I am my own worst critic

How many times have you gone through the day’s images only to come up with a measly few worth a damn?  Even if you’re not a ‘spray and pray’ shooter this happens all the time.  I look at a shot and wonder what the hell I was thinking.  Even if it’s one I deliberated over and really worked at capturing it sometimes just doesn’t translate from three dimensions down to two.  Or is it just me?

A while back, some friends and I went to a popular photo site – a brook with some falls that runs through the woods.  There’s about 400 yards worth of excellent photographic opportunity.  So much so that it’s kind of been done to death.  The place has such easy access that just about every angle has already been shot.  Everyone in our little group has photos of this brook/falls, but it was my first time there, so I knew that I wanted to find something new.

So when I saw a rather unique perspective I was all over it.  Basically I had to get right on the edge of the brook with all three tripod legs on different surfaces with me straddling a slow-moving rivulet trying not to fall in, get wet and destroy my gear. At the same time I was very intent on getting the foreground properly showcased as well as the brook as it wound its way into the forest.  All the while hoping for something different for this location.  A few frames later I was sure I had gotten just that.

Then I saw the results.  Meh I thought to myself and chose several other images to process and showcase on my photo pages.  Several got oohs and ahhs and I was pretty happy with the results.  This image in particular since I really took a lot of care and attention over its composition and exposure.

Downstream

I completely forgot about the other, more perilous, view that I had taken such pains over.

Every time I opened Lightroom and browsed that catalog I kept going back to it though.  Over and over again I’d look through the few shots I took from that strange location on the edge of the stream and try to remember what first arrested my attention.  Should I trust my gut and keep it flagged as a reject or revisit?  Was familiarity breeding contempt or was this shot really as good as I thought it was when I first saw it?  Why was I so determined to get this view even though it was difficult and sort of risky?  Was I over thinking this?

So I put it out there on my photo site and added it to some groups.  Lo and behold people started commenting about what a terrific photo it was.  My mind began to let go of the negativity I amassed toward this picture and slowly I realized it really was a decent shot, maybe even a good one.

Downed tree in Tucker Brook

Why are we so critical of our own work?  Is it deserved or do we think we really are terrible photographers?  Is it socially enforced modesty for the sake of it?  I know sometimes I’m actually of the opinion that I’m a good photographer.  Not adequate, not decent, but *gasp* good.  Competent.  Even capable of greatness when the stars align.  My desire to improve keeps me going, but why am I so hesitant to acknowledge that I do have some talent and an eye?  We as artists need to keep a healthy ego and strive for improvement.  Finding that balance is one hell of a challenge.

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3 responses

  1. I think the problem is that the world and art are two different things. Painters probably have a better grasp of this fact and concentrate on making art rather than on reproducing the world.

    I think photographers too often think they have to reproduce the world faithfully and at the same time make great art. It doesn’t work. You have to be an artist who uses a camera (and edits his photos) or you have to be a recorder of reality. I don’t think you can be both, except very occasionally and by lucky accident.

    I have no pretensions of art. I take photographs of what interests me. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, well maybe next time. I would love to be applauded and awarded prizes but I wouldn’t like the person that would turn me into. I might start taking myself seriously.

    I have enough things to worry about without beating myself up over my photography. But we’re all different. Maybe self-criticism is what drives some people and their results are adequate reward for the angst.

    January 27, 2010 at 8:57 am

    • Thanks for commenting on my post.

      The fact that photography started out largely as a non-interpretive medium means many photographers still have a documentary approach. Post-processing is pushing the bounds of what is ‘real’ and what isn’t and, as you probably know, is a lightning-rod for heated discussion in the community. I enjoy many heavily processed photos, but it isn’t for me…I’m still trying to convey what I saw, not what I dreamed the night before. : )

      There’s a fine line between taking yourself seriously and arrogance and many people cross it. I do take myself seriously as a photographer, but I don’t let it turn me into a jerk. I still have a lot to learn, remember and attempt. Learning new stuff is a joy, really and taking pictures is fun. For me, self-improvement isn’t a worry or a chore, it’s part of the journey.

      January 28, 2010 at 9:42 am

  2. It’s definitely not just you…

    There are days that no matter how hard I try, and how accurate my calculations may be…my exposures fall short. Sometimes, the light doesn’t work, the clouds don’t diffuse the light, the contrast is too high, the lines too sharp, the shadows too deep…whatever the reason, the exposures fail.

    That’s what keeps me going artistically…trying every day to capture the impossible exposure in a pleasing manner.

    Good stuff! I’m adding you to my blog roll. I enjopy sharing good photos with my visitors, and I am excited to share yours with them!

    January 28, 2010 at 11:56 am

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