The Photographer’s 50/50 Time Limit Rule


Yesterday on our live talk show, The Grid, we talked about ways to become a better photographer in 2014. One of the things we talked about was how it’s okay to try to model your work after some of the pros out there. It’s okay to try to shoot weddings like Cliff Mautner, or light portraits like Joe McNally. Learn what the pros do that interests you, try to shoot like them and develop the confidence that you need, and your style will naturally develop from it because, well, you’re simply not Cliff or Joe. That alone, will make sure that your photos and your style are different from theirs.

Same thing goes if you’re into shooting outdoors and landscapes. It’s okay to go to Death Valley and shoot the typical photo that everyone shoots at the Racetrack with the mysterious moving stones. Learn why that viewpoint at that time of day is good, and take the photo. Build your confidence by visiting some of the “gimmee” spots where ever you travel. Nobody said photography, and making a great photo, means going to a place no one else has and taking a photo that nobody else has. Sometimes it’s just fine to go to a place that everyone has gone before, and put your own spin on the location. Maybe your tripod is up higher or lower than the others. Maybe you go at sunset rather than sunrise or you do a long exposure when no one else is. Even though you may be modeling your photo after another photographer or photo you’ve seen, I think just the fact that you’re taking the photo (and processing it), makes it different.

The 50/50 Rule
This brings me to the Photographer’s 50/50 rule. I’m not sure where this rule came from. I learned it many years ago and I wish I could credit some one for it, but I have no idea where/how I learned it. Basically, the premise is to show up at a photo shoot and spend 50% of the time you have shooting the “gimmee” stuff. Build confidence, warm up, get the creative juices flowing. Then, spend the other 50% of the time you have there shooting something different than the norm.

This does a few things. For starters it helps make sure that walk away with a good keeper from the shoot (provided everything went well). It helps your confidence and it’s always nice to know you have a good photo to show off to other people when you get back. But it also forces you get out of your comfort zone (which you’re more likely to do if you’ve gotten the chance to start in your comfort zone with the first 50%). It also keeps you from shooting the same exact thing the entire time. Some people never move their tripod and continue to shoot the same scene. With portraits, some people never have the model change locations or wardrobe. Hopefully, when you leave the photo shoot, you’ll leave with no just one shot, but maybe several keepers. Sometimes you’ll find the first place you went (the “gimmee”) is the best shot. But sometimes (and this happens a lot, the more you do it), you’ll find the best photos come from when you ventured out during the second 50% of time. And sometimes (these times are really good), you’ll find you love the shots from both the first 50% of time on the shoot, and the second 50% of time.

Example 1
This one hits home to me as an outdoor photographer. When I arrive at a location for sunrise I scout the area and figure out where I want to shoot when the sun comes up. You have about 5-10 minutes of good light when this is all happening (sometimes less). I make sure I arrive in enough time to figure out where I want to shoot first. What’s the gimmee hero shot at this location? Once you find it, go there first. Using my Mesa Arch example above, the location you want to be is right toward the middle of the arch with a wide angle lens. But once the sun comes up, move! Go somewhere else. A different angle. Move higher or lower. Or even put on a different lens. I do this a lot. I have my wide angle on, but as soon as I get the shot, I either move or put my 70-200mm lens on and zoom in on the details. So if I have 10 minutes of nice light as the sun first comes up, I’m going to spend 5 minutes shooting the shot I came there for, but I’m going to spend the next 5 minutes shooting something totally different.

Example 2
Here’s another example. You’re on a portrait shoot. You decide up front that you know a two-light setup really well. Let’s say you have 1 hour with this person. Well, for the first 30 minutes, work the setup and lighting with the way you’re comfortable. Get the shot you’re familiar with. Work out the kinks and get warmed up. But for the next 30 minutes, force yourself to do something different. Add a third light or take a light away so it’s just one. Change wardrobe. Change scenery. Have them jump, move or whatever. Put one of your lights on the tree above them. Who knows? But do something different.

There ya’ have it. The Photography 50/50 rule. It’s not actually even the name of the rule. Heck, it’s not actually even a rule. It’s just something I learned a while back and figured I’d pass on. If you can put it into practice as you’re out there emulating your favorite photo/photographer, I think you’ll find that it’s a great way learn from other’s work before you, but also build your own style and tastes at the same time.

Have a good one!

  • Ginny T

    Good article and I like the 50/50 “rule”! I’m tempted to go watch the Grid show, if I can, to see if anyone mentioned at what point copying another photographer goes too far and becomes plagiarism, or just annoying copy-catting. It’s the same question I have for artists. Being inspired by someone is one thing, but I’ve seen some downright embarrassing if not criminal copying… like using the same props, same poses, same as much as possible. I think landscapes would normally be a little different since it IS so different every visit but let’s say someone puts a big red ball in every landscape and gets a name for it, and someone else wants to be just as important so does the same thing… is that okay? I don’t think so.

  • Florian Cortese

    Thanks for the great advice. I had difficulties with the video portion of the Grid yesterday as I saw some others did in the chat room. I’ll have to watch it when it gets released on kelbytv. BTW, still no long exposure class. You said it was to be released on the 8th. Is it being delayed because of the kelbyone roll out? Can we expect it soon? Many if us have been anxiously awaiting it and trying to be patient.

    • Matt Kloskowski

      Hey Florian – yeah, it was delayed a bit because of the website issues. I’m hoping early next week. I’ll keep you posted on the blog though. Thanks :)

      • Florian Cortese

        Thnx Matt. Can’t wait for it to be posted

        • Matt Kloskowski

          Update! It seems to be up online now :-)

          • Florian Cortese

            I know! I saw it during work early this afternoon and snuck in the most of the lessons during work. I’m home now and about to see you “in the field,” (lesson 8). This is a SUPERB class. I can’t thank you enough for doing it!!!

  • Glenn

    Great point and good advice Matt. I recall reading Jay Maisel saying when you have the image you’re looking for, turn around (or something close to that I think). I experienced this recently while facing west to shoot the gimme at Oxbow Bend waiting for the sun or reach the Grand Tetons above the river. I turned around and got one of my favorites of the trip catching the early morning fog lifting off the river.

  • Alexandra’s Corner

    ……….and when you’re done with all the above, make something with your photos!

    Great article Matt!

  • VWMoe

    Here’s how I read this…and I agree with the concept, BTW. First, plan your shoot, which means knowing (or finding out) of the location(s) to get the “gimme” shots, how to get to those locations, when to arrive (and thus when you have to leave your hotel), etc. Second–and this is where the first 50% comes in–shoot the planned shots, including the “gimme” shots. Third–the second 50%–work the space and the light. The key, to me, is “work the space and the light”. I’ve found I just can’t plan that part, at least on my first visit to a location, especially for sunrise or sunset shoots. There just isn’t enough time to get to all the potentially-good locations during good light, so I’ve had to make multiple visits to some places simply to work the space. This is a very useful tip and more powerful than it sounds at first. Thanks!

  • beachmama

    So great to remember to get out of my comfort zone . . . thank you!

  • Magnus Fohlman

    I´ll try to remember this tip next time. With two toddlers I don´t get alot of sleep nowadays and those few moments I do get out to shoot I´m going all in on 0/100 rule. That is always trying to get the different shot. I try to get the different shot just because I know I might not get out for another four weeks so i´m desperately trying to catch “The Shot” every time I go out. However, I always get disappointed when I come home and import the photos to lightroom. So thanks for reminding me that it is ok to “copy” other people´s work…