“The Beginner’s Mind can be elusive to a seasoned photographer. As we learn more and more about photography we often unlearn imperfection at the same time.“
Imperfection is important in photography because that is what gives our photographs soul. For many of us who spend time working on projects, it’s quite common that we start out looking for and hunting down those wonderful compositions. We want to find colourful sunrises, beautiful smiles, perfect family moments, and beautiful people for our images. Then one day we reach a point when we examine the images we have done and come to conclusion that something seems to be missing. Months or years go by and we are consumed by trying to find more meaning in our images. That elusive something is indeed getting the best of us.
We’re not all fashion photographers and we don’t all work for Vogue magazine. We’re simply trying to capture images that don’t look like a thousand other photos that you’ve seen before, and contain an element of truth to them, and perhaps even a tiny shred of what it means to be human.
Many photographers spend a great deal of time trying to make people look like something they are not. Let’s place this family in a beautiful setting. We will carefully arrange them to give the photo an overall balance. We stagger their heads so that the eyes are not all at the same level. We dress them in clothes that they will only ever wear when getting a professional photo done. And then we ask them to produce a smile on the count of three. We can even finish the photo off by supercharging the saturation of the colours, adding light where none existed and then add some falling leaves.
I don’t say this trying to be mean because all photographers including myself have been guilty of this. In many respects this is what we have been taught as photographers to produce, and it most likely is what sells.
The family sees their group photo for the first time and think, “Oh my goodness that’s beautiful! You’ve captured the colours so well. And I didn’t realize the sunlight was so gorgeous!”
The truth is that they didn’t realize the sunlight was so gorgeous because it probably wasn’t at the time. And in many cases the client attributes the effect to the skill of the photographer and the expensive camera they were using. It’s almost like magic.
The family will love the image and proudly display it on the wall of their foyer as a 36 inch canvas. Meanwhile, the snapshot of the kids laughing and jumping on the couch while mom and dad pick up the bowl of popcorn that spilled all over the floor gets filed into the old shoebox in the closet.
Fast-forward fifty years. You and your siblings are now retired with families and grandchildren of your own. Your parents are gone. You find the old snapshot in the shoebox in the closet while doing a spring cleaning. You say nothing as you hold the 4 by 6 tightly against your heart while tears roll down your cheeks.
But what of the 36 inch canvas? Well let’s just say that we lost track of where we put it years and years ago. That sailor suit that dad had on and the pursed-lipped smiles kinda looked silly anyhow.