Perfection. This image really got me thinking about my need to strive for technical perfection in each shot, and why sometimes, perfection is such an utter waste of time. Content and idea holds the power behind any shot; technical execution, however, is where we all seemingly concentrate so much of our energy, but I would argue that the lion share of our efforts should be directed instead to finding scenes that are moving. If we don’t pull off a perfect shot, well, it might not even matter. In fact, it might be even more meaningful as a piece of work with those so-called imperfections. Just some thoughts I’ve been running over of late.
I was out on the North end of Folly Beach earlier this month walking around the old coastguard beach and Morris Island Lighthouse when a really nice sunset began to develop. Like the crazed idiot that I am, I began to run around frantically trying to find something worthwhile to put in the frame with the colorful sky. Into the ocean I ran, got bounced around by a few waves and still didn’t produce a frame worth a turd (this is fairly commonplace with me). Then, I glanced over my shoulder and noticed the full-moon rising in the pastel pink reflected light of sunset. Hmm…I forgot all about that I thought to myself. Earlier in the week I had plotted out the full-moon and made note that I should plan around that potential, but here I was, facing the opposite direction shooting half-assed shots of, well, nothing really except for some vibrant sky color and behind me was the full moon. I continued to shoot out the color until it fizzled into the blue hour of evening, when I preceded to pack up and head back towards my car. When I passed a series of timber pilings, I railed off a number of technically perfect shots (water detail, light exposure, blah, blah). Didn’t really move me, so I continued on down the beach where I passed by these little buried pilings that my mother later called “little Martian feet!” I don’t know…just stuck in my mind. I took two shots here: the first shot my tripod legs were still settling in the sand, which resulted in a blurred exposure. The second take is the one you see here. I chimped the screen, didn’t think it was strong enough and kept walking. In hindsight, this should’ve been my primary focus the entire evening (I think).
Nothing about this photograph is right to me. I certainly didn’t pre-visualize this concept nor did I place much effort into execution. Yet, I still like it. The industry standard for water speed is blurred for illustration of motion but without loss of detail. Why? I don’t know. It’s kind of like walking into an architecture program at a big college and counting the number of professors wearing black. Why? I don’t know. It just is. It’s an accepted standard. And I usually follow the standard (not the black clothes thing, but the water speed exposure deal). Thinking on it though, what an absolute waste. Probably the quickest way to destroy originality and spontaneity and responsiveness to the scene is to stack up a number of these conventions. Like auto-pilot you could approach a scene and begin to follow all the rules and guidelines you’ve accumulated to the point that you have a technically perfect unmoving frame to share with everyone. You could proudly point out to your photographer peers how you’ve mastered water exposures, or how you stacked frames to retain detail in the moon, or used a complicated algorithm to pull out the bests from your blue hues, or carefully placed all of the elements on an advanced model of thirds and balance. But what do you end up with? Does it move you? Does it move the viewer? Does it translate the feeling of spontaneity, surprise, or anything meaningful? Or is it just perfect: boring, tired, devoid of passion. I know, I know, this is a massive over simplification and some combination of technical mastery and emotional draw is optimal. You’re absolutely right. But these were the thoughts that I had when I sat with this image and contemplated whether I should share it or not.
Perhaps I’m just trying to sell you guys on a shot that I know isn’t up to snuff. Or, perhaps, I’m trying to sell myself on this odd little mistake of a photograph that just doesn’t feel complete yet draws me to it regardless. I don’t know. Sometimes that’s all that I’ve got. I don’t know. Why do folks chose to purchase one photo over another? I ask myself why some of my older photographs gain more attention than my newer ones, despite being of far less technical value. While I don’t have a clear answer, I suspect that it has something to do with the spontaneity and blind passion that I had when I started into the woods with a camera versus the slightly more calculated version I’ve become years later. Perhaps it’s easier for viewers to identify themselves in an image when there are some compositional imperfections? Or when the photo is closer to what they (a viewer) might have taken versus some contrived composition of elements and techniques that I might force together to demonstrate my mastery of the craft and composition. Maybe this shot is grabbing me precisely because it was a quick grab shot that couldn’t be contrived. It had to be honest. I don’t know for sure.
The beauty of photography (or the nightmare for others) is that once the work is created the public at large determines its relative worth. Sure, you can market and manipulate perception with all sorts of wizardry, but when the veil is lifted and it’s simply a person and a photograph the only question that matters is, “does it move you?” No. Okay, swipe your phone or click your mouse: onto the next. Repeat the process. Either way, the shot is done. Viewers move on. Photographers move on. No matter really, I think I’m going to be more intentional about what rules I’m automatically bringing with me in the future in an attempt to be more open and fluid to the conditions that present instead of the choices that I think will fit some phantom accepted industry standard. It’s about the specific scene you’re photographing and the specific effect that you’re trying to achieve, which hopefully is linked somehow to the specific emotion that you’re feeling and/or you would like a viewer to feel or interpret. Again, I don’t know. I just don’t know. That’s what I felt when I took this image and that’s what I’m putting forth here. I don’t know.
See more imagery from South Carolina here.