Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When Good Photographers Make Bad Pictures

We've all done it. We've all made photos that suck. We always will. Thankfully, the many genres of portraiture and other types of photography offer second chances.... and third and fourth and many more additional chances to snag a great image within of a set of images that mostly aren't so great.

You think every time a superstar shooter like Annie Leibovitz or any of her photography peers snaps the shutter an incredible photo is the result? Yeah, well, if you believe that I'm the real Obi-Wan Kenobi.

In today's digital photography age, there are only three things that truly matter: 1) snapping your photos; 2) editing your photos; 3) processing your photos. The order I listed those three skill-sets reflects their order of importance. Please note I didn't include gear as one of the Big Three.

Snapping Your Photos: #1 is #1 for many reasons. Your best photos will always, as always, be created while you're clicking the shutter. I don't care how much processing you throw at an image later on, a picture is terrific or not (and everything in between) the moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said, you capture it.

Editing Your Photos: This is as important as capturing your photos. You might snap a hundred images of a model. There might only be one in that hundred that is truly outstanding. Your ability to recognize and identify that one is as important as snapping it.

Processing Your Photos: This one generally runs a distant third. (Digital artists excepted.) I don't care how much cool processing you lay on a photo. I don't care which of the latest fad treatments you apply to it. A boring or average or crappy photo is a boring, average, or crappy photo and will remain that way, regardless of your attempts to alter that fact. You might, in post, make it less it less boring, average, or crappy but, in truth, a silk purse isn't made from a pig's ear. They may someday genetically modify pigs to grow silk ears but that day hasn't yet come. You might fool some people with all that processing and image manipulation but you won't fool everyone. In fact, you might be fooling less people than you think.

So, what does all this mean? Well, you could certainly be a spray-n-pray shooter, hoping there will one great photo amongst the many you capture. And there might be! Course, if that's your modus operandi, I strongly suggest you hone your editing skills to high levels of ability. You will, after all, have to find that photo amongst your many... assuming it's even there.

Personally, I strongly believe your best bet is to focus on the front-end of photography: Learning, applying, and practicing as much and as often as possible. After that, focus on your editing skills. Why is one photo so much better than another even when that other is only barely different? Your ability to answer that question may be paramount to your success.

Finally, learn to process your images in ways which best achieve the goal or intent of the photos. Gratuitously adding cool treatments rarely makes a great photo. Processing or manipulating your photos to achieve some sort of perfection doesn't generally meet the intent of many photos. An old Egyptian proverb says, "A beautiful thing is never perfect."

If you're making glamour pics, for instance, working overly hard in post to make everything about the model "perfect" rarely results in perfectly executed photos. People aren't perfect. (That includes the most beautiful models.) Some of their imperfections are appropriate to manipulate, remove, change, whatever. But doing so in heavy-handed, overly processed and overly manipulated ways, removing every imperfection in an attempt to create beings so apparently perfect, so without flaws, so un-human-like, generally does not yield photos viewers find truly beautiful or memorable.

The pretty girl at the top is Penthouse Pet, Celeste Star.

BTW, I've been getting some great feedback on my latest e-book, "Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography." If you'd like to learn more about it, perhaps purchase, you can do so by CLICKING HERE or on the graphic in the right-hand column.


Paul Lowell said...

Great points!!!!

John said...

Very nicely stated, Mr. D.

Anonymous said...

the hair makes the picture

Mark said...

That is a great article, Obi-Wan. Thank you for writing it. It is easy to loose the forest for the trees.