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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Original digital capture

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What I saw that I liked:

The contrast of the texture of the aspen bark compared to the rock behind it.

What I don't like in the picture:

The dead branch to the right of the aspen; the too similar tones of the rock and the aspen.

What I learned:

I think my greatest flaw as a photographer is my inclination to give up on an image too soon. I'm sure this is inherited from my film days. If a negative didn't print well with a modest amount of dodging or buring, it quickly became too frustrating as the complexity of creating the print increased. I usually just gave up because the more complexity I added, the worse the results became.

But that's a dysfunctional way of thinking in the digital world. Non-destructive editing, virtual copies, pixel level manipulations, and repeatability have made it possible to push an image so much further than we could in the wet darkroom.

I erroneously gave up on the original above without even trying to fix the problems. But the more I thought about this image, the more I realized I might be able to keep pushing it closer to my visualized hope thanks to the new digital tools. Hence, the image at left. May not be a stone cold winner (pun intended), but it's a far cry better than the original.