Monday, April 7, 2014

Are You a Perfectionist?

by Dotti

Okay … let’s have a show of hands. How many of you out there are perfectionists? Especially when it comes to your photography? Come on, be honest. Yeah … that’s what I thought. A lot of us are!

Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Perfect is the enemy of the good’? For years, I thought that the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy was responsible for this quote. Imagine how glad I was that I decided to Google it before writing this post because it seems that this philosophy originated with the classical philosophers and not Senator Kennedy.

Getting back to our photography … As long as we’re being honest here {after all, we’re among friends}, how often do we look at the photos on our computer screens and then pick them apart because they are not perfect? I have even deleted whole imports! Yes, guilty as charged.  All of which brings me to our discussion today.

We,  as photographers, should remember this maxim:

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

Stop and consider … What’s more important? Getting a child’s sweet smile or missing the shot because the light was less than ideal or her face was dirty? Recording Great-Grandma’s 85th birthday as it really happened or trashing it all because the photos were not of professional caliber? Throwing out the holiday photos because the background {and maybe the foreground} was cluttered or at least less than perfect? Or having photos to remind us of a cherished event?

Here’s a recent photo that I took of my granddaughter. It was a very overcast day. She was climbing above me on a jungle gym so there was no way for me to avoid the blown out sky. I tinkered with the photo this way and that … trying to make it perfect … but to no avail. Yet she so seldom lets me take her photo anymore and I loved the sweet smile that I was determined to have it. Finally I simply made it a black and white photo {with a slight warming filter} and the day was saved. It wasn’t the color of her hair or the color of her eyes or the color of the sky that were important. It was the expression on her face. And I have a memory photo of a great day spent together.

The quest for perfection can rob us in other ways as well.  We talk a lot here at FOL about the fact that gratitude is a choice, as is happiness. Demanding perfection makes it impossible to choose gratitude. Always seeking perfection will likewise make it impossible to choose happiness. And before we know it … we’re afraid to even try. Yet how often do we look back only to realize that life’s imperfections are the stuff that life's joys are made of?

So what’s a person to do?

I can only answer for myself but I have a feeling you’ll feel much as I do. We should continue to strive for perfection in our creative endeavors but we should never, ever let it be the overarching reason that we create. We should create for the joy of it. Whether it’s photography, or scrapbooking, or crafts, or writing, or basket weaving, or cooking, ... whatever … we should always strive for perfection but be content in the knowledge that our best effort that day was good enough.

And that we are enough.


AFishGirl said...

I read this and thought of it all the way on the driving of my son up to work. I'm not a perfectionist. The quote rings true for me. It's not just the enemy of the good, it's the enemy of self-compassion and self-acceptance and it's a serious roadblock to a heck of a lot of plain old good fun that is ours for the taking. I am reminded of the blog post by Cathy H. where there are the two sides of her looking at the picture and one is critical and one is happy about the shot taken. That is one of my favourite pictures of your granddaughter of all time, this one here you show. Yep. And it's about the purity of it, her smile, the freedom in it. It's a great post for pondering, Dotti. It calls us to examine when we are disappointed in ourselves and whether that is healthy as a kind of "pull up your socks, try harder" or when it is a destructive voice that does damage to the creative spark in us, the child's innocence that sits inside us all somewhere and goes, "Whooo hooooo! Right on!" I hope we all can hear that voice. Life is stern enough. We need to be our own soft places to turn to. End of Fishgirl ramble.

Deanna said...

Wow, I couldn't have said it any better than "fish girl"....something to really think about. I think the longer we are in this grand world of photography we are always striving for that "perfect shot", but sometimes that search for perfection gets in the way of the joy that comes from capturing those little "imperfect" shots, but so full of joy. And that joy is certainly abundent in your sweet shot!! Thank you for this post Dotti,

terriporter said...

Oh, my, are you ever talking to me this morning and I'm sure a lot of other people too! It is hard in this hobby of ours where we see other people's work every day to not play the comparison game and get down on ourselves for not measuring up. In a post of mine awhile back I talked about how we have all these people we look up to but we need to remember all the people who are looking up to us at the same time. The joy has to come from what we are creating (and the sheer act of creating) without comparing it to the work of someone else. So happy you didn't let the less than perfect conditions keep you from taking the photo of your granddaughter. That smile needed to be recorded! Thanks for this reminder, Dotti.

Kim Stevens said...

The thing is, I don't believe there to be anything that we can do perfectly, and perfect is up for interpretation really because everyone has a different definition of it, a different way of what perfect looks like. I look at my photography as fuel for my personal growth, which like photography is a never ending journey. As you know I've been very drawn to abstract photography as a form of contemplative and meditative photography but I have found that in order to get to that place I have to just let go of the loose ends (of perfection) and just be to receiving rather than making and open to wonder rather than expectations. When we start out in anything we have a beginners mind, but sometimes lack skills and techniques, we see without discrimination like a child, but then our skills develop along with judgement and constricted awareness and we start to label ourselves and others. One thing I've learned from my jewelry making is that if you don't embrace the imperfections you will be on a constant do over, and that sometimes those imperfections are what make the outcome so pleasing. I love the picture of your granddaughter and because you captured such a sweet moment, nothing else matters. Great post Dotti . . . xo

Cathy said...

I am totally with "fishgirl" on this as we miss so much of our everyday moments if we seek perfection. It robs us of so much if we allow it to. I feel there are many layers to photography and we visit all of these layers from time to time. There are moments I seek that perfect image, but what is perfect to me may not be perfect enough for someone else. I love this photo of your granddaughter,her big smile, her new teeth coming it. To me it is perfection. I am so glad you shared this moment. Lots to think about in this post Dotti!

kelly said...

oh my lord you are preaching to the choir my friend. been there, done that. but thankfully, as i've gotten older, i am learning to let go of that some. i missed out way too much joy waiting for perfect. i just adore this shot of miss campbell...her big happy smile and bright eyes. pretty darn perfect if you ask me. xo

Barb Brookbank said...

Every bit of this post resonates with me. Sometimes I can get to the point where I feel paralyzed and can't do anything. Luckily I really do recognize that perfect is different for everyone - and really, there is no perfect. Your photo of your granddaughter is wonderful - what a sweetheart!

Barbara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara said...

Oh, how grateful I am to be surrounded by such wise friends with such wise words. You are all amazing women. (Comment deleted above because I typed worlds instead of words. Trying not to be perfect, just coherent but as I think about it, your worlds must surely be wise as well.)

Carol said...

Fishgirl and Dotti -a wise team, and I now have to go find Cathy's post. Reading this late, it feels like a group post, and I love everyone's words. And I agree-one of the very best of your granddaughter! Good one

Kim said...

Definitely guilty. In most areas of life I struggle with wanting things just so. I'm a work in process, but I'm learning to embrace the perfectly imperfect.

Anonymous said...

Dotti, I love the photo of your granddaughter, the post processing is wonderful. The capture may not be technically perfect but you let her smile shine from it and it will shine from there forever.
I separate my photos into three categories - the best ones I'm going to share, the ones that aren't attractive enough or technically good but I like them, and the blurred and "empty" ones that I remorselessly throw away. This system helps me a lot in arranging my photo collection.
And as nothing is just black or white, I believe that trying to be perfect may sometimes be a nightmare and other times a gift, it depends on circumstances. I like the conclusion you arrived at. Let us try be perfect - if we feel that urge I'd add - but accept that the result may not be as perfect as we wish. Not easy at all but worth striving for. :)

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