I had a conversation last week with a photographer friend. We swapped stories about our most recent photographic trips, our expectations, and the final results.
During the conversation, one thing became clear — we both find it difficult to become completely satisfied with our own photography.
This is a feeling I’ve had for quite some time, and it was nice to hear that I wasn’t the only one in this predicament.
This raises several questions regarding the satisfaction of one’s work versus the continual learning process of photography. The self proclaimed “master photographers” need not read further, since this doesn’t apply to you — but for the rest of us that believe photography is an endless process of learning, please keep reading.
I can honestly say that I have 2 or 3 photos that I am truly satisfied with. When viewed as a print, they trigger a sensation in my mind that makes me feel calm and at ease. This is not to say that these images are perfect. That assertion does not exist — nor would I want it to. It is merely a statement that I would do nothing to change the image, even if I had a chance to go back in time and re-shoot it.
There are certain aspects of the human experience that play a big role in photography. The more we work for something, the more we appreciate it. In the days or weeks after I take a photo — when the experience is still fresh in my mind — my perception of the image is often skewed by the amount of work it took to shoot it. This of course means nothing to the viewer. They have no interest in hanging a photo on their wall simply because I hiked 10 miles to take it. We must separate our own perception from our photography.
Strangely enough, the images I am most satisfied with are those that I captured long ago. The effort it took to take the photo is no longer in the forefront of my mind. I don’t remember how cold it was that morning, how many miles I hiked, or the number of previous attempts it took to get the image.
When I pick-up my film from the lab, I am often times disappointed with my own work. Perhaps the composition isn’t quite right, or the exposure is off. In any case, the vast majority of my shots are carelessly tossed into the “crap” pile. Fast forward a few days, and my perception of the images has changed. Maybe one or two images are rescued from the reject pile. Give it a few months, and those images will be a part of my portfolio.
I’m curious what this means. How has a detachment from image capture led to a greater level of satisfaction? This is a clear departure from past feelings about my own work — where I grew weary of my own images as time passed.
I have come to the realization that this level of satisfaction is attributed to my own fading memory of the scene. I strive to produce photos that are simple, dynamic, and most of all — realistic. The frustration with my own work often stems from not being able to accurately depict the true essence of a location. As my memory fades of the original scene, my photo becomes that reality — almost guaranteeing some degree of personal satisfaction.
I sometimes worry that the personal satisfaction I’ve gleaned from those select images is a sign that my own photographic abilities are stagnant — but I know that is not true. I continue to break through my own personal barriers, and am learning to shoot the 8×10 in increasingly difficult situations.