How to Let Go of Perfection in Photography

In the digital era, where perfection seems within our grasp through post-processing and limitless opportunities to reshoot, it’s easy to get hung up on perfectionism. In some genres, such as product photography, it’s a necessity. Your commercial client won’t appreciate blown-out highlights on a shampoo bottle or soft focus on the wheel of a prestige car.

But in many other areas of photography – especially when it comes to your personal projects – letting go of perfectionism can help unleash your creativity and ensure that you don’t miss important moments.

Embrace the imperfect

Almost everything about the black-and-white photo at the top of the page is imperfect from a technical stance. The subject is too centred; the sun has cast shadows over her eyes and highlighted her nose; the highlights are blown out, and the focus is soft on the eyes. To me, though, it is exquisite. The windswept hair, the tilt of her head and quirky smile capture her sweet nature, and the way she looks (to this very day) when she is daydreaming.

My youngest daughter is wildly artistic. She’s a keen photographer and has an eye for composition, lighting and quirky camera angles. To my frustration, she refuses to master some of the basics such as the exposure triangle and depth of field. While I think this has more to do with teen rebellion than creativity, I have learned something from her.

Technical skills are important, there’s no question, as we need to master the fundamentals of our craft. In photography, this means understanding light, how focal length and depth of field work, and the relationship between shutter speed, iso and aperture. We should be aware of the rules of composition even if we choose to veer from them.

Perfection is a myth

When you make perfection your goal, you’re often left with a sense of failure. Rather than enjoying your achievements, you waste time lamenting what you failed to achieve and what you could have done differently.

Creative minds are rarely tidy (neither are their workspaces – just ask the aforementioned daughter). Creation can be a messy business, yet making a mess is something that’s discouraged from an early age. Creativity is the explosion of paints and brushes across the table. It’s the random words smudged across school books that become poems and songs. It’s burnt saucepans, twisted ankles and spilt ink, and it’s weird composition, missed focus, and unwanted backgrounds.

Progress over perfection

Candid photography and photojournalism are all about capturing the decisive moment, no matter how imperfect the conditions. You can’t reschedule the moment your baby takes his first steps until the light is right. And trust me, if those photos are blurry and the cat makes a guest appearance at the critical moment, they will still move you to tears when you look at them 18 years from now.

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