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).

7 Responses to “Perfection is Overrated (and more free WPPI passes)”

  1. Melanie says:

    Hi Justine,
    I love your writing, I love this image (perfect or not) and I’d LOVE to go to WPPI. I’ve never been. Thanks for the opportunity you’ve provided here. :)

  2. Frederic says:

    Hi Justine
    I dropped a line on the one phase page, I’m sorry but i used my French side to express myself.
    Keep doing a great job !!!

  3. Ugh .. if those armchair critics actually went out and shot more, they’d have less time or inclination to nit-pick the work of others.

    The one thing that is constant – the really great photographers and the busy photographers, never stoop down to slamming others. Invariably it is the lesser ones – the wannabes – that do this.

  4. Fizzah Raza says:

    That was a good read. I think the last paragraph really resonated with me: “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.”

    Some of the most moving photographs I’ve ever seen have not been technically oerfect but they captured a feeling and I found myself going back to those photographs agile and again.

    On a side note, I wanted to thank you. Years ago when I was just starting to look at the business side of photography I studied like a maniac. I studied the technicals, sales, marketing…anything and everything I could get my hands on. Still do (which is why this was such a great reminder. anyways one if THE best things I ever learned was about in person sales and it was from a post you shared on DWF. I remember reading and rereading it. I even saved it in my notes folder on my computer. It took me a few years to go full time but I knew even before I did that I was going to do IPS. Sorry for being long winded. Just have always wanted to tell you that you’ve had an impact on me and thank you.

  5. Andy John says:

    Hi Justine;

    Read your post and I liked it. I totally agree with what you wrote with the exception of “Aging out”. Professionally I don’t think you will if you don’t want to. Maybe I am interpreting that wrong. At 46 and male in the DC area and my destination market, I’m doing quite well however, I keep current with my young brides and maintain that youth. Since becoming exclusively Weddings in 2005, I agree I’ve seen my share of “Rock Stars” come and go. My explanation?? Lack of staying power and stamina. Being based in DC, I’m not signing autographs at WPPI or Photo Plus but my brides love me and that make me and my check book very happy.

    You my dear, do AMAZING work!!! Those comments are just someone with nothing better today. Keep up the great work and I’m sorry I will not get the chance to finally meet you at WPPI. I’m in Miami the following week. Good luck.

    Andy John Images
    1425 K. St Suite 350
    NW Washington DC 20005

  6. Vu Bui says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here, and I’m guilty of letting myself be riled up by comments by people I don’t even know. When I do, though, I try to remember this little cartoon that I LOVE:

    As we can readily see from any discussion online, not only are there tons of people with differing tastes, opinions, demeanors, levels of social skill, and ability to communicate… but there also are a bunch of douchebags. They think tearing someone else’s work down in public is ok. USUALLY, though not always, they aren’t talented themselves but are excellent critics. We just need to fight the urge to make them see our way, because it just isn’t going to happen most of the time. And allowing them to frustrate or hurt us is truly giving them the victory. Ignore the ignorant. :)

  7. Sarah Gray says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of your style and work :) And I love everything about this image! <3 Gave you a little comment love on that photo – but regardless of me getting to go to WPPI this year — I just want you to know that if those naysayers have nothing better to do than tear people down, then it's not worth paying attention to their critiques. Just like mom said "If you don't have anything NICE to say…don't say anything at all!"

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