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 learned:

It's important to know our own strengths and weaknesses. I see pretty well in two-dimensions — e.g., the image above. The scene is relatively two-dimensional and so is the image. All well and good — and easy for me. I see this way naturally.

But when I'm confronted with the three-dimensional scene like the one at left, I know I'm up against my weakest point. I don't naturally see how a three-dimensional subject will translate to the two dimensions of a photograph. Knowing this about myself, I have to work harder and more carefully to get things right.

Nonetheless, often, like the one at left, my compositions seem forced and artificial. They are not technically flawed, but just a bit stiff and awkward. It can be frustrating. I work harder at these images, but my success ratio is a fraction of what I achieve with more two-dimensional scenes.

At least I know my weakness about this and can try to work against it with purposeful effort. As Shakepeare said (and I'm sure he was thinking about photography when he said it), "Know thyself." Or was a Goethe who said that? Doesn't matter, just plain good advice.