Control what you can

Posted on 15 Aug ’11 by Earl

Earl Moore Photography
Early Morning Sunlight - Kitty Hawk Pier



When presented with a photographic opportunity which has potential but also very defined limitations what do you do? Do you make the best of it, control what you can, taking the best shot within the limitations imposed upon you, or do you decide it can never fully achieved it’s potential and therefore pass on taking the shot at all?

I know there’s always some limitations but for this example I’m talking the more “extreme” cases.

An example from my archives earlier this year. This photo of a beach pier in beautiful early morning sunlight I nearly pasted upon making. In the composition the pier is up against the far right edge of the frame because I was leaning out over a third floor railing as far as I safely could and even with that effort just off frame on the right was the end of the building I was shooting from. This wasn’t the shot my imagination would of liked to have made but it was the shot I could make under the circumstances.

While this image perhaps works on some level it still bothers me the pier is “so far” to the right and I sit here wondering, “Is a “greatly imperfect” shot better then no shot at all?” I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this image…it’s the perceived imperfection that keep drawing me back making me question my own perceptions.

Update: Reading a couple of the early comments it probably seems I’m struggling trying for perfection. Far from it, I’m not even sure I believe in perfection. Here I’m talking about those shots that are “borderline” where you have to mentally make a decision to shoot or not to shoot.


What Others Are Saying

  1. Martina Egli 15 Aug ’11 at 9:53 am

    That is a stunning image Earl! I love the contrast between the beautiful turquoise water and the warm tones of the golden beach. You’ve captured the atmosphere of that early morning wonderfully. I’m really glad you’ve posted that image, I like it a lot and therefore I’m grateful that you took it!

    • Earl 15 Aug ’11 at 10:21 pm

      Martina, thanks! I’m glad I took it as well but it was one I hesitated on before deciding to make the shot thinking it might not be very good.

  2. Steve Skinner 15 Aug ’11 at 10:11 am

    If I tossed every image with an imperfection, my catalog would be empty. For me, it’s fun and educational to review the flops and to “remake” them in my mind.

    • Earl 15 Aug ’11 at 10:25 pm

      Steve, honestly…my catalog would be empty as well!

      However, I shoot a great deal from the heart and I’m trying to think through the process more on the front end and identify what I’m trying to capture. This photo almost didn’t get the shutter button pushed.

  3. Colin Griffiths 15 Aug ’11 at 11:04 am

    Everyone’s idea and criteria for perfection is different, so putting that to one side you have to consider your own personal motivations for having made the image. For example, if you were intent on just documenting piers through images this one may be more than sufficient, on the the other hand if you were attempting to win a camera club competition would would probably have failed (and no, I don’t put much credibility on camera club judges opinions). But you were probably trying the achieve something on another level, perhaps it was to capture a personal memory/emotion in which case you might have really nailed it but only you would know that. Actually, I take so many “borderline shots” it’s untrue, but something in my psyche motivates me to take them at the time and I strongly believe in exploring and following my emotions in order to allow ideas to emerge and develop. So I say “yes”, definitely take the shot because it might be a passport to something else even greater.

    • Earl 15 Aug ’11 at 10:32 pm

      Colin, well said and I agree with you. If there’s the chance it could lead to something greater then by all means take the shot. However, I do like to be a bit discerning on the front end and not simply shoot willy-nilly. There’s always going to be some compositions where you’re not positive there’s a shot there or not, no matter where the bar is set. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  4. Don Cooper 15 Aug ’11 at 1:08 pm

    What I hate is when I don’t take the shot and later regreting it. I think a lot of it may come from my film days, being conservative, planing the shot. Now with digital we can, shoot, shoot, shoot.

    • Earl 15 Aug ’11 at 10:36 pm

      Don, Same here, from film days I still often work from a “making every shot count” mode. I do often wonder if in this digital age being able to shoot, shoot, shoot is a particularly good thing or does it simply make us lazy?

      • Don Cooper 16 Aug ’11 at 11:38 am

        Exactly, I think it has made me lazier, but I tell everyone, it is my age.

  5. Jim | SpinView 15 Aug ’11 at 1:49 pm

    I think it’s a great image, and I’m not bothered by the placement of the pier in the photo at all. If you look closely at the area where the sunlight slants across the ramp (leading up to building), you see that this fits neatly into the ‘rule of thirds’ general area.

    • Earl 15 Aug ’11 at 10:39 pm

      Jim, thanks. It being too far to the right is probably my own personal issue. I don’t believe it bothers me because of any rule it’s breaking…I regularly break rules. I appreciate hearing from you!

  6. NR | ExP 15 Aug ’11 at 4:02 pm

    I never really think about whether I should take a shot or not because it may not come out the way I want it or because I’m limited by something. Given the limitations that I put on myself (ie. I shoot with a 30mm prime 98% of the time), I will always go for a shot. I take the photo as best as I can and try to capture the moment the way I see it.

    The biggest factor for me is whether I’m inspired at that moment to take a photo.

    • Earl 15 Aug ’11 at 10:44 pm

      NR…good point about inspiration. I know it’s been inspiration that’s caused many a shuttle to be pressed by me and under those circumstances I’m not sure the quality of the photo has been of much concern. Thanks.

  7. Ove 15 Aug ’11 at 5:08 pm

    I would always have a go on trying to capture what I see. But, if I can’t get the right angle or whatever that might feel wrong, I don’t push the trigger. I know I will throw away the image anyway. It’s like I remember how it felt capturing it. But, you never know, waiting a year before I look at it might do the trick. That’s me. :-)

    • Earl 15 Aug ’11 at 10:49 pm

      Ove, there’s been times I’ve not taken a shot because I knew it wouldn’t be acceptable or meet my expectations. Perhaps, but there are many shots which no matter how long they wait will always be poor shots…I have much proof of this in my photo archive catalog. :-)

  8. ken bello 15 Aug ’11 at 7:32 pm

    When i am out taking photos, I know I captured the perfect shot less than 2% of the time. The rest of the time I’m never sure until I look at each shot individually. At one time, I was always waiting for the perfect shot because film and processing was expensive, as Don suggested. Now I shoot first and edit later. Deletion is just a click away. And you get a chance to master your post processing skills.

