Perfect and Special Shots
by Dirk Dom -See a few more posts from Dirk HERE
I’m a mechanical engineer, specialized in machining. I never had any kind of art training. I made the switch from technically competent to artistic photographer four years ago. I’m sorry if that sounds like bragging, but to me the switch was very obvious: my productivity increased tenfold, I discovered images everywhere and my images got different. I think a lot about my work, and I put out the following to check out if this makes sense.
I wonder what impact my prints have on other people, who just see them. People get such a barrage of extremely beautiful, interesting and spectacular images during the 40,000 photorealistically engineered images they get on TV commercials every year that it’s little use trying to compete with that with just your own photographs. For me, every print is a work. I searched for it, waited for it, discovered it, shot it, went back for it, processed it, printed it, etc. To people, it’s just one of a hundred thousand nice images. Maybe I should go for images with more than just beauty. I got sent thirty images from a friend, all supposed to be the very best in the world, you know one of these typical things that get sent on the Net. Four or five I considered interesting, these had something extra. I looked at ten years’ worth of winners in a big photo contest and four images appealed to me. I think the shots I selected now for my spring portfolio all have something extra, but other people may not think so. Perfection and something extra aren’t the same. Perfection does get boring: I got the comment with my former shots that, yes, again, all just perfect and extremely beautiful, but all the same and boring.
I did a show in the Arboretum in Kalmthout, three months, with twenty-three 2 foot 8 inch prints, flowers and insects. All extremely beautiful images, but without something extra, I now see. No feedback at all. People couldn’t care less. When I took these and processed them, I wasn’t at the stage I’m at now yet. A year ago I almost stopped flower photography because there was no challenge in it anymore. I started doing flower shots with something extra this spring, and I think that now, I’m on the right track: the challenge is back.
Here’s what I mean by having a perfect shot and a shot with something extra:
This is a perfect shot. It can’t get any better, but there are thousands and thousands like it. To me, taking a shot like this is routine and boring. Put me anywhere in a place with flowers and I’ll make twenty like these, all perfect, without any effort.
This is flax. I simplified the shot. Very beautiful, perfect. Although nice and pleasing, there are thousands of shots like this.
This is a shot with something extra. The background is not what you expect, the framing is different, it reads from right to left and the middle flower isn’t perfect. Discovering it while shooting is a true surprise and the outcome is, too. I now know how to search for such a shot, I discovered it two years ago.
Shots like this one above are extremely rare, I have maybe ten of these, but it’s also gotten routine.
Here’s another one:
Who’d shoot a stupid green flower which isn’t perfect? Yet it has a great impact to me.
An insect shot I consider interesting. Such images don’t just happen. You need to discover your subject. This shot took me ten minutes of gradually improving until I got it right.
My nuclear blast images fall into the interesting category I think, but they’re so rare, I shoot max. one or two a year and I only figured out how to discover and make them reliably four months ago. But here we get into another problem: although this image is made in the forest and only had minimal postprocessing, no one is going to believe that. It’s instantly dismissed as a Photoshop gimmick and so it’s worth is zero.
Of course I do photoshop gimmicks. They are too much fun!! This is an image of a little seed and a flower. I call it “Alien Encounter”. It reminds me of the “Doomsday machine” episode of Star Trek. I think this is an interesting shot. It took me many minutes to discover it after I saw the plush.
Perfection has its price. For four years I shot hamamelis in February, I took hundreds of shots, searching like mad amongst the hundreds of thousands of flowers, all nice, maybe close to perfect, but boring.
Then this shot happened to me:
This was what I had been striving for. I never shot Hamamelis again.
But maybe I shouldn’t go for the gimmick effects but for the truly exceptional:
I’ve been shooting this kind of flower for thirty years, until I discovered this one in deep shade in the forest, with just one petal remaining. That was four years ago. The shot took no effort at all. Only at home I discovered what I had. I haven’t bothered shooting this flower again because I can’t top it.
I’ll never make an image of this simplicity with this kind of light again. I consider it the best I’ve ever made.
