Brooks Jensen Arts

Every Picture Is a Compromise

Lessons from the Also-rans

Most photography websites show the photographer's very best work. Wonderful. But that's not the full story of a creative life. If we want to learn, we'd better pay attention to the images that aren't "greatest hits" and see what lessons they have to offer. Every picture is a compromise — the sum of its parts, optical, technical, visual, emotional, and even cosmic – well, maybe not cosmic, but sometimes spiritual. Success on all fronts is rare. It's ok to learn from those that are not our best.

This is a series about my also-rans, some of which I've been able to improve at bit (i.e., "best effort"), none of which I would consider my best. With each there are lessons worth sharing, so I will.

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What I saw that I liked:

These ancient grave markers in Japan just fascinate me. I've photographed a couple hundred in a variety of compositions. This is one of the early ones from 1990.

What I don't like in the picture:

I was still trying to figure out how to photograph them in these early days. Most of them look sort of like this one — straight on, flat, from a comfortable distance. Safe and illustrative, but emotionally flat.

What I learned:

Part of the challenge with these images is to elminate the meaningless background. In this instance, these markers were inside a cave — but you'd never know it by looking at this photograph. A great example of how the experience of photographing can cloud our thinking about what shows up in the photograph.

2nd Chances: What I might try next

Forrunately, I have lots and lots of other compositions to work with. Not sure I'll put much more time into this one. I do keep coming back to it. Maybe someday I'll figure out a way to salvage this one. If not, oh, well.