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:

A public park in Beijing, China. Lots of people doing exercise, playing music, card games, and conversation.

What I don't like in the picture:

I need to establish a new inviolable rule for photography. No more photographs that include people's butts. They are never flattering. I think what they actually are is an indication of "shy photographer syndrome."

What I learned:

Just do it. Get over your (ok, my) fear and intimidation. Just get in there and go to work. If they don't want their portrait made, they will tell you. If they don't say no, assume you have permission.

The guy at left if playing a Chinese opera instrument called an er hu. When the song was over, he looked up at me and smiled. Why was I so hesitant to photograph him? Remember the advice from Goethe: Boldness has genius in it.