I went to a wedding this weekend. The photographer was an old friend (that’s a friend for a long time as opposed to an old bloke I’m friends with… actually, now I think about it…) of mine. He’s just in the process of turning professional, concentrating mainly on wedding photography. We have had quite a few conversations recently about our photographic “issues”. One recurring topic is that of quality and in particular the “problems” we see in our pictures which don’t seem to matter to other people.
Now, it’s hard for me to say I am a perfectionist because, to me, that implies that I believe my work is perfect, or at least that I am capable of perfection. However, in spite of being obsessed with photography for over thirty years now, I can’t point at a single photo I have taken and say that it is perfect. I have plenty of photos I am proud to have taken, but perfection is something I strive for but don’t ever achieve.
My wife gets really irritated by me (for oh-so-many reasons, to be honest!) because I am constantly whining that the depth of field is too narrow (or deep), focus is slightly off, I should have moved left/right/up/down/forward/backward, there’s something in the frame I don’t want to be there, colour/contrast/exposure could be better and so on. She is always telling me that the people I show the pictures to don’t really see these things – they just see the picture as it is.
Anyway, Mark (the wedding photographer) said he was having terrible problems with the shadows cast by his flash-guns. He had been to a few wedding photographer’s websites, checking out the competition, and had noticed that this was a fairly common problem. In fact, when he really studied the pictures he realized that he was doing a better job of minimizing the shadows than the majority. If it didn’t bother these other photographers, why should it be eating him up? I wish I could answer that question – it would give this article more of a point!
What I am trying to figure out is whether my struggle for perfection is improving the quality of my work or holding it back. I feel sure I should be aiming for perfection – what would be the point in not doing so? But I also feel that if I am exceeding the client/sitter’s expectations then (from a commercial position at least) I am achieving a kind of perceived perfection. Photography is not how I make my living, so the commercial position is not critical for me, but for Mark it could be the difference between success and failure.
Perhaps we might describe a perfect photograph as one which is perceived to be perfect by the person viewing it? Now I just need to find the right viewers…