|Holding on to the Passion
by Gary W. Stanley
We've been told many times that: "When editing your own slides or digital images, you have to be brutal, even ruthless." "If the image doesn't move you, if it isn't near perfect, you might as well toss it." Well for the most part I live by that standard, however…
Have you ever had the kind of shot that you just couldn't seem to part with? "If I had just used a neutral density filter on that washed out sky, if I had been a little more careful with details and checked my composition, it would have been perfect." Well you're not alone! I still have a few images that are close to twenty years old, and I refuse to throw them out. Have they gotten any better in twenty years? No! I think I keep them for three reasons. First they serve as a reminder of what I would do differently if I ever got the chance to go back, second they help me to realize just how far I've come photographically, and third, they remind me why I take pictures.
The last reason is the one that gets me the most. These images hold some sentimental value as well. I remember one particular instance where I had come upon a beautiful area of wildflowers that covered the forest floor. It was magical. There must have been millions of them in this glade. There were moss-covered rocks, old tree trunks and Trilliums scattered among them. It was foggy, and the mood beyond description. I had to photograph it, and try to capture the mood.
Well, my limited photographic skills kept me from doing it justice. I didn't have enough depth of field. There was a blue cast on the flowers, and I should have used an 81A warming filter with that old Ektachrome I was shooting. My exposure wasn't that great either, so I guess you could say that I failed miserably. But, you know, as corny as it may sound, that day was life-altering to me.
I don't think I've ever seen anything so beautiful in all my years of photography. These were not wildflowers that I had seen before, nor would I likely get to photograph them again. I new from that day forward, my skills as a photographer would have to improve if I had any hope of capturing that feeling on film. I would later learn that we can't always capture that feeling on film, and that's okay too.
I've never been able to get back to that spot, and for all I know, it could be a housing development by now. I have vowed to go back some day, just to see and to satisfy my curiosity, but then again, maybe I'm afraid I'll be disappointed. Research told me that the flowers are called Blue-eyed Mary, and my research has also shown that there are very few decent photographs of them.
Every once in a while I pull out that image and just stare at it, and remind myself again why I take pictures and what it is that motivates me to keep taking pictures. It reminds me too, that it takes an artistic eye and some good technique to get that image captured the way I saw it. My passion is fueled by the fact that I feel my best stuff is still out there, somewhere, just waiting for me to show up and experience that feeling all over again and hopefully this time, capture it on film.
Dewitt Jones probably said it best while he and I were talking about this passion for photography. He said: "When the love goes out of your photography, it becomes just another job." I believe passion, is the true motivational tool for your photography, "Hold on to the Passion."
This is all well and good and makes for a good pep talk if that's all we ever needed. The problem is that in order to hold on to the passion we need to have an image worth holding on to. So when all is said and done, we still need to apply good photographic technique on a regular basis, otherwise we might get discouraged and lose that passion.
Jim McGee and I agree that sometimes we get a little hasty and perhaps a little too ruthless in the editing of our slides. When you get your stuff back from the lab, you can do a quick run through to see which of the images really knock your socks off, but don't start tossing things into the trash just yet. Give yourself a little time perhaps several days, maybe even a week before looking at them again. Yes the out of focus, overexposed and underexposed shots aren't going to help you, so I wouldn't keep those.
Exercise a little more care when editing the rest of your images though. While they may not be perfect (see the lens flare in this image), they can be a valuable learning tool in your quest for better images. It may also be that the image that you didn't care for the first time you looked at it wasn't that bad after all. If, after the second or third pass you still aren't thrilled with it, it may be time to edit those images out as well.
If you belong to a camera club, you probably have seen a slide competition where a judge critiques each slide. Often times, they remark that a particular image could have been improved if the subject was not so centered, or if you cropped out the blank sky, the shot would have worked. Maybe it should have been shot vertically instead of horizontally. These compositional suggestions may be all that you need to help you improve your images and help you hold on to the passion in your photography.
If you are into making prints of your work, it may be a simple matter of cropping the image to help improve the shot. In the past, I would use my business cards as a cropping tool to crop my slides while on the light table and see if that would help improve the image. Now I use the cropping tool in Photoshop to crop the photograph different ways to see how else I could have composed it (see the digital article on "The Composition within the Composition" in this issue).
Let's wrap things up by saying that it may require some effort at times to maintain or hold on to the passion that we have for our photography. Improving both the artistic and the technical skills will help, because, as these skills improve, our success at capturing this passion photographically will improve. Discouragement, will only help to deflate the passion while success will serve to feed the passion.
Take your time when editing your slides. Try to use this editing process as a learning tool to help you to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Keep in mind that it's okay to hang on to some of those slides that may be technically flawed in some way, especially if those slides remind you of a special moment that inspired you to photograph it in the first place.