Perfection Should Be an Aspiration — Not an Expectation

Like most photographers, I’m intensely self-critical. I can be absolutely merciless when it comes to analyzing what went wrong or right in my pictures.

And yet, I pretty much hate it when other people critique me. Perhaps that’s why I’m usually more positive and encouraging when I review the photos of others.

When I taught online regularly, I would spend an hour or so writing 500 to 1,000 word critiques of my students’ work. I tended to look for the smart, creative aspects of their photos. Over time, I found that students improved more quickly when I focused on the good things they had done. It gave them something to build on.

Still, when I first download my own images, I can’t help but hammer myself for all of the mistakes I made, or the better ideas that I overlooked. I constantly have to remind myself to spend as much time thinking about what I like about my photos as what I don’t.

Just a Snapshot

The photo below is just a snapshot. I was waiting for a freighter to leave the harbor; this couple walked into the frame, so I shot a quick dozen photos of them. I liked the shot as I was taking it, but I knew it was just a snapshot.


Nevertheless, I took the time to analyze the photo later. Here are some of the thoughts that went through my mind as I looked at it for the first time:

What I Like —

  • The setting next to a pretty harbor at sunset;
  • The placement of the couple in the frame, especially the way the water surrounds their upper bodies and heads;
  • They’re both wearing red — which really pops out;
  • They both have a foot off the ground, which I had the good timing to capture.

What I Dislike —

  • The specular highlights on the oil tanks across the harbor in the distance;
  • The couple is a bit too close to center (yes, I know this contradicts my second “like” above);
  • I’m at the same level with the couple;
  • I didn’t ask them to turn around and pose — perhaps hugging or looking at each other;
  • I didn’t exaggerate the space with a wider lens.

Being Your Best Teacher

I wish I had cropped out the oil tanks. I wish I had placed the couple farther to the right. I wish I had thought to snatch the camera off the tripod and take the picture while kneeling down. I wish I had spoken to them. I wish I hadn’t used such a long zoom setting.

Sure, it wasn’t a great photo op to begin with, but every photo you take is an opportunity to learn. If you take the time to do some self-analysis each time you download your photos, you can be your own best teacher.

Self-awareness is everything, I think, in life and in photography. Just be sure to spend as much time focusing on what you did right in your pictures as what you did wrong. Cut yourself some slack; after all, it’s only photography.

3 Responses to “Perfection Should Be an Aspiration — Not an Expectation”

  1. Thank you for this post; I always appreciate posts that I actually learn something from.

  2. Jeff,
    If more photographers had your attitude, that would make us all as a group much better.

    I am probably the same way. Very critical of my own work. Teaching is tough .

    I find myself balancing the tightrope of being too harsh and being too easy. I guess a lot also depends on the personality of the person I'm critiquing.

    I think your picture is fine the way it is. Truly there is nothing wrong with a snapshot. Not every picture you take is meant to be blown up huge for all the world to see.

    Your courage of sharing any picture online as often as you do speaks of your own ability and confidence.

    For that I salute you!

  3. And thanks to both of you for your nice comments.

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