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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Why striving for perfection SHOUDLN'T result in perfection..

Don't get me wrong, striving for perfection and to achieve your vision will help stop complacency seeping in, it will keep your standards high, your results consistent, and give you hunger to improve when you struggle to achieve it. In reality, perfection doesn't exist of course, it's just a bunch of 'rules', or shall we say values in a book that everyone has read. Wanting to improve, to continuously learn and to understand them further, keep on top of them; that is what will separate the pros from the enthusiasts. So why is perfection bad? Well, we're gonna look at this in the context of light.. being a photography studio 'n all, and that's aside from perfection also being subjective in a creative arena!

I was recently watching the above video of a vocal coach reacting to Skin's vocals from Skunk Anansie, and she shares the same point I've been reiterating for years from my experience, and equally being a photographer that likes to explore morality and psychology in photography.. well in life in general. That's pretty much explained in the introduction with the opening sentence here "we look at your favourite singers to find out what makes them, them." Simply put, it isn't your academic performance and understanding that develops your style that people will recognise each and every day, it's what you do 'wrong'! She goes on to say "it (her voice) has that gruffness to it, which isn't 'technically correct', however, it is beautiful!" Perfection will break you long before the lack of it breaks your images! In fact, looking back with hindsight from when I was obsessed in the early days... and we all do it... we pick up a camera; "wow, I can make the background as blurry as I choose", "wow, I can make black and white images, and then paint back in a colour pop", "wow, I can do a zoom burst", "wow, I can do a double exposure", "Wow, I can and must light everything 'properly'" - it's a rite of passage that you must go through to become a photographer! It's almost embarrassing when pointed out at just how cliché these things are if your ego is a little too fragile, but it's all just learning and caring, and nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I still use some of these cheesier clichés to the day, but with a couple of important questions hovering over them... does it suit the narrative? And does it add to the image, or is it just a new trick I learned?

Zoe Page shot using 'zoom burst' while 'dragging the shutter'. "It's so important when you're teaching to try and help people find their natural nuances, the natural things that they kinda do wrong, and capitalise on that, because you don't want to make people sound like robots" Lighting is a tool, and so is the lens you choose, understanding this will arguably make you a far better photographer than merely just understanding 'good' light. You see it all the time when advice is given by the narrow-minded, or by the ego driven who try to stamp their authority on photography socials and forums... "I only use an 85mm for portraits", "Have the key light this distance away from the model, with this amount of fill light, and this, and this, and that"... no, no don't. This is actually a reflection of their lack of understanding and ability, or psychologically speaking, it's their safe space because they're scared of the competition or their own complacency. Both lighting and your lens choice will drastically change the drama in an image, so why the hell would you want to be limited by it? A nail and a screw may both hold wood together, but they have their own qualities and are more effective than one another on different projects... but why are you trying to hammer in a nail with a screwdriver?

If you fancy your self as a 'real' portrait photographer who captures that special something in someone, y'know, them sitting in front of a camera looking bored and it being lit perfectly, then maybe drama isn't what you're going for, but if you're photographing someone with personality.. light them with personality! Use the fact they're less narcissistic (or that you know better) and you can get up close with a wide lens and emphasise drama, body parts, their general towering stature in an image if they're a powerful subject. Once you have the foundations and have learned the rules... learn them to break them! At the very least, twist and bend the rules, and more importantly, don't beat yourself up for not fulfilling them! And it will need learning! Leaving that safe space and putting yourself out there knowing full well Mr 'narrow-minded ego driven bellend' is waiting to pounce, will put pressures on your ego. So will not knowing who you are and what you like, but that will come with experience and honing your eye. Do have an opinion on other people's work, so do be Mr 'narrow-minded ego driven bellend', but not out loud, do it for yourself, hell, have a conversation about it with yourself in your own head! Do it to learn what you love about your work and not theirs, and let them be. It's your journey, and if you don't have an interest in them, let that reinforce your love for the stuff you do like rather than wasting time trying to impress others with 'superior' knowledge that you've regurgitated from a book. Hey, after all this, don't even listen to me! Take what you need that i've said, and leave the rest!

So in conclusion, getting stuck on what is 'right' is the easiest thing to do. How something should or shouldn't be lit, and then being gutted when you can't do it as hoped. It's limited by physics for a start! Every room is different and will quite literally colour your light based on it's painted reflective surfaces... sure being aware of this is half of the battle against frustration, but no shoot is perfect. Rarely will a shoot have all the gear you need to 100% fulfil your strive for perfection, for THAT mental picture, and that's before even considering that you're working with another human being (or seven with art directors, editors, stylists etc) with their own interpretation of the scene. That is why casting is so important, and not least because you, too, are chosen because of your style. It's why striving for perfection to not be perfect shouldn't be seen as not caring or wanting to achieve that mental picture, but equally, why said care shouldn't stop at the shoot, it should finish with you. Always go in to a shoot with an aim and an ideal, and then give yourself a 15/20% 'tits up' window... and then what becomes will be a combination of your team, your artistic ability, your technical ability, and ultimately the reason you are there... YOUR style!

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