There is no info about stuff like this at all on the Net. I don’t know where to go to get tutoring on such things. I really wish I could do art school, but that ‘ll have to wait until I’m retired.
I realize I put myself wide open to sarcasm by calling my own shots beautiful and interesting. So be it. What I’d like to know is if I’m on the right track here. What do you think about perfect and interesting shots?
This might be relevant, in a general sense:
“There is no official way to get approval for being good enough. The best advice I can give is do it the way you think it should be done, and eventually you will find an audience of a handful or several thousands who think it’s great.”
Despite leaving two other responses, Dirk, I didn’t answer your final request for feedback on the “Perfect/Interesting” equation.
All I can say is: You know that “Ughhh” feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see a website with a meaningless, but perfectly taken photo, tacked on just to draw the eye and break up the text? Well, I’m personally awfully sick of those stock shots.
I don’t think it ultimately matters what Steve’s readers’ think of your shots. What matters is that you pursue what interests you. If you don’t, you’re just one of a bazillion snappers (of all degrees of skill), clogging the internet with what they think constitutes “good” shots.
In this world of endless imagery, the only shots that aren’t already on the web by the _truckload_ are the ones that express an individual’s unique ideas and tastes.
Hope you post here again!
So, to answer your question — YES, you are on the right track! I’d say even in the groove. Good fortune, Friend.
Dirk, wow.. I have to say, this may be the most fascinating post I’ve seen here. The images are beautiful AND interesting. Very thought-provoking. We all are looking for something special in our images and it’s extremely hard to come by or even verbalize. I LOVE these images and I plan to spend more time studying them to see if I can glean the essence of what it is that makes them stand out. You have hit on something that most photographers only have an inkling of. We know there’s a special image out there and we’re all trying to find it. But it’s elusive. Thanks for posting this. It makes me want to pick up a camera again and get in the hunt.
Dear Dirk, I can only advise you to moderate your self-congratulatory language. Even giving you the most credit, I can’t see any perfection in the images you so declare.
To be honest – you should find another hobby.
Well 1111 what did that mean? I’ve just enjoyed a very thoughtful post and then all the constructive comments. Hobbies for me are about personal enjoyment and I assume/very much hope that Dirk won’t take up your less than helpful suggestion.
I love this site because it is full of different perspectives and opinions. Constructive criticism can be informative but throwaway disparaging comments don’t add anything of value.
In a post modern world, “beauty” as an artistic concept is often very difficult to pull off, especially when your medium heavily relies on technology that does much of the rendering. That said, photography I believe relies more heavily on concept than other mediums such as painting. I think your on the right track, having an inner dialogue, re-evaluating your concept of beauty. Good luck.
Photography today seems needing to state something.
As if one day got mute or unable to talk by itself…
To my eye (where, like everybody else, my own peculiar sense of beauty lives) the truly extraordinary image is the last one. Its asymmetry is very interesting compositionally and it’s set off wonderfully against the expanse of negative space. I’d call it a realistic abstract, a kind of image I’m particularly drawn to (but, alas, not so good at making).
Your attraction for the element of flaw within the subjects themselves as opposed to a technically superior rendering of the unflawed subject is interesting and, whether that makes it art or not, seems to me to be a potentially revealing exploration
My one area of critique is as a matter of philosophy or principle. You say you stoppered shooting the Hamamelis as well as the last flower after these images because you can’t “top” them. I’d respectfully suggest a rethink of that. Artistic expression is, or so it seems to me, not a contest. Besides, you are capable of things now, you weren’t four years ago, perhaps the surest measure of further growth will be what your Hamamelis looks like in another four?
This is easily one of the most exciting articles on this site. Dirk, you are exploring, it seems, the edge between figurative and abstract, between form and spirit, between the camera lens and seeing with vision stripped of routine, habit and expectation. Photography’s strength is often its curse: focus, accuracy, clarity. Rembrandt painted over his face in a self portrait, and a viewer feels Rembrandt’s soul in that weird, blotted out depiction more than if he had captured every pore. For a photographer to discuss what comes easily vs what makes him unsure is remarkable. Even to use the word “boring” is thrilling, because isn’t that what most of us secretly feel when we look at easy, flawless images these days? Please write more about this quest of yours and make it ours, too.
