing, if you're not getting better as a photographer, if you don't have many "keepers" that you really want to show off to others, maybe you need to look at your GDP and productivity. The best relationship, of course, is that your GDP is high and your productivity is high. For most of you reading this, I'd guess that your GDP is high and your productivity is low, or your GDP is low and your productivity doesn't matter. 

New gear doesn't really help with productivity. Learning your gear might. Paying close attention to what you're trying to achieve while using your gear might. 

Those of us who shoot for clients know exactly when we've let our productivity drop: the client drops us. The rest of you need to figure out when your productivity drops yourself. Spend some of the time you would have been out shooting this pandemic to examine whether you're getting more or less productive, and why.

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