When I shoot a session I try to take as few pictures as possible. My primary reason is thus: in taking fewer, more conscientious photos I improve my skill set. Each image is thought-out, then problem solved. The better I get, the fewer “mistakes” I make, and the more likely I’ll be able to produce a great image under pressure with no opportunity for a re-take (such as during a wedding). Also, I spend less time frowning at the back of my camera (which can make clients uncomfortable) and I have greater ability to show them an image on the back of my camera if I think they need a little encouragement.
I also try to limit the number of images I provide a client as much as (reasonably) possible. I have two reasons for this: first, I don’t what to suffocate truly great images under simply “good” ones; and second I want my client to view the images as a piece of art. You don’t buy paintings by the dozens; why should you buy photos that way?
This means, however, that I am often asked for the “other” photos I took. The client, understandably, feels the because they paid for a session they are entitled to all of the photos, edited or not. There are a number of reasons I don’t want turn over un-edited images. First, there’s my reputation to consider. I don’t want to be represented by my worst images unless it’s absolutely required of the assignment. Second, when the client compares a non-edited image to a similar edited ones, they’ll begin to see beneath my work. If I’ve removed a skin blemish (and I outline my rules for doing so here), they may begin to feel badly about the fact that they had a skin blemish. And I don’t ever want my clients feeling badly about a session.
It’s some trial and error to figure out what to say when someone asks for those “other” images. What I tell them is this: "Back in the film days, photographers typically only took about 250 images, and maybe 150 of those were worth sharing with the bride and groom. With digital we can shoot 1000 images for almost no cost (it does tax the shutter mechanism which has a limited lifespan), but in truth most of those 750 additional images are the photographer practicing in the moment. We’re trying different compositions, different depths of field, different exposures, or trying to find the moment that best captures the emotion. A musician practices in their living room and performs in front of an audience when the work is as near perfect as they can manage. A photographer can’t practice before the event, so we have to combine practice and performance during the event. The real performance, however, is when we share our near-perfect images with others."
If I still get push-back, I may talk about my criteria for selecting the best images, the problems of RAW files, or even the problems with un-edited, un-curated images in general: they went with a professional photographer because they wanted to be happy with the images, but everyone looks bad in some photos because humans are capable of making some pretty strange faces.
So when I say I try to provide as few images as possible to my clients, what does that mean? For a private session I am for approximately 40 finished images. Events can vary greatly, too much to define. It has been as few as 40 and as many as 300. Weddings I say 150-200 to my client; I provide 200-225. The commercial world is completely different. Often, those clients want just 5-10 strong choices.