On the pursuit of perfection

“Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.”

― Ernest Hemingway

Portland's Cathedral Park, as seen in a night photo

I’ve been sorting through some old files and decided to finish this one, which I’d given up on months ago. I had apparently decided at the time that it wasn’t perfect. The willow tree in the upper left corner had waved around during the long exposure, leaving an indistinct smudge that was pretty much irreparable. In fact, many of the trees in the photo had been moving in the wind. I had blown out the highlights in the park lamps and hadn’t properly bracketed another exposure so that I could fix that. There were little light flares all over the place.

But the problem was that I still really liked the photo. Cathedral Park at night is beautiful. I liked the warmth of the streetlights and the way they lit the park’s grass. The composition spoke to me. The blue-hour glow gave me a good feeling. I liked the photo when I took it, and I liked it when I tried to post-process it. But as I pixel peeped the file at 150%, I discovered to my horror that it wasn’t perfect. So I gave up on it.

Over the past year I’ve been getting much more selective about the photos I post. At some point, despite being (in my own mind, anyway) a free-thinking and creative person, the Prevailing Attitudes of Modern Digital Landscape Photography had seeped their way into my head. The PAoMDLP names, among other things, the following commandments:

1. Though shalt focus stack so that every pixel of your digital photo is so tack sharp that you can make prints the size of small moons, even though you will never, ever make a print the size of a small moon.

2. If thou findest out that something in your photograph has moved or blurred, thou shalt clone it out immediately.

3. If thou cannot clone out said moving object, thou must delete the file in an expedited manner.

4. Self-expression shalt always play second fiddle to posting perfect photos and retaining a perfect online portfolio.

I could go on and on about the quest for “perfect” sunstars and the expensive lenses that must be used to achieve them, the tragedy of clipped shadows or highlights, the 500px groupthink that has left us with technically perfect but emotionally sterile photographs instead of creative art, the gearheads who claim that an extra 1.7685 stops of light will help them create “better” photographs…but I’ll probably save those for a blog post that I started on months ago but still remains only partially written.

Instead, I’m just going to declare that I’m done with the pursuit of perfection, of only posting the most epic, wow-worthy photos. Don’t get me wrong, my goal is to do my best to deliver high-quality images. But why hamstring myself by limiting my creativity to a bunch of “rules” that I never agreed to in the first place? Even in the most beautiful settings, I don’t see a perfect world, so why would I attempt to convey perfection?

Your thoughts?

Until next time!

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