It’s not the most dramatic wave; it’s rather small in comparison to the enormous waves you find in the Pacific ocean. The ocean waters aren’t glassy smooth; the wave line isn’t fully continuous; the surrounding waves aren’t perfectly scalloped; and the foam in the foreground serves only as accents, indicating a previous passage, rather than forming a clear and present pattern. It’s not illuminated by the clearest light nor does it glow from within. Still, there’s an intensely quiet presence about this image (Condensation X), deceptively calm on the surface but potentially turbulent below, with an air of mystery (Where is it coming from and going to? What surrounds it?) that makes it powerfully expressive in a complex and unique way. It’s not obvious but it is rewarding. You might say it’s a sleeper, something you might not pay close attention to at first but the more you look at it the more it grows on you.
Being sensitive to times when less is more and more is less will help you get it just right. In today’s constantly competitive culture, it’s hard not to over achieve. But sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do. Sometimes what you really need is to get it just right – and nothing more.
I like to do my very best. I like to try to do it better every time. Sometimes I try too hard and do too much. I’ve wasted hours, days even, trying to perfect something only to find out that along the way the life had gone out of it. I’ve found that things that I thought were distractions were really things that made something richer and more complex, after removing them. I’ve come to the realization that what I thought were flaws made something perfectly imperfect. This is not to say that I don’t still try to make things as good as I can and even to up my game. It is to say that the answers I’m looking for transcend technical perfection and sometimes are better for less of it.
In the world of photography it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture for all of the details. We have an extensive list of physical characteristics to evaluate the quality of photographs – focus, depth of field, frozen motion (or extreme motion blur, but nothing in between), low noise, detail in highlights and shadows, contrast, credible color casts, believable levels of saturation, no lens artifacts, the list goes on – yet we are much more challenged to describe the quality of photographs on the levels of perception and content, which are more important. There are times when technical perfection can be distracting or worse a cover up for what’s lacking. Photographer Ansel Adams remarked that, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
It’s a matter of appropriate means. You don’t want to create dynamic images to portray quiet, tender moments. You don’t want to retouch portraits of victims of war, famine, or pestilence. You don’t want to reenact the truth to make it picture perfect.
There are many times when things seem more authentic if they’re not perfect.
Besides, the more perfect your presentation becomes the more attention you call to the delivery. When you want to call more attention to the content perfect presentation may not be perfect for the purpose. Make your delivery effective. Sometimes it’s more effective to deliver just enough, not more, not less. It’s part of getting it just right.
What isn’t good enough? How do you know?
What is good enough? How do you know?
What is too much?
What is perfectly imperfect?
The Photoshop Photography Program is available to anyone (long term and new customers alike) for a limited time only – Offer Expires Dec 2.
It includes all of the following for $9.99/month with a 12-month commitment.
- Photoshop CC
- Lightroom 5
- 20GB of online storage
- Behance ProSite
- Access to training resources on Creative Cloud Learn
- Ongoing updates and upgrades
(Though not legally stated, it’s Adobe’s intention to keep these same rates for everyone in this program indefinitely.)
Julianne Kost shows how to create lightweight, efficient Smart Previews to work with offline images in Lightroom.
Here’s a selection of my favorite quotes on optimism and pessimism.
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill
“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” – Harry S. Truman
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” ― Abraham Lincoln
“The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” ― Oscar Wilde
“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.” ― George Carlin
“The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little.” – Mark Twain
“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.” – James Branch Cabell
“A pessimist is a man who thinks all women are bad. An optimist is one who hopes they are.” – Chauncey Depew
“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to the society. The optimist invents the aeroplane; the pessimist, the parachute.” — George Bernard Shaw
“An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be.” – Anonymous
“An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight … the truly wise person is colorblind.” – Albert Schweitzer
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward
“A pessimist only sees the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides and shrugs; an optimist doesn’t see the clouds at all – he’s walking on them.” – Leonard L Levinson
“The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.” – George Will
“Go into situations expecting nothing and you always come out getting something better than you had ever expected.” – Unknown
“It doesn’t hurt to be optimistic. You can always cry later.” – Lucimar Santos de Lima
“Don’t ever become a pessimist… a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun, and neither can stop the march of events.” – Robert A. Heinlein
“Many an optimist has become rich by buying out a pessimist.” – Robert G. Allen
“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” – H.Keller
“I’ve never seen a monument erected to a pessimist.” – Paul Harvey
This documentary illuminates the history of master photographer Paul Strand.
