Are You Too Much of a Perfectionist With Your Photography?

Are You Too Much of a Perfectionist With Your Photography?

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Are you one of those people who winces every time you take a photograph that’s slightly skewed, with a foot cut off, overblown highlights, or too much grain? Well let me tell you something, sometimes the problem might not be with the photograph – it may be you. Are you a perfectionist? Is it affecting how you view your photography?

In this article let’s take a look at this concept and see how it applies to you and your work.

Are You Too Much of a Perfectionist With Your Photography?

How much does it matter?

Needless to say, there are many situations where a skewed horizon, a cutoff limb, or a white sky will ruin the photograph. But there are just as many situations where it won’t matter at all, yet many people will think it does, and they will trash their perfectly good photographs because of this.

It’s hard not to over-think your photographs, especially if you are a bit of a perfectionist or like as much order as possible to things. And even if you’re not, you probably have moments where you over-think the details in your images. We all research cameras that have the sharpest lenses and most megapixels for a reason, don’t we?

Are You Too Much of a Perfectionist With Your Photography?

But a lot of the time, this stuff doesn’t matter that much. What matters is that the photograph looks beautiful, that it’s interesting, and that it has an alluring quality that engages the viewer. In those situations, straight lines and perfect sharpness are just a bonus.

Negative critiques

A big purveyor of this way of thinking comes from photo competitions or photo clubs. While I’m not knocking photo clubs – they are an amazing place for the knowledge, enthusiasm, and comradery. But they can also have the effect of making us question our photos in the wrong way.

In a room full of people, there will always be a few that are hyper-focused on an element that they see as out of line, and this disregards the photo as a whole. No matter what image you show, there is guaranteed to be one person who will find something wrong with it, and that puts a lot of pressure on you.

Similarly, think about the difficulty for judges in photo competitions, where they have to stare at hundreds or thousands of photos to pick a winner. They are just looking for any reason to disregard a photo. Nitpicking the little details is the easiest way to do this, so that becomes a prerequisite for your photo to do well.

Are You Too Much of a Perfectionist With Your Photography?

Find a balance

The result of all of this is that I work with many photographers who get so nervous about making the slightest mistake, and it throws their whole photography experience off. Where they should spend their time enjoying themselves and looking for something amazing, they question their abilities and over-think each detail.

I’m not trying to disregard the importance of technical quality in photography. It’s vital and necessary. You have to have good technical skills to become a good photographer, but the technical aspects should be in the back of your mind instead of in the front.

After all, the only people that pixel peep and gaze at a photograph from six inches away, are other photographers.

Are You Too Much of a Perfectionist With Your Photography?

Embracing imperfections

Going to galleries to view the work of the old masters is a great way to learn this. For every Ansel Adams, there was a Garry Winogrand. Cameras were often downright primitive compared to what we have today. Some of the most famous photographs of all time are slightly blurry or have technical elements that would make the judges of a photo contest today cringe.

Some photographers even look to add imperfection into their work, often by skewing their photographs or including elements in strange compositions. Other photographers even will shoot at high ISOs in all lighting situations because they like to have a grainy look to their images. In this way, imperfections can improve your photographs by making them feel more real and of the moment. It shows that the photograph was a special and unplanned event.

Are You Too Much of a Perfectionist With Your Photography?

I do not want you to forget to think about the technical qualities of your photographs, but I want you to be more in the moment. Take the pressure off yourself. Be more spontaneous, enjoy yourself, and try to get lucky. Focus on the moment more than the photograph, and share that moment with us. If it’s a great moment, it won’t matter how off the horizon is.

Bring back a photo that you love, that you relate to, that you want to put on the wall, and I guarantee there will be others that will love it as much as you do. Don’t worry about the ones who feel differently. Take their opinions into account, but try not to let it consume you.

Just make sure not to photograph someone with a tree coming out of their head.

Are You Too Much of a Perfectionist With Your Photography?

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James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide. James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.

  • BlackRipleyDog

    Well, if we are “perfectionists”, it is because of the absolute wealth of how-to materials, tips, publications, videos, books, experts, technology and other venues out there pushing us to up-our-game. I for one, don’t see a downside.

  • PJB_NUFC

    This is something I suffer from and as BlackRipleyDog has suggested, the volume of information available to us contributes to it without a doubt. However, I have discovered many times that my best photos are the ones I don’t overthink too much. I try to shoot exactly what caught my eye and made me stop and take the lens cap off. I still get plenty of poor images, but I also get some great ones without the frustration of spending a heap of time trying to set up the perfect shot only to be disappointed it didn’t look as I wanted it to.

  • Joel

    Strive for perfection…settle for excellence.

  • KC

    It’s a surprisingly hard answer for me. For personal work perfection means meeting or exceeding my expectation. Did I capture what I intended? That’s a complex interaction between what I see and the camera can do. It’s rarely resolved with “a better camera”. I can revisit a image later and see something else, a new interpretation.

    But, I also handle a lot of assignment/commercial work. That’s a different set of priorities. I’m working to a layout and spec, someone else’s creative vision. There’s also cost, deadline, and output to consider. My function is to meet their expectations, their “perfection”. If I’m shooting a commercial piece for myself, I have room to be creative, but there’s still things to consider.

    It’s a great paradox. There’s a lot of information, “how-to’s”, and technical bits out there. That’s great, but you have to make it your own. There’s “how” and there’s “why”. There’s a lot of galleries and photographs out there. Some resonate with me, some don’t.

    Here’s something to think about: an image is only as perfect as you present it to be. The viewer has no clue about the camera or settings. It either resonates with them, or it doesn’t, it works or it doesn’t. An even stranger twist: it may not “hit” the mark with one audience, but will with another.

    Something to watch out for: there are people who seem to get great pleasure from tearing someone to shreds. That’s not helpful. Look for positive input. Don’t doubt yourself, or your camera (any camera).

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