    • Earl 15 Aug ’11 at 10:55 pm

      Ken, as I mention in reply to Don’s comment, “I do often wonder if in this digital age being able to shoot, shoot, shoot is a particularly good thing or does it simply make us lazy?” It’s easy to become too dependent on post-processing.

      Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  9. Journey Photographic 16 Aug ’11 at 9:09 am

    I have the same internal debate in some situations, when you are torn about whether or not there is a way to capture the picture that you want to take. Depending on my mood, I often try and work with the scene anyway – often you get something better than your initial thoughts, and if you don’t, well, at least you’ve tried. (Of course, other times I feel lazy or unmotivated, and don’t try – it depends on the day!)

    • Earl 16 Aug ’11 at 4:20 pm

      JP…Yeah, I’m well schooled in internal debates. :-) Agree sometimes inspiration or other motivation has me pressing the trigger even when I doubt the results. There have been times I’ve been surprised by those results, in them being quite acceptable, but on the whole my first impression is usually right. Thanks!

  10. Anita Jesse 16 Aug ’11 at 12:26 pm

    Sometimes, I weigh the limitations and decide to take a pass. On other occasions, I take it as a challenge to make the best of a tough situation. Because I, too, shoot mostly “from the heart”, I have hundred of photographs that fall into this category and frankly “bug” me. I have trouble deciding what to do with them. I do believe that, for some of us, it is essential to snap when that voice urges, “Yes, now!” For me, if I say “No” to that voice too many times, it goes silent. Without the inspiration, I am paralyzed. It is, however, frustrating to know that conditions beyond our contol prevented us from making the image we saw in our mind’s eye. I think you made the best decision here: to keep the file. You may not have gotten the image you wanted, but it is pleasing and captures the light of the moment along with the tones of a place.

    • Earl 16 Aug ’11 at 4:28 pm

      Anita, when that “voice” is saying “Yes, now!” it’s easy to shoot and I can’t think of a time I’ve said no. But when that voice is saying, “Ummm, I don’t know!” the decision process gets more difficult. Sometimes I go with my emotions, hoping i can make something out of it after the fact, but there are times I know it’s just not going to happen and I lower the camera.

      “Bug me” describes my relationship to these “almost” photos perfectly. Thanks!

  11. Paul Maxim 16 Aug ’11 at 12:40 pm

    A little “late” to this party, I guess, having largely ignored the blogosphere for about 2 weeks, but here’s my 2 cents. The position of the pier and building doesn’t bother me at all. It would only concern me if it was dead center in the frame. What does get my attention, though, is the strongly out of focus foreground. What lens were you using? Almost looks like a lensbaby or something. It seems like an odd effect (to me) in this landscape.

    Heck, I’d say that for most of us roughly 80 % of everything we shoot is somehow “marginal”. “Perfect” is unattainable and “very good” is rare. As they say, maybe 1 in 20 or so is a usable image? Certainly not much more than that.

    • Earl 16 Aug ’11 at 4:42 pm

      Paul, it’s never too late to hear comments and opinions. Tilt-Shift — the background is also strongly out of focus but that probably didn’t seem as “odd.” I’ve been experimenting with in camera and post processing focus/blur effects — probably just a phase I’m going through. As for it not working here…this is one of those times we may just have to agree to disagree. :-)

      The 1 in 20 on average sounds about right and even then those best ones have varying degrees of “goodness.” I’ve never had to worry much about perfection…never been that close.

      I hope you found your break from blogosphere peaceful but at the same time, welcome back.

  12. Mark 16 Aug ’11 at 7:05 pm

    That inner judge is a powerful one Earl, for sure. I can relate to what you are writing here because I have many similar cases in my own files. While I hate to compare some of my own work to others, I on occasion think about shots that I have seen that I consider perfect, yet wonder if the photographer saw any small flaws or wished for something a little better. If it was indeed truly perfect for them, then it tells me sometimes I think I lose my patience and settle. I see flaws in my work that perhaps others don’t see, others see flaws that perhaps I don’t see. In the end, it is a real crap shoot isn’t it! :-)

    • Earl 17 Aug ’11 at 10:19 am

      Mark, yeah, that inner judge can be a heartless bastard who has more charity for everyone else. But yet we work long hours to please him/her. ;-)

      I would be surprised if many photographers thought any/many of their shots were perfect — and if they did it would cast some measure of doubt on their judgement. We usually know where our photo’s skeletons are hidden, don’t we. It’s a crap shoot alright, which is why working at pleasing ourselves and not others is so important.

      Thanks!

  13. Monte Stevens 18 Aug ’11 at 3:01 pm

    You said it one of your comments, “shooting from the heart.” Just the opportunity to see and bring back images of what we have experienced is what we’re wanting. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. In all honesty, I’m not sure of the ones I have archived.

    • Earl 22 Aug ’11 at 12:09 pm

      Monte, thanks!

  14. Chris Klug 21 Aug ’11 at 6:27 pm

    I don’t mind the off-center composition at all! Great image.

    • Earl 22 Aug ’11 at 12:09 pm

      Chris, thanks and good to hear from you again! I hope you’re doing well.

      • Chris Klug 22 Aug ’11 at 4:02 pm

        I am, thanks. The summer just got away from me, blog-wise. I’ll be posting lots of images; I didn’t stop shooting.

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