Posted by: kerryl29 | December 6, 2021

There’s No Quota

In the early stages of post-processing the set of images I brought back from Alaska, I noticed something that, had I been conscious of it previously, it was only vaguely: the number of images I had made during the first couple of days of the trip was pretty modest. A moment later, I forgot about it.

White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

If I forgot about it, how is that I’m mentioning it here? I was reminded of the situation when I produced the posts for Day 1 and Day 2 of the trip. That exercise served as another prompt; there hadn’t been a lot of photographs made on the first two days.

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

In the past, this sort of thing bothered me, and more than a little bit. My thinking at the time was, in essence, that I’d gone to a lot of trouble and expense to go on a photo trip. And, as the term “photo trip” clearly implies, the point of the exercise was to engage in photography. A small number of images implied that relatively little photography had been done. And, yes, I found that bothersome.

Chisos Mountains Moonset, Big Bend National Park, Texas

But at some point, after I’d been taking these trips for at least a few years, I discovered that my attitude regarding this subject had, shall we say, evolved. “Engaging in photography,” I came to feel, involved a great deal more than summing up the number of times I pressed the camera’s shutter button on a given day. More broadly speaking, this wasn’t an exercise in producing image volume. While a “good photo day” might include a large number of images, it certainly didn’t have to be that way. Producing a lot of images in a single day is neither a necessary nor sufficient element of having a good day in the field.

Sunrise, Papawai Point, Maui, Hawaii

There’s no quota. That was the lesson that I ultimately learned, though I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly when I came to this realization. I’ve had “good photo days” where I produced no more than a handful of images.

Backlit Maple, Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin

I have, in fact, had a “good photo day” when I produced exactly zero images, though honesty compels me to report that I didn’t recognize that said day was a “good” one until it was in the rear view mirror. On this occasion, I spent an entire day scouting, an exercise that led to some subsequent wonderful photo opportunities–opportunities that wouldn’t have come about had I not spent the day scouting. That’s how a day without photos turned into a very good photo day.

Birch Trunks, Ermine Hill Trail, Denali State Park, Alaska

So, it’s absolutely possible to have good photo days without making many images. Besides, there were plenty of subsequent days on the Alaska trip filled with innumerable good photo opportunities…and some of those were good photo days, too. 🙂

Good Harbor Beach Sunrise, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan


  1. Kerry, absolutely agree that number of captures is not an indicator of a successful shoot, and that it often requires two or more visits to a location to scout and find suitable conditions. What I really find frustrating is traveling to a remote location and not being able to visualize anything that justifies the effort. There were a couple locations like that on my Fall 2021 trip to southern Utah — I arrived (often after driving a very rough 2-track), looked around and just couldn’t get excited. On those occasions, I assume that I’m just not seeing the full potential of the location, and that’s especially disappointing.

    • Steve, regarding the instances you allude to, is it possible that lighting conditions played a role in your reaction?

      • No, my disappointment is with not seeing compelling compositions. With good comps, it’s not hard to visualize what’s needed for light. But to not see a compelling comp after a significant effort is a real letdown. That’s when I wonder what I’m not seeing…

  2. Really nice blogpost. Enjoyed reading it. There is indeed no quota.

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Looking at it from another view, I have had days where I have taken loads of photos at every turn , got home then realized I had nothing significant to show for it. Great post, Kerry. Faves are 1 and 4 which have similarities. Thank you for your posts, they are always interesting and teach me something.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      Agreed, sometimes image volume is negatively correlated with success. I think that’s the exception to the rule, but it certainly can (and does!) happen.

  4. I don’t think it is unusual for the first days of a trip to be quite different than the last days in terms of productivity (either measured in numbers or quality of images). It takes my brain some time to leave my life behind and settle into a total immersion in photography. Maybe it would be worthwhile to spend the last couple of days at home shooting rather than scrambling to get ready to leave.

    • That’s a thought. It’s also worth noting just how much time during those first two days was spent on the road. We’re talking at least 600 miles and, given the speed limitations on the Dalton Highway, I’d estimate that a solid 12-14 hours were spent driving. So photo opportunities were, in a sense, inherently limited.

  5. Excellent Photos!!

  6. […] some respects, Day 3 of the Alaska trip was similar to the first two days; not that many images were made, for instance, and we spent a fair amount of time in the car. But in some key ways, it […]

  7. Terrific images, Kerry. You have a great eye for composition and layering of textures. Wishing you a happy 2022.

    • Thanks very much, Jane!

      Here’s hoping that 2022 is a great year for you as well!

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