For as long as I’ve been snapping photos to share on my blog, my basic photographic philosophy has remained unchanged: shoot first, then sort the good pictures from the bad later. This photographic philosophy is pretty much the same as my approach to writing, which is “Write a lot, then cut the crappy stuff.”

Bittersweet nightshade on chainlink fence

I’ve often said a digital photographer’s most valuable tool is the “Delete” button, and it’s true: you don’t see most of the pictures I take. When I go dog-walking with my purse-sized digicam, I shoot as if I have pixels to burn, and I do. I’m wasting nothing but battery charge if I take a couple dozen photos and share only a handful. Sometimes you can’t know what will look good on your computer screen until you take a couple dozen pictures, upload them to your laptop, and begin the process of delete, delete, deleting all but the best.

Over the years, I’ve discovered another so-called secret to taking and sharing lots of pictures. It all comes down to the morning’s first picture. It doesn’t matter what that first picture shows, and it doesn’t matter whether that first picture is “good” or not. What matters, though, is that I go ahead and take that first picture.


It sounds like a silly truism to say that you can’t take any pictures until you take the first one, but it’s true. On some dog-walks, my camera stays in my purse, either because the day is too dark or wet for pictures or because I’m feeling uninspired and nothing grabs me as being photo-worthy. Over the years, though, I’ve come to realize that “photo-worthiness” has more to do with me and my eyes than it has to do with whatever I’m looking at. As soon as I see one thing that’s interesting enough to make me reach for my camera, I’m likely to see another and another and another. The first photo, in other words, gets me to open my eyes for subsequent photos.


On the television show American Pickers, antique-hunters Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz travel the country in search of forgotten treasures buried in piles of rusty junk. On any given “pick” through a cluttered barn, garage, or cellar, Mike and Frank use the term “breaking the ice” to refer to their first purchase, which is usually something small and insignificant. In order to convince the owner of that cluttered barn, garage, or cellar that they really are looking for (and willing to buy) the dusty antiques they refer to as “rusty gold,” Mike and Frank buy something–anything–to get negotiations rolling. Once Mike and Frank have bought the outing’s first (and typically inexpensive) tchotchke, they’re ready negotiate larger purchases.

Each day’s “first photo” serves the same purpose for me, I think. Before I can get down to the serious business of finding overlooked visual goodies on my daily dog-walks, I have to break the ice by opening my eyes, reaching into my purse, and getting my shutter snapping. Once the ice is broken, you never know what you might find.