Thursday, January 02, 2014

Quit Trying for Perfection

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First things first: Happy New Year and welcome to 2014!  I hope this new year turns out to be all you wish it to be.  2014 marks my 8th year writing this blog. Eight years! Holy Moly! Who would have guessed? Not me.

I decided a perfect way to kick off 2014, blogging-wise, would be by kicking it off with an update about perfection. Photo perfection. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I got the idea for this update from a photographer on one of the Facebook photography forums I frequent.  She posted some words about how much she loves her new camera. Here's what she wrote: "The new camera arrived last Friday! Oh, I'm in love with the lens it came with. Oh, heck, I'm in love with the camera! (Canon 6D) Haven't done much with it yet, but did some quick photos of the pups with low light in the living room. My XTi would never been able to capture the images so clearly! These are SOC. (Straight Out of Camera) I wasn't trying for perfection, just playing..."

"I wasn't trying for perfection."

I'm confident she didn't intend those words as advice for pretty girl shooters. She posted a couple of pics of her dogs after all. But I think it's terrific pretty-girl-shooting advice nonetheless.  Quit trying for perfection! 

There's an Egyptian proverb that tells us, “A beautiful thing is never perfect.” While that bit of wisdom from the folks who gave us the pyramids and the Sphinx might not be entirely true for all things -- precious stones like diamonds and other gems are worth more the less flawed (less imperfect) they are -- when it comes to photography, glam and tease photography, I believe it's absolutely true.  

And yet, many photographers who shoot this genre seem to be on a never-ending quest to portray their models as perfect.  You know, perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect bodies, perfect everything. How do they do that?  Certainly, things like lighting, composition, pose, shooting environment and more are important to that end but where they really go overboard with this perfection thing is via post-processing and image manipulation. 

Like many old school photographers -- I count myself as both an old school shooter as well as a new school shooter -- when I first made the transition from film to digital I became obsessed with creating perfection in the photos of the models I snapped. With the help of software like Photoshop, I could create perfection (or some facsimile of it) with simple clicks of a mouse. Not just in terms of exposure and the tech stuff, but in my models as well. My world of digital portrait photography, whether it was photos of gorgeous, sexy, women or other subjects, was my new digital oyster. If the photos I captured weren't pearls, i.e., near perfect pearls, I'd simply make perfect or near-perfect pearls out of them. My finished pearls might be imitation pearls but they appeared perfectly pearl-like, at least to most eyes, certainly to most untrained eyes.

But then I began to realize that some of that "perfection" might not be all it's cracked up to be. While it was true I could manipulate all manner of my captured images' attributes with software, photographically as well as subject-wise,  my pretty girl photos seemed, to me at least, to appear more and more like they were empty--  Empty of imperfections, both subtle and not-so-subtle, that add human qualities to both the photographs and my subjects' uniqueness, beauty, charm, appeal, and more. 

I also realized I was often trying to create perfection at the expense of emotion and feeling. Yeah, yeah... I know. I shoot sexy women with and without clothing. How much emotion and feeling do I need to include in the photos? Well, for me, more than you might think. You see, those things are important, very important, even when it's a tease, glam, or nude photo and even if/when they are barely noticeable. 

When I'm editing my pics, the difference between one image and the next might barely be noticeable but, often, that difference (in terms of which image I'll go with) has to do with ever-so-slight differences in expression, attitude, and emotion. It's those qualities in my photos and other shooter's photos, no matter how slight, that speak to me the loudest. They are qualities that resonate so much more vibrantly than, as an example, a perfectly-rendered and uniform array of facial skin pores courtesy of some piece of portrait-processing software.

For a while, it was more important for me to create perfect skin (and more) than to create photos that reached out to viewers in more memorable and appealing ways; ways other than having viewers be tricked into believing my model was perfect in terms of her physical attributes... attributes I was routinely manipulating in order to achieve some level of perfection in my models' photographic portrayal.  

So here's my advice for some of you. Think of it as some well-in intentioned New Year's advice: Quit trying for perfection. Quit trying to create human beings who are perfect. Let some of their physical flaws remain. Rely on the captured content of your photos, with its flaws, and with the emotions, attitudes, and more. Quit working so hard to create people who, frankly, don't exist. Does that mean not to do anything that improves your subjects visual appeal? Oh hell no. But there's a digital processing line that's best not crossed. Leastwise, in my opinion there's such a line.  Where is that line?  I can't say exactly, but I know it when I see it.

The half-naked pretty girl at the top mostly appears the way I shot her, that is, SOC. Did I manipulate the finished image? Yeah. But just a little with a slight crop, a slight luma adjust, removal of a few skin blemishes, and a bit of sharpening. Could I have done more? Done more to make her more perfect? Sure. I could have added a bunch of skin processing. (As is, I did none, zero.) I also could have made her tits breasts more perfect, that is, more perfectly round and perhaps a bit fuller. I could have removed stray hairs. I could have removed those skin flaps on her right side. I could have made her glow. In other words, I could have made her more perfect, albeit, less real.  Sure glam and tease is much about fantasy but there's more to fantasy than physical perfection. And by the way,  I sometimes apply some of those perfection-processing things I just mentioned to my pictures. But for this one, a rather randomly selected image for this update, and for most all of the pics I post, I think she's perfectly fine the way I shot her and she's "perfect" enough the way she appears.


Bea Rosenleaf said...

Great article, Jimmy! For the most part I believe that none of us are perfect and if you want real pictures of real people, it should show imperfection. Yes, I do some post work on skin blemishes and some scars, but for the most part my photos are just like the people I shoot...imperfect! And I'm glad I could help you out with a subject to write about! LOL

jimmyd said...

Thanks Bea! Keep doing what you're doing. And enjoy the heck out of your new camera! May it bless you with many awesome pictures!

Paps said...

Your post reminds me of a few Japanese terms that stuck in my mind for some time.

Wabi-sabi: beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" (

Shibui: simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty (

Being a non-Japanese person I'll probably never fully understand the full depths of these terms.