Here’s a selection of quotes by photographer Diane Arbus.
“The camera is a kind of license.” – Diane Arbus
“Photography was a licence to go whenever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do.” – Diane Arbus
“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” – Diane Arbus
“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.” – Diane Arbus
“Lately I’ve been struck with how I really love what you can’t see in a photograph.” – Diane Arbus
“I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do — that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse.” – Diane Arbus
“I think the most beautiful inventions are the ones you don’t think of.” – Diane Arbus
“The thing that’s important to know is that you never know. You’re always sort of feeling your way.” – Diane Arbus
“One thing that struck me very early is that you don’t put into a photograph what’s going to come out. Or, vice versa, what comes out is not what you put in.” – Diane Arbus
“I never have taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse.” – Diane Arbus
“Some pictures are tentative forays without your even knowing it. They become methods. It’s important to take bad pictures. It’s the bad ones that have to do with what you’ve never done before. They can make you recognize something you hadn’t seen in a way that will make you recognize it when you see it again.” – Diane Arbus
“What moves me about…what’s called technique…is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices somebody has made that take a long time and keep haunting them.” – Diane Arbus
“I used to have this notion when I was a kid that the minute you said anything, it was no longer true. Of course it would have driven me crazy very rapidly if I hadn’t dropped it, but there’s something similar in what I’m trying to say. That once it’s been done, you want to go someplace else. There’s just some sense of straining.” – Diane Arbus
“The Chinese have a theory that you pass through boredom into fascination and I think it’s true. I would never choose a subject for what it means to me or what I think about it. You’ve just got to choose a subject – and what you feel about it, what it means, begins to unfold if you just plain choose a subject and do it enough.” – Diane Arbus
“I’m very little drawn to photographing people that are known or even subjects that are known. They fascinate me when I’ve barely heard of them.” – Diane Arbus“I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don’t like to arrange things. If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.” – Diane Arbus
“What I’m trying to describe is that it’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s…. That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own.” ― Diane Arbus
“I don’t know what good composition is…. Sometimes for me composition has to do with a certain brightness or a certain coming to restness and other times it has to do with funny mistakes. There’s a kind of rightness and wrongness and sometimes I like rightness and sometimes I like wrongness.” – Diane Arbus
“The camera is cruel, so I try to be as good as I can to make things even.” – Diane Arbus
“For me the subject of a picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated.” – Diane Arbus
“I would never choose a subject for what it means to me. I choose a subject and then what I feel about it, what it means, begins to unfold.” – Diane Arbus
“Take pictures of what you fear.” – Diane Arbus
“The more specific you are, the more general it’ll be.” – Diane Arbus
“Everybody has that thing where they need to look one way but they come out looking another way and that’s what people observe.” – Diane Arbus
“Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” – Diane Arbus
“There’s a kind of power thing about the camera. I mean everyone knows you’ve got some edge. You’re carrying some magic which does something to them. It fixes them in a way.” – Diane Arbus
“It’s always seemed to me that photography tends to deal with facts whereas film tends to deal with fiction.” – Diane Arbus
“Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding.” – Diane Arbus
“The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.” – Diane Arbus
“If you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.” ― Diane Arbus
“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” – Diane Arbus
Issue 5 of PHOTOGRAPH (A Digital Quarterly Magazine For Creative Photographers) is out.
It’s packed! Portfolios and Q&A’s from Anja Buehrer, David Jackson, Marcin Sobas, and David duChemin. Columns from David duChemin, John Paul Caponigro, Chris Orwig, Piet Van den Eynde, Martin Bailey, Al Smith, Bruce Percy, and Adam Blasberg.
