Talent is a pursued interest

“Talent is a pursued interest. In other words, anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.” (Bob Ross)

This quote goes in a similar direction as “The Habit“, from January 2018, and the photo below certainly falls under “practice” …even if it wasn’t intentional. :)

About a week ago, my friend Tracy and I wanted to get out and make photos. The back country seemed too far a drive, and conditions there wouldn’t be that appealing while we’re still waiting for rain, so I made the call and picked La Jolla’s Windansea Beach.

Earlier in the day, beautiful clouds had dotted the skies, and then for sunset, they all disappeared. Great! What’s more, the tide was going out, had almost reached its low, and the beach’s more interesting rock features were all still quite buried under the “summer sand” – without any winter storms, it hadn’t been washed away yet, of course. On top of that, the beach was teeming with people. It’s the price you pay for living in Southern California at this time of the year. On this Saturday afternoon and evening, everyone was out to enjoy one of those mild early November days.

With all this, we both felt pretty uninspired, but when you’re already there, you might as well practice. Wandering around I eventually found this set of rocks, and this is one of two uninspired “practice” photos that I made – the other one isn’t even worth showing in this context! :P


Honest Evaluations

I think what we all often fail to do, for various reasons, is to more honestly evaluate our own work. I know that I am not good at doing that at all! (and I have hundreds of blog posts online to prove it…). When the memories are still fresh and our impressions and feelings associated with a place are still vivid, we tend to see things in our photos that just aren’t there.

Then we post such work online, and social media’s feedback usually is that you either get the “Likes”, and favorable comments – or you get nothing. What’s also missing is an honest discussion of photographs. How do we do that in a friendly, social, personal and non-competitive way that helps us learn without ruining the fun? I haven’t found the answer yet, but I want to try and establish something like that for our photo club next year.

Anyway, here’s my personal, honest and hopefully realistic evaluation of the photo:

First, the workmanship. I made two exposures, one for the sky, one for the foreground, and they’re both good and serve their purpose (what I mean is: I don’t have to tweak or mess around adjusting the two individual exposures before blending them).

The photo is sharp where it matters, but it’s actually lacking some sharpness in the immediate foreground at the bottom. Either I should have stopped down more, or I messed up the focusing (more likely) and didn’t control it carefully enough afterwards. I camouflaged this shortcoming with some darkening at the bottom so that it isn’t really visible in the web version anymore (and the web here is the only place I’ll ever show this photo).

Second, the processing. I blended my two exposures using a luminance or luminosity mask – something I have to practice every now and then, because I like to work in even light with less contrast, and prefer to create images from single exposures. And of course I had forgotten the necessary steps and their order in Photoshop! I had to find a video to help me refresh my memory first. Once I did that it came back of course, and luminance masks are a really nice way to work with high contrast scenes.

What really “makes” this photo, in terms of processing, is most likely just the color though – once more the result of sticking to a daylight white balance of ~5000K, instead of “trusting” the camera’s auto white balance (way, way too cold).

And then third, there’s the artistry – the part that’s always hardest to judge, of course, because it’s highly subjective. Considering the amount of low-tide clutter and footprints everywhere, I pat myself on the shoulder for finding this little arrangement of rocks and getting a somewhat “clean” image with simple elements out of that mess – but here’s the thing:

Would anyone else be able to see the amount of searching, looking, trying, setting up the tripod and then moving on without making an exposure, that went into this photo? Of course not. So what’s left is a little tide channel that almost makes the eye escape on the right side of the frame, but maybe what’s saving things is the bright sky at the top that helps pull the eye back in, with the aid of the shape and detail of that center rock, and from there the eye can discover that smooth patch of sand below and to the left of it, which balances things. Maybe. It’s just how I perceive it.

So all in all, I’d say that the composition is somewhat decent, but again, this is all highly subjective. It may not work for you at all, and that’s okay. In the end, the photo falls into the “pretty picture” category (that category doesn’t satisfy me anymore).

All this massively gets in the way of the final, honest evaluation: you think of everything that you put into a photo, the drive, the time, the thought, the workmanship, the processing… it all makes you want that photo to work SO BAD. You want to dismiss its flaws and shortcomings, its uninspired uninterestingness, because YOU WORKED for it – and “it” doesn’t work. Perhaps there’s the element of gear as well: the more expensive the camera and lens (or the sheet of film), the more you might fool yourself into thinking that the photo just has to be good. ;-)

It takes courage and real honesty to see that, admit it, and confine that photo either to your local archives, to be seen only by you as a reminder of what you need to change, or to send it straight into the digital nirvana with a daring press of the DELETE key.

Remember: it was a good practice.

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8 thoughts on “Talent is a pursued interest”

  1. There are groups on social media that are critique or learning groups. I am not sure if that is what you are seeking but its better than no conversation, right?

    • I’ve tried to partake in some of them in the past. The biggest problem is that you have to trust some random stranger that you don’t even know and assume that they know what they’re talking about. :-} I don’t know about you but I’ve heard or read “great composition!” countless times in such forums and it often left me scratching my head.

      You’d have to just follow along for weeks or even months to find out whose comments are useful – and check people’s background, to see if they’re credible. If anyone slams my compositions, I politely ask them for a link to their online portfolio and if they don’t even have one, then I’ll just assume that it is safe to dismiss their comments altogether.

  2. A very interesting discussion! To quote Bob Ross, of all people, is funny. I’ve never liked the way the word “talent” is used by people who think it’s something only other people have so I’m with Bob as far as encouraging people to go ahead and try goes. And practice is very important but I think there’s something much harder to put into words that comes into play, something that has to do with human emotion. Technique is important too, of course, but in my opinion too many images are all technique and no heart. Perfect focus isn’t everything. As for your self-critique on the photo above, in the end, I don’t think the effort and expense that went into it counts for much, in terms of the viewer. Someone can labor over something for years but that doesn’t make it meaningful to the viewer, it just impresses the viewer with the laborer’s determination. Big effort can make an interesting backstory but that alone doesn’t make good art. To me this is a beautiful photo, and yes, it’s artistic. The delicacy of the light on the rivulet against the distant sky and solid rocks, the colors – beautiful. I would say I see love there if I hadn’t read your text! ;-) And I’m sorry the photo doesn’t meet your expectations but I know you’re a perfectionist. :-) I have great respect for both your technical ability and your artistic sensitivity. I can’t help wondering if the struggle about the photo not living up to expectations is coming from somewhere else.
    One more thing – I absolutely agree about the way our personal feelings and memories color our work, the difficulty in evaluating it honestly, and the dearth of places to honestly evaluate one another’s work, beyond the likes. It’s great that you will try to inject that into the photo club. Have a good week, and thanks for this discussion!

    • Thank you, Lynn, for taking the time to write such a detailed comment – we’re absolutely on the same page and I agree with everything you