This morning I woke up to see that PhaseOne (my beloved camera company) had posted a video and an accompanying image from my first day playing with the brand new IQ250 digital back. Of course I was super excited to be selected as one of the first photographers to get to use this exciting new piece of technology. As I scrolled down into the comments I noticed that the image was receiving some criticism. To be honest it was really me who was receiving the criticism and one person suggested that perhaps they should have given this back to “a more talented photographer”. Whatever. A little part of me wanted to go on Facebook to defend myself or to reply with something mildly snarky, because that’s what I do. But instead it just got me thinking…thinking about why I selected this image and why I sent it to PhaseOne.
In the hands of another photographer this image might have hit the cutting room floor. True, there are things wrong with it. So why did I send it out into the world? I sent it knowing that it was imperfect simply because I liked the feeling of it, overall. I just did. I liked the quietness of it, the tension between the couple, the tinyness of their new puppy on the sofa between them, their thoughtful expressions as they studied one another’s faces. I liked the color, the pretty light. Yes, I might have missed my focus a bit…oops, it happens. Was it a mind-blowing, epic portfolio shot? Nope & it was never going to be. The point was to test out the new back in a typical shoot, in my real (tiny) studio, with real people, under real pressure and all of the usual time and space constraints and chaos that accompanies a regular shoot for me. It’s as simple as that. It was real, it was imperfect. But I still liked it. So there it is, it’s out there.
As I have gotten to know PhaseOne as a company, I have come to appreciate that their business philosophies are very much in line with my own. I appreciate their total lack of snobbery. They realize as much as I do that a particular camera does not make you a better or a worse photographer. They know as much as I do that you are the photographer you are no matter what camera you are holding. But they also care about making a phenomenal product, of listening and responding to the needs of real, working photographers. They listen to the photographers who have invested with them in the same way that I try to listen to and react to the needs of my own clients. To create more of the types of images that they love, to try to understand why they love some images and not others. I made the decision to purchase a PhaseOne last year because I wanted to have the best dynamic range, detail and sharpness that is available to me. True, I could shoot with any camera, but I choose to shoot with this one. Sometimes I’ll still F up a little. Sometimes I’ll F up using my DSLRs too. Sometimes I’ll mind, and sometimes I won’t.
As I’ve been wrapping up my WPPI masterclass presentation (2 week countdown people), the concept of striving for technical excellence is one that I continuously find myself pondering. I’ve been around long enough now to see photographers come and go from this industry. Some seem to hit a peak and then have a slow decline, despite the fact that they have expansive knowledge and experience behind them. Too often I think that this decline is blamed on aging out and the perception of not being “cool enough”. Perhaps this is a small part of the equation but perhaps there is more to it than that. I often wonder if there is a certain point where we get so focused on proving our technical abilities to other photographers that we start to miss out on some of the magic that clients once saw in our work.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more important than learning and knowing your craft. This should be the baseline for any photographer and anyone who is worth listening to understands that they themselves are still a work in progress. But ultimately those of us who photograph weddings and portraits for a living must remember that we work in a genre of photography where success is not wholly dependent upon objective technical image strength. It is a genre where the standards are in a constant state of flux, where subjective “goodness” may often trump technical excellence and that the success of your business depends on a delicate grasp of this concept.
Those who become truly great can impress their clients, themselves and other photographers simultaneously. What a great and lofty goal to work towards. But as we gain knowledge as photographers and find ourselves in greater competition with one another, don’t forget that our most important job is to impress our clients. We must remember that sometimes the best images happen between the moments we planned. Sometimes we aren’t ready for them but they happen anyway. Sometimes good images are quite imperfect. In my opinion the best images of all are almost always flawed in one way or another. And I for one continue to believe that it’s okay to look past the technical imperfections to see an image for what it is and not long for what it could have been. It is what it is.
So consider this a reminder & a little taste of what’s to come in my class. Continue to learn everything you can but don’t ever let the pursuit of perfection kill off the magic, the life, the feeling of your images. Don’t sacrifice great expression or a good moment for contrived imagery. Perfection is overrated.
(I’d like to invite everyone to continue this conversation on the PhaseOne FaceBook page, I get to give away 2 more free passes to WPPI, so leave your comments under the image of the day, the couple with the dog on the white sofa).