Someone told that analysing humor is like dissecting a frog: both die in the process.
For art is the same.
While A+B=C, you cannot arrange “perfection” in such a manner…
oh and image no.3 i like best and for many reasons 😉 so much right in this image composition wise which has a lot to do with how the flaring works together with the three flowers. the different brightness of the flaring, that they kind of ascend from left to right like the flowers, where there is space and how balanced the whole thing is. it would be boring to most and i dont want to fill the whole forum so i dont go into further detail. already too much 😉 sorry.
just wanted to add that i am no expert at all and i struggle with my images often times. the genius takes a picture just because he likes the vision of it. and even though he maybe cant tell at that moment in time why he loved it, you can see the reason if you take your time to examinate. but it is so hard, at least for me, to bring all these things together that make a great Image even when (in theory) know what it takes. I really like your point because i think that if you examine the images you like (no matter who made them, you or somebody else) you can learn so much. It is just hard work sometimes and not everybody takes his time.
As an engineer, I find myself with an almost identical struggle as you. There is a limit to the number of perfect-looking flower shots that one can take.
However, I took an art photography class on college and found that I can put my perfectionism to work when photographing subjects that I arrange. No longer does the perfection take away from the individuality of the work, since I have to set up the subject, but the perfection is reflected in the result.
Oddly, I enjoy the process much less, despite my better results.
Beauty can be quite boring right 🙂 Serious, to me when you talk about the perfect Image, it does not mean perfect in a technical way. not everybody can do that technical perfect shot, but far too many can to call such a shot special or worth while.
Composition and storytelling are much more important and if you adapt your technical skills to your artistic expression you are on a good way. Photography like any other form of art is about emotion. when you look at an image and it does not speak to you, it is not something you would call great, no matter how good it might be technical wise.
for instance your shots against a black background with not much going on look boring to me compared to those where you tried to create a more interesting background. Color and shape of the background are much important, as well as where you put your accents (behind the subject or next to it for example). In the nuclear color blast Image there is something going on which adds interest. the colors in fore and background work ok but like clouds in a good landscape shot – you have to wait to get that perfect shape that makes sense. i think the shape and placing of the background is a bit too chaotic or i miss something. there would be so much more to say but for a detailed critique this is not the place.
I think you are trying too hard to force “something special” into your photos, and are over-thinking it on most of them. The image that caught my eye is the last one. That’s very nice. Clean. Nice light. That’s a direction I would explore.
Your photos are lovely.
You state you are an engineer and it is clear your have an emerging artist struggling to find itself. I have many artist friends both painters and photographers and in the end they have concentrated on what they like, and this is what makes their art formidable.
I think you need to just keep doing what you are doing and know that the questions as to your artistic ability are shared by every artist. Remember that man “creates” nothing (ex nihilo, from nothing.) He simply manipulates, reforms, or modifies what is already real and in his reach.
Therefore all art is subjective and though the questions of artistic merit are normal, constant and unrelenting, they are also a very useful nuisance.
You are doing great!
Perfection can be anywhere but is actually nowhere.
Flowers are an easy subject but difficult to mastering.
Your photos have some interest: they beautiful colors and are inspiring.
Some great photographers such Imogen Cunningham worked on them beautifully, if that can help.
Engineering and art are not two sides of the same coin though.
This is going to sound terribly rude of me and maybe like I’m a troll. But I’m sorry to say, I personally, and its just my own opinion and others may strongly disagree, I find these photos are pretty terrible. The first two and the last one are the “best” but the rest are just bad. Now comes the flames. Asking me to do better etc. etc.
Certainly everyone has their own opinion, but I just don’t see the value to the photographer or the photographic community in posting a comment such as yours. Perhaps a suggestion on how you might light it or recompose it differently, would add value to your post, but to simply negatively criticize another photographer’s work, seems rather pointless to me. Happy Holidays to all!
You expose something important and rarely shared, I think: The internal dialog of a photographer – not just shooting, but also evaluating his own work. That’s something we all have to do, one of the two basic stages of creative pursuits.