I discuss Abstraction in my column Creative Composition.
Here’s a selection of my favorite quotes on inspiration.
“To succeed you need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you” – Tony Dorsett
“People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals – that is, goals that do not inspire them.” – Anthony Robbins
“Without inspiration the best powers of the mind remain dormant, there is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks.” – Johann Gottfried Von Herder
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas A Edison
“If you wait for inspiration you’ll be standing on the corner after the parade is a mile down the street.” – Ben Nicholas
“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” – Jack London
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” – Pablo Picasso
“Inspiration comes of working every day.” – Charles Baudelaire
“Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning.” – Igor Stravinsky
“What Romantic terminology called genius or talent or inspiration is nothing other than finding the right road empirically, following one’s nose, taking shortcuts.” – Italo Calvino
“There are three things that make a person a writer: inspiration, perspiration and desperation.” – Harlan Coben
“The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.” – Bushnell, Nolan.
“Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us.” – William James
“It’s lack that gives us inspiration. It’s not fullness.” – Ray Bradbury
“In art the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can inspire” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Method is much, technique is much, but inspiration is even more.” – Benjamin Cardozo
“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.” – Johannes Brahms
“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Good thoughts inspire us to engage in good actions. ” – Atharva Veda
“Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” - Plato
“Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.” – Lee Iacocca
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
“Great leadership does not mean running away from reality. Sometimes the hard truths might just demoralize the company, but at other times sharing difficulties can inspire people to take action that will make the situation better.” - John Kotter
“To do something, however small, to make others happier and better, is the highest ambition, the most elevating hope, which can inspire a human being.” – John Lubbock
“It is difficult to inspire others to accomplish what you haven’t been willing to try.” – Anonymous
This month’s desktop calendar features an image from The Great Salt Lake.
November 6, 2013 | 1 Comment |
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of two icebergs passing by outside the window of our ship. I seized my camera and ran to the back of the ship. The pair glistened and glinted in a glowing haze of diffuse fog. I check the first few frames. Perfect exposures. And I continued shooting until they disappeared.
Thrilled, I returned to my cabin to download these beautiful new images. I opened the camera and found there was no card in it. To fix a recently developed quirk, I had reset all the settings on my camera to their defaults, which was to fire without a card, a behavior I disliked before and loathed now.
Yet again, I was forced to learn from my mistakes. The pain and frustration of what was lost drove this lesson home deeply. I redoubled my efforts to keep my systems streamlined and my habits well maintained – plus periodically check them.
It’s only a small comfort that Thomas Edison, one of the most innovative men in history, set a monthly quota for making mistakes; he felt that if he wasn’t making a certain number of mistakes, he wasn’t pushing the envelope enough. Easier said than done, the trick is not to make the same mistake twice. I had made this mistake before. It was already on my checklist – Mistakes I’ve Made.
A black cat mysteriously failed to appear in exposures I made as a small child with my mother. No one had a camera the day we released a magnificent rehabilitated golden eagle. On close inspection, exposures from the Scottish highlands were found to be out of focus. A dozen sheets of film used inside Chartes Cathedral were re-exposed to light before being processed. A roll of film shot in Death Valley’s Golden Canyon was improperly processed. A camera shutter failed to open despite making its customary noise at Point Lobos, California. Files made in Chile’s altiplano were deleted from a hard drive. A camera fell to the bottom of the ocean in a Maine harbor. The list goes on. I keep looking for the book people refer to when they use the phrase “every mistake in the book” – but until I find it, I’ll continue writing my own.
To this day, I can see these images in my mind as clearly as if they were made yesterday. But you can’t. They’re the ones that got away. In their place, I have lessons learned.
What can you learn from your mistakes?
How many lessons can you learn from a single mistake?
What can you do to try not to make the same mistake twice?
How can you learn from other’s mistakes?
What can others learn from your mistakes?
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