the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


Think this picture's bad now? Hey, wait til I start messing with it. 1/40 sec., f/8, ISO 320, 55mm.

Think this picture’s bad now? Hey, wait til I start messing with it. 1/40 sec., f/8, ISO 320, 55mm.


I CAN HEAR MY MOTHER NOW: “Don’t pick at it, you’ll get it infected”.

Okay, she usually was referring to a scab on a skinned knee. But often, when I can’t stop interfering needlessly with an image, I could swear she’s talking about photographs.

You know the ones I mean. The near misses that you would swear could be transformed into masterpieces with just one….more…tweak. Or maybe two. Or thirty. They are often the pictures we love most, like bad kids, simply because they had such potential, at least until we snapped the shutter. Then we stick them, flaws and all, on life support and start playing with things. Contrast. Color. Exotic filters. A spoonful of sugar. A pound and a half of good intentions.

The same shot in monochrome. Yeah, less is sometimes just less.

The same shot in monochrome. Yeah, less is sometimes just less.

And, sometimes, by getting our tweak on in a heavy-handed fashion, we make things worse. We render them garish, or glowing, or gooey, and still not what we intended. It’s like tutoring a kid that will never ever make the honor roll. It seems like we ought to be able to do something.

That’s the story of the above color street shot, taken just after sundown in Times Square. All the elements of a good picture are there, but the thing is just all right, nothing more, nothing less. At some point before I first posted it on Flickr, I got the brilliant notion that it would look more “authentic” if desaturated to black and white. Re-examining it more than a year later, I realized “authentic” was code for maybe I can distract people from the fact that I didn’t really bring it home in this shot. Once it was monochromed, the image was actually robbed of whatever minimal punch it might have originally had. All the zippy color of the signage and soda cans was banished, to replaced by….a really dull and narrow range of half-tones. All the depth and presence went out the same exit door as the color, but I went ahead and posted it anyway, trying to convince myself that I had made it much more “street”, when all I had really done was strip out the carnival hues that really said “Broadway”. I had worked against myself, and, worse, I had wasted time on a shot which should have gone in the reject pile from day one.

It’s not a miserable photo, and maybe that’s what really hard to accept. It might have been something. What I should have done, while I was there, was keep trying about ten more frames of this guy and maybe saving the concept. You know, try to get the photo right in the first place. Yeah, I know, how quaint. Thing is, once it was a mediocre picture inside the camera, all I could do was pick the scab.

And then it got infected.

Sorry, Mom.

2 responses

  1. I’ve done this lots of times with a so so shot, and have wasted alot of time trying to fix something that didn’t have that something to begin with. Glad I am not the only one.:-)

    January 29, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      Looks like we all have our sins in this respect. It’s always hardest to be objective with one’s own work, but the process goes on.

      Come again!

      Michael Perkins

      January 29, 2014 at 9:45 AM

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