Ryu: Keeper Rate

Morning from Berlin. It’s not too cold today, even warm. If you start thinking that 1 degrees celsius is warm, you’ve got a problem.

About a week ago, I received this email from Tom:

Hi Ryu,

Following your request for questions in one of recent podcasts thought I’d ask about ‘keep rate’.

I am an amateur using a 400d and a 70-200 L, currently aiming to becoming good enough to set up and sell shots to parents in junior rugby.

I find my keep rate is largely based on whether the image is in focus or not. As such, even though I know that some images are not that exciting or interesting, so little are acceptable that they ‘make the cut’.

Does a pro sports photographer manage to get most shots in focus and consequently have all these to choose from?
Can you delve further into what should be considered whilst deciding whether to keep or not?


Note that it was addressed to me and not to Matt. Which means Tom trust me more. Bazinga.

The first question is whether we, the handsome sports photographers, manage to get most of our shots in focus and consequently have all these to choose from. Long story short, the answer is “maybe”.

As a professional sports photographer, you should be able to get a lot of photos in focus. The exceptions will be that you had a busted D4 like I did or didn’t know how to set it up properly to take sports photos. In most cases, whatever sports I take, I know how to get things in focus. This comes from my equipment being very good, I have had lots of experience shooting a particular sports so it’s basically muscle memory, and my overall experience as a sports photographer will usually allow me to get things in focus whatever the sports may be. Now, would I consider photos that are in focus keepers? No, definitely not. But here are scenarios which will force me to keep the shots that I don’t like, but are in focus.

1. If my assignment requires me to get a specific shot.
2. If I think I can use the shot for something in the future.

As for the first one, it’s pretty self explanatory. My client tells me that he wants a picture of player A. I take pictures of him that are in focus and even if I think they are worthy of Training Ground, since having player A in focus is my requirement, I send these shots to the client. This happened recently with Kim Yu-Na the figure skater. I shot her at the NRW Trophy in Dortmund and sent shots of her to several magazines because they were asking for them. I sent ones I personally liked as well as shots I didn’t like, but knew that they would want to see shots like that. The only criteria for the latter was that she was in focus and she was visible from head to toe. Needless to say, almost none of the shots I liked were chosen and all the head to toe-in focus shots were chosen. That’s a life of a sports photographer.

As for the second one, sometimes a client will ask me “Do you have a picture of player B?”, to which I reply “I do”. Now, I know I do have pictures of player B, but there is a possibility that these are photos that are in focus, but not necessarily ones that are considered “good” in my books. I send them and they use them. I cry inside.

I am hoping at this juncture you realise a common theme: I don’t decide what is good, they decide what is good. There isn’t much I can do about this practice as I can’t teach taste and this site is not called “Bad taste Finicky editors”. But what I can do is to limit their opportunity to use crappy photos. This is important because if they use your crappy photo, you name will forever be associated with the crappy photo. For instance, if I am asked to submit photos of player C, I only submit ones that I like. The danger here is that they might not use any of the photos I like, but would have considered photos I didn’t like. But since I didn’t send them, I wouldn’t know. It’s a tough decision to make as you want the money, but you also don’t want to be associated with a crappy photo. Usually money wins. If you want to showcase your good photos, the best solution is to showcase them on your personal website.

The second question: Can you delve further into what should be considered whilst deciding whether to keep or not? I’m assuming he wants to know which ones to keep and which ones go straight to the incinerator. First, when I start culling my photos, I go with the ones that are crap. Like I’ll get a pasting from clone Ryu Voelkel and evil Matt Cohen in Training Ground crap. They maybe out of focus, they may have crap composition, or they may just be crap. Next, I start to look for ones that can be used in every possible scenario. These are the ones that are usually in focus, but not necessarily the ones I like. Finally I start to pick ones that are in focus and the ones I like. These will show up on my flickr feed and end up on my personal website.

There you have it. I hope I answered your question. Tom, if you have any follow up questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

One last thing. My true keeper rate, the ones that are in focus and the ones that I personally like are 5/1000. About 0.5% per match.


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4 thoughts on “Ryu: Keeper Rate

  1. Hello,
    For what it’s worth, I shot some images recently at a Judo competition and put a small selection of images on my Flickr page. I tried to capture the action with Judokas in the air, holding on the ground, preparing etc., but the one that has been favourited the most is one where a Judo player pulled a face after winning the contest.
    I think my point is that it isn’t just Editors who pick strange images, this is true of people. I never would have picked this particular image but it is my most viewed image!

    Here is the image I mean: http://danm.in/SKieoA

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