(The two being, imho, 1: getting the ideas down, and 2: evaluating, triaging and editing the results.)
You so rarely come across this kind of inner dialog online. It makes you think in a fresh way (or it does me, at least). I enjoyed this post very much, thank you.
Great post. One of the most intelligent articles about photography I’ve read in a long time.
Overall I agree with your sentiments. James also has excellent points: there’s too much fashion (not just in what is photographed but which kind of obnoxious filter will be used to ruin the image).
Perfect is fine for mere record keeping. But that ‘something extra’ is what makes a photograph so satisfying. The ‘something extra’ of course has nothing to do with Instagram or Photoshop filters. It’s the approach.
I see the distinction between technical mastery and artistic achievement as one of skill vs. judgement (or maybe knowledge vs. wisdom?). It’s possible to achieve technical perfection with enough practice and patience, but it’s your aesthetic judgement, slowly refined over years of shooting, that allows you to see around perfection and find something worthwhile. Wonderful photos, by the way.
Really interesting read and certainly gives us something to think about when we are our shooting. “art” is totally subjective of course, but you make a good point about how many thousands of “perfect” photos we see every day, be it landscapes, or flowers etc. Does make things lose a bit of impact and makes it harder to really stand out. Not to say that there is anything wrong with taking perfect photos of pretty things. After all, I think most of us shoot simply for the fun of shooting.
Just the same though, when you capture that pretty sunset over the beach etc, and think to yourself “wow, this is a great shot, people will love it” and you post it on FB etc, you get some “likes” and people move on. Its basically “yep, thats pretty and in 5 seconds I’ll forget about it”. You might wonder how this can be, why aren’t people more impressed, and then you type “sunset” in Flickr and what do you know, thousands of equally pretty sunsets.
Doesn’t mean your sunset, which you took yourself, is less special, but to the viewer, its nothing we haven’t seen before and will likely see tons more again.
Such is modern photography…
Makes me kind of long for the days of early Nat Geo where things like pictures from Africa, of the pyramids etc, were never seen before.
You could take a kind of boring photo and people would love it because it showed something the world had never seen.
We have rather lost that sense of wonder and undiscovered newness I guess…
Interesting thoughts, jeff.
Now we have waves of fashion which last maybe a year or two. I’m sure you know the scene: Iceland is currently in vogue, but the Lofoten Islands (Norway) are making a run on the inside of the track.
Prior to them it was that infernal red sandhill with the black skeletal trees of Namibia.
The Quiraing of Skye is also getting a hammering. And Buchaille Etive More at the eastern entrance to Glencoe has almost been worn away (if “captures” removed matter), as has that white stone cottage not far from it.
I think a hot tip for The Next Place will be the Kamchatsky Peninsula. Fearless snapping travellers in buses with tour guides are set to provide endless copies of its delights.
But don’t stop, Dirk. After viewing that second last shot, I reckon Hamamelis may just have a few more shots left in it..
I have spent decades doing flower/plant photography,and I know the feeling of having something special among hundreds of “ho-hum” shots. Your “special” shots are lovely. I’d go back and keep after that Hamamelis….
You’ve opened my eyes to why I do perfectly boring photographs. Thanks for sharing something really interesting.
IMHO, though your images have some artistic merit, the notions of “perfect” and “beautiful” are completely subjective, and in the case of art or photography, are in the eyes of the viewer. Why not simply share your images and leave their interpretation to the viewer. (In my case, the only one I want calling my work “perfect”, is an art director ready to use it!) Happy Holidays!
Imho, you missed the point of this post. Him sharing his process of observing and judging his own work was the unique thing about it.
Of course his self-evaluation is subjective! It’s the visual arts. Our subjectivity is the only value we can add, otherwise it’s botany.
I think he’s putting this out there to see if anyone else is getting bored with “perfect” shots, and getting more concerned with what interests them – imperfection be damned.
Here’s my take on this: no matter what it is you photograph, after taking at least 5,000 completely different variations of the same subject, you will gain a better understanding of which photographs are special. I am assuming that this is what got you to this place with your flower photographs.