March 20, 2018

Letting Go of Picture Perfect

I’ve heard disliking your older work you were once so proud of is a sign you are improving as a photographer. Seeing the flaws you didn’t see before shows you understand your craft better.

Sometimes I have the opposite problem.

Often the photos I don’t like in the moment are the ones that grow on me over time. That’s because I tend to be too focused on the technical aspects when shooting. Was the face properly in focus? Exposure correct? Any traces of blur? When something is amiss I tend to be pretty hard on myself. I don’t want to share these less than perfect pictures. I’m embarrassed I messed up, no matter how small the err. I’m annoyed I didn’t do a better job capturing my perfect little subjects. Over time I stop seeing the technical issues and start focusing on the subject matter, which these days is mostly my kids.

I recently did a set of three head shots, one for each of the girls. Once again I forgot to adjust my camera settings and the aperture is so narrow there’s a slight camera shake on Nicole’s. It kills me. We tried several more times, and never once repeated the same great candid expression. I try to put the flawed photo out of my mind, but the thought of the almost perfect image haunts me. Maybe it’s not as bad as I remember? I torture myself by opening the image file and zooming in in the eyes, where the blur is most noticeable.

The blur. It hurts.

A photographer friend recently convinced me to just print the photo out anyway. What’s the harm? He argued. All you’re out is the photo paper and ink if you don’t like it. He argued that you rarely spend millimeters in front of a photo anyway, you’re unlikely to be close enough to see the flaws.

I printed it. The slight blur made me cringe.

I mounted it in a collage frame as a place holder, I told myself, just until I managed something better. The slight blur annoyed me.

I hung it on the wall. I could still see it.

But every time I walked past it, I saw the blur less and less. My friend was right, you don’t tend to stand close enough to a photo to see all the minor issues. Distance and glass help hide minor issues. What I now see was my beautiful child’s smile. That smile makes me smile. I agonized over the mistake before, but over time I simply forgot about it. It’s not the only flawed photo on my wall. I have a ballerina with a slightly out of focus hand, and an astronaut whose lose hairs have a slight motion blur.

It’s hard sometimes to let go of the technical and just enjoy the art. Sometimes you just need time.

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