Sharing your imperfect photos as a way to improve your photography

June 03, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I recently hiked to the top of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain here in Oregon to attempt to get some epic photographs of Mount Hood at sunset, with the stars, and at sunrise. What I returned with was a few 'ok' images and slightly stronger legs. On the top of that mountain, I met a very accomplished photographer who has quite an amazing body of work over on 500px. We had some great conversations, one of which was about 'photo snobbery.' He made a statement that stuck with me - that he only posts photos that he knows he can sell, that are incredible images. I thought about that for a moment and I immediately felt inadequate, as I think if I did that, I would only have a few images on the internet. Then, it prompted me to think about the whole thought process that photographers go through when selecting photos to share with the world. For example, I have taken over 100,000 photos over my short photography career, and probably only have a couple thousand of those on the web in some format or another. While the images I shot that evening on top of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain were not 'epic' in nature, I'm still happy to share some of them, like this one.

Mount Hood from Tom Dick and HarryMount Hood from Tom Dick and HarryNot quite the Mount Hood sunset I had hoped for, but this pre-sunset shot looked pretty iconic to me.

I think it is incredibly important for photographers to share their work with the world, especially their work that is is flawed in any way. 

Why? Simple:

  • It is a very valuable way to be able to look back and see how you have improved your craft, your vision and your processing techniques.
  • It is an incredibly helpful process to get feedback from people on what they like and dislike about your photos, even when the lighting or weather or some other factor was not ideal. When you return and those conditions are no longer a problem, you'll be even more likely to nail the shot.
  • Even photos you think are flawed can become successful in today's marketplace. The photo I've made the most money on has almost nothing great going for it (in my opinion) - but for some reason, it keeps selling.
  • Sometimes people want to learn from your mistakes, and there is tremendous value in that relationship.


My highest grossing, most popular photo (no joke):

Golden GateGolden GateHere's a wide shot of the Golden Gate Bridge I took last weekend from the Marin Headlands.

What has sharing my least perfect images taught me about photography?

For starters, HDR is only good in small doses. Even my most popular HDR photographs have rarely sold. I think there is a good reason for that. Once you realize this, you'll thank me later. But - the only way to learn is to share them with the world and learn why they don't work - or maybe they will work for your market and your customer base - only one way to find out! This is one of only a few HDR photos I've taken that have actually sold with any regularity, taken on a brisk cold morning in January:

Framing the PeakFraming the PeakThis is my take on a very classic shot of Pikes Peak being framed by the Garden of the Gods.

Learning from your past is a great way to keep your photos fresh. Try new things. Don't process things the exact same way every time. You never know, you might stumble on a process or technique that better fits your vision. 

It is OK to share an image with the world and get negative feedback. It is also OK if you are still proud of that image.

Don't let people like me tell you how to share your vision, develop it yourself and refine it based on what you think is important. Is selling your work important? How about how you personally feel about it? How about telling a story or just reflecting on a memorable experience or day? Imperfect images can achieve all of those things, but you won't know until you do it.

In short, I leave you with this very famous but quite relevant quote from Thomas Edison: 

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”


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