Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Photographs Stink - Or, How To Keep Moving Forward

Rays of Hope - Stallion Springs, California
My photographs stink. They are not very good. Really, they are not good at all.

Sometimes I think that my photographs are pretty good. Occasionally I feel like one of my images is "portfolio" material (whatever that means). Every so often I think that one of my photographs is a real "winner" worthy of attention. 

Then I look at the work of others. I look at the old "masters" and the things that they created with far less sophisticated equipment. I see some of the current great photographers and the work that they are creating. In comparison, my photography is amateurish.

I could get down in the dumps about this. I could throw my hands up in the air and just give up. I could decide that my work will never be as good as their's, and I could stop trying. Or, instead, I can keep moving forward.
Old Coffee Cup - Mojave, California
Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." I like to add that your next 10,000 photographs are your second worst. It takes time and practice to have the skill and vision to create great works of art. The lesson here is that one cannot expect to be a great photographer overnight or even within a few years. The more you do the better you become.

Ansel Adams said, "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." One of the greatest photographers of all time had a good year if he created one significant photograph a month. Someone like me cannot expect to accomplish the same thing. Perhaps two or three significant photographs in any one year is a great crop for me.

Thinking about this more, how many of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs can you think of off hand? How many of Ansel Adam's? It is less than 10 each that come to my mind. It takes a whole career to create a handful of truly memorable photographs.

The point of this rambling is that it is important to keep moving forward. I must move forward. There is a lesson with each photograph captured, and I need to make sure that I learn whatever lesson is offered.
Peerless - Newberry Springs, California
The way that you move forward in photography is to be critical of your own work. No, make that ultra-critical. Look harshly at your own work and think about what you did well and what you could have done better. Almost always there is something, even if seemingly insignificant, that could have been done different that would have improved the image. Then, next time, try to not repeat the mistakes while trying to replicate what did go well.

You move forward by always improving, even if just a little. Slight forward momentum is better than none at all. Eventually slight movement becomes significant.

I wanted to end this post with a long quote by Chuck Abbott from The Man Who Came Back article I published over a year ago. I think it closes this well.
"Years ago there was a book titled 'The Man Who Came Back,' and while I never read the book or knew anything about the man or what he came back from or to, years later when I went into the photographic business, that title rang in my ears many times as I found myself personifying not only the man who came back but the one who came back again and again! 
"When asked by complimenting amateur photographers--'Oh, Mr. Abbott, how do you get such good pictures? I was there and mine didn't turn out at all well'--my answer is invariably the same--'you'll have to go back and try another day, another light, another season.' Meanwhile I am mentally recalling that 'good' picture; was it really good, couldn't it have been better, and shouldn't I go back again and do it over? 
"For that's the trouble with this picture business--there is so little satisfaction in it! You are always beset with the haunting thought that every picture could be improved, if not by you, then by someone, sometime; so you end up traveling in a circle, periodically returning to do a better, or at least a different, interpretation of the subject. Perfection, of course, is the goal."

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