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:

Black lava flows in Hawaii. Fascinating patterns and textures. And miles and miles of it to work photographically.

What I don't like in the picture:

One of the most challenging set of tones to get right is shiny black. It's either too flat and gray (like the above) or too fake looking if I simply push the contrast to white and black.

What I learned:

It took me a while, but I finally figured out that to photograph the shiny black lava (called pahoehoe) and have it look both shiny and at the same time black, it helps to point your camera toward the sun. Only took me three trip to Hawaii to figure this out. It's necessary to pay close attention to the front of your lens to avoid lens flare. Hint: Cast a shadow on your lens with your baseball cap.

2nd Chances: What I might try next

I wish I'd had a step ladder to elevate my camera position. Pretty dangerous out there, though, and a tumble onto the lave could slice the hell out of your knee — as Maureen discovered when she took a tumble.