Photography with Intent

Posted by Jerry Avenaim on January 19, 2010 – 12:37 am

Considering that shooting deliberately with intent was the theme of the previous two articles here on the blog, I felt that for this week’s entry, I’d wrap it up with, “The 36 Exposures Challenge.” When I stumbled upon this, I thought, what a great idea! With 16 and even 32GB memory cards becoming more and more popular, it’s like people are running around with their cameras loaded with full 20 roll bricks of film and seemingly unlimited exposures. What a great exercise this challenge is, to force a retooling of the speed at which you shoot, and to think about how and when you depress the shutter button, as in this case, you really do “only” have 36 frames, which really, is still a lot of frames to shoot if you think about it.

Fashion Photography using Kodak FilmI’d love to hear from any of you who try this. How was it? How did it affect your approach to making an image? And perhaps even share one of the results.

“I once had a student at Bard College, where I teach, who was taking portraits. The results kept disappointing him, so each week he took more and more pictures. Still he was disappointed. Finally, I assigned him to make only one exposure the next week. The picture was excellent. His problem was that he substituted quantity when trying to come to terms with what he wanted in his pictures. If an artist doesn’t work with conscious intentionality, sometimes no amount of editing helps. There are other times when the lack of self-censorship that digital can engender communicates a more intuitive energy.”  -From the Pop Photo interview with Stephen Shore

Missing the challenge of taking photographs with “intent?” Perhaps shooting digital is pushing your mind to act too fast and not taking the time to think about the purpose of the image? File Magazine, Flak Photo and Coudal Partners have joined to create a very interesting challenge: “The 36 Exposure Challenge.

We are asking photographers to use a film camera to explore Shore’s concept of “conscious intentionality.” Broadly speaking, we are challenging photographers to do two things: articulate a concept, project, or theme and then use a film camera to photograph the images to illustrate it. There are, then, two parts: creating the idea and then acting on it.

Give it a try, think about a mini-project, and take the challenge to think and plan the images to communicate the purpose and the intent you’d like to achieve. Photographing your images with such intent will make you think. It will make you plan. It will help you to focus and be selective, and it will make you a better photographer.

Happy shooting!

Jerry Avenaim

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  1. 1. Reinaldo Mandacaru Said:

    Great post!
    I worked a lot of time making food photography with a Pentax 6×7, with only 10 exposures per roll, when not a Sinar 4×5, with a quick-load back and 10 sheets of chromes. Good times, bad times!!!


  2. 2. Jeremy Dueck Said:

    I agree with your last two posts big time. I loved shooting my Hasselblad, loved the look of square images – but most important – it cost. So one didn’t take 800 shots and hope for the best – you did it in 12. And you know what? The finished work was still great. You had to think about your images.

    Great posts Jerry. Thanks.


  3. 3. David Jacobs Said:

    Hi from Australia,

    I’m from the “old school” of film as well. We didn’t have the luxury of shooting 100+ photos (nor the ability to “check” if the shot came off, except with Polaroid). There had to be a greater level of thought before taking a photo and certainly not the same level of retouching that is done nowadays.

    I cover similar thoughts in my blog.



  4. 4. Nicolas Said:


    I really like your post, I have been trying to shoot less frame lately. But I am feeling like new models are getting use to shoot a lot. Probably because most of the photographers they met use digital camera, and also they might feel more comfortable by thinking that there might be a good picture on the 8gb, or whatever, memory card.
    What do you think about that?
    I like to shoot less frame and concentrate on the direction, I think it is the best way to get the image you are looking for. Maybe because it is more about control than luck.



    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Forget what the model is “used to” and concentrate on creating photographs as opposed to taking pictures. If the model asks why you shot so little, you can simply say, “I have the shot!”


  5. 5. Jeff Berlin Said:

    Great post Jerry. I’m gonna try this next time I shoot. I like to use lower capacity cards to approximate a roll or three, which helps me inherently limit the amount of exposures I shoot. Really though, since converting partly to digital within the last year, one of the biggest adjustments has been a sort of re-learning when to stop — recognizing when I have shot enough and to avoid overkill, or overshooting.



    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Thanks Jeff, I’m sure you’ll have no problem with that given all the film days under your belt. And thank you once again for the wonderful guest article you wrote last week. I think all elements to the points made were well illuminated across the board!


  6. 6. Ronald N. Tan Said:

    An excellent post Sensei! I am going to share this on my blog with a link to this.




  7. 7. Rob Walls Said:

    Good post Jerry. I’m so old that I when I started out it was with Grafmatic backs on a Speed Graphic and burn callouses on right hand thumb and index finger from changing hot flash bulbs…but have embraced digital photography with the enthusiasm of a zealot. I find though that with the ability to know right away that I’ve got the shot, I actually shoot less exposures now than I did when I used film.

    I still regret my lack of courage years ago when I was commissioned to shoot a record cover for an LP titled, “After my cat left home”. The art director wanted a shot of a cat walking away from the camera with its tail in the air. The idea was that the shot would be used on the centre on the disk label as well with the spindle poking through the cat’s fundament. We lined up the cat, it walked away from the camera, I shot; thought, I’ve got it, but then went on to shoot the next 35 frames and another entire roll. The picture used: frame 1 of course! If only I had had the guts to wrap the shoot on frame 1. I could have been a legend as far as that art director was concerned.

    17 years agoo when my sone was born, I put aside one of my Nikons with a roll of black and white in it and shot one frame each week with that camera, recording his growth over the first nine months of his life. The world seems to go too fast these days for that kind of leisurely approach to picture taking.

    I don’t regret the passing of film though. Greatly enjoy your blog…


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