I don’t always spray and pray, when I do, there is a reason

I don't always spray and prayI don’t always spray and pray, when I do, there is a reason.  As I have previously stated, if this is the only approach you employ in all of your photography…good luck.  When used sparingly, I think it has its purpose.  When I say used sparingly, I am referring to a 3-4 frame burst limit.  You certainly can just hold down the shutter release, but you are going to get a fair bit of undesirable frames.

The life expectancy is not 100k actuation, but the MTBF (mean time between failures) is 100.000k actuations. That means the average number of clicks on which Nikon expects the D200 shutter to fail is 100k. Which means some fail after 10k, some after 300k.  So there is no reason except statistics to believe your shutter will fail. And there are lies, there are damned lies and then there are statistics.

~Wouter Willemse

Since I have already refuted the time and detail aspect of the spray and pray argument, let’s look at the shutter actuations.  My Nikon D200 and D7000 both are at 47,000 and my trusty D60 is at 15,000.  I just did some checking and it looks like my D7000 is rated (not guaranteed) for 150,000, the D200 100k and I don’t think the D60 has a rating.  To replace the shutter on my D7000 is approx $160-$200.  That really isn’t that bad when you consider the price of the body itself.

I do employ the spray and pray approach with some portraiture, cadids, wildlife, and action photography.  I would rather error on the side of reviewing extra frames than missing something completely.  I am not sure how you can disagree with that.  I don’t think there is any amount of breathing, connecting, observing and breathing some more that is going to allow you to know what is going to happen the very next second.  Time and experience will no doubt give you an idea of what is coming, but to capture some of those most often subtle micro-expressions (I’ll borrow that term from Dr. Cal Lightman – Lie to Me…love that show)  you are going to need some extra frames.  I typically use a 3-4 shot burst when shooting.   If your subject is moving at all it may be necessary to true up your focus in between bursts.  You may also need to make minor exposure adjustments or reconsider composition.  This all depends greatly on the subject, scenery and the situation of course.


I will risk the actuations when trying to capture a good candid shot.  If you haven’t noticed, sometimes it is just a frame or two difference between a poop face and a great expression.  If you have the ability to see into the future and anticipate when a particular moment in time is going to happen, you will be the best photography in the world.  For us normal folk, we may have to use a 3-4 shot burst to catch those expressions and/or special moments.

I will even give you an example.  These two shots are from a recent excision onboard the Cedar Rapids en route to Chicago via Amtrak capturing a 50 year wedding anniversary family celebration.  I was shooting candids of the passengers; it was story time.  You can very clearly see the difference between frames here.  In the first one, you can tell what is going on.

D7K Kremer 50th 159

But with the second one (2 frames after the first image), it is even more clear.  There is a distinct difference in expressions.  Notice the forehead and eye/hand intensity of the gentleman on the right and the hand in front of the face of the gentleman in the middle – this is a very funny story.

D7K Kremer 50th 162
Really Funny Story

I am very confident that these were three frames well spent, as were the six on either side of them.  There was more than a dozen people in that train car and probably half as many conversation going on.  There were adults and small children.  Spraying and praying was very much apart of this venture.  I did observe; I guess I was breathing too, but more out of necessity and not intentionally.  With so much going on around me, I didn’t have time to completely immerse myself in every moment.  Between Cyndie and I, I think we captured a great deal.  We had just over 2500 frames between us; over two very full days, I don’t think that is excessive at all.

Final thought.  Spray and pray has its place.  It bugs me a bit when people discount it as an approach in photography or only say it works for one type of photography or another.  At the end of the day, you do what works for you as long as you get the shot.  If you are not getting the shots, well then, perhaps you need to examine your approach.


5 Replies to “I don’t always spray and pray, when I do, there is a reason”

  1. Very well said, Dan. I also think that the “you do what works for you as long as you get the shot” approach is the best one, and I am sure many more photographers would agree.

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