Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Good Vs. Great

I guess I tend to assume that we all aspire to greatness, if not in ourselves then at least with a few images. In a conversation with a friend last night, he stated that he doesn't aim for greatness, good would be just fine with him. He doesn't aspire to a masterpiece, an image which is interesting or illuminating or fun will be just great.

it makes you wonder just what we should be concentrating on - do you put all your effort into something which is rarely achieved (a truly great photograph, or at least one way better than all your others), knowing that you are working on something that not only is very unlikely to happen with any one photograph, in fact experience tells us that we rarely know at the time of the shutter release which images are going to be our best.

Mind you sometimes we know, I had written to Chuck to comment on his lovely new window and gauze photograph gracing his lead page of his site and he commented in return that he just knew it was going to be really good. Actually what he really said was he was so excited he was practically shaking and had difficulty getting the image recorded he was so excited. That sometimes happens but far more often we don't know ahead of time that an image is going to turn out far better than 99% of our work. You'd think a little bell would go off, in the camera if not in your head - but no.

The linke below will take you to his site, and at least for now to that particular image.

Anyway, my point is whether it's better to be looking for the truly great images or whether we'd actually be better served looking for the merely interesting and letting the laws of chance make some of those exceptional and the rest just what we were looking for.

My own style is to look for the interesting since I very definitely cannot predict the great shots, frequently not even recognizing them in the proofs, sometimes for months.

So, it's ok to aspire to be great, but to be on the lookout for the merely good, interesting, illuminating and or entertaining.

Whether someone who never aspired to greatness in the first place is any less likely to achieve it I don't know - I suspect there is a drive do do better, try harder which may separate those who are happy with good from those who desperately strive for greatness.

The other issue is whether it is very egotistical to even think that you might someday be one of the greats but if you think of how many of us wanted to be Ansel Adams 40 years ago and a teenager, well, most of us would be wearing tar and feathers if it were a big problem. It's one thing to strive for greatness, another to think you have arrived, especially with plenty of evidence to the contrary. Perhaps this is a discussion for another day.


Alan Rew said...


Thinking back to some of your earlier posts about the psychology of photography, I think there's a danger that, by constantly aiming to take a masterpiece, somebody could be putting themselves under too much pressure, which could kill off creativity.

On the other hand, part of the thrill of creative photography is that you just don't know what will turn up, and you just might capture something which turns out to be a classic image.

I can see why Chuck got so excited about this composition.

Once or twice, on landscape photography workshops, I've found that the location and light are so stunning that I can't actually take a photo - I just have to sit there & wait for the adrenaline rush to reduce to the point where I can do something. The scene is so amazing that mental paralysis sets in, & I don't feel I can capture it.

I don't think it's egotistical to _aspire_ to taking a great shot. What is more egotistical is to expect to do this every time, on demand.

Sharon said...

And isn't it the journey as well? Sure we are all searching for that awesome image but if you get to where you had planned to shoot and don't find "it" do you pack up and go without even trying?

I find the whole process fascinating, from selecting something to shoot, to setting up, choosing my settings to editing the images afterwards. Sometimes you know right away, something you find something really worth while only after you have tinkered a bit in photoshop.

My Camera World said...

I do aspire for greatness, not for me, but in the images I create.

First and foremost I think of myself as an artist who currently is using a camera to create art work. I use the camera to explore for possible images that either directly are very good or as with most cases have extensive photo manipulation (digital painting)

I will combine several images to create a new and hopefully better image. I was even thinking about getting Corel Painter to explore new techniques.

I will never know if I have a great image as I think that is left to others. I do have images that I like.

At first I used to make pretty images, that are compositionally sound, but that a lot like what everyone one else takes, Lately I want images that for many people who use the Web eye ( the 2 sec look and go) may not like at first. It is not till you look around the image and explore the details and interrelationship between elements that you might get an appreciation for the image.

I want people to work at looking at my images and thereby hopefully build a relationship to subject.

I can and sometime do spend 10 hours working an image because I enjoy trying to bring it to life. I know this make me happy because food (dinner) and other chores I should be doing get in the road of finishing what I am doing.

Niels Henriksen

Chuck Kimmerle said...

I've always been of the mind that there are, essentially, two kinds of photographic opportunities: "Hmmm..." and "WOW!"

"WOW" is a scene so visually compelling that it would instantly grab the attention of any photographer within sight...like my window curtain photo George pointed out. (Thanks, btw)

"Hmmm..." is a scene that looks promising, but needs further investigation to see if it will work.

In my opinion, it would be a dull pursuit to only look for the "wow" photos, as often the scenes which need to be worked are the most enjoyable and, when they work well, the most satisfying and often produce images more compelling than the obvious scenes.

My Camera World said...

I agree with Chuck’s comment that WOW is hard to find. I think that a lot of the these might apply to photojournalistic events that unfold before and only last for the moment.

There are times when I gaze at a grand vista and my inner feeling go WOW, what a lovely place to be just standing here. Translating this into an image is difficult as the journey to get to this point is in some ways part of the WOW factor and this is hard to translate into the photo image.

There are times when I go exploring for interesting objects which tends to be more often for me and I come across interesting patterns and texture or shapes. These images tend to give an impression of being neat, not WOW, but until I work the image I am not sure if it will develop into something more appealing.

Niels Henriksen

George Barr said...

Good point Chuck, you're right, the challenge to make something of an image is an important part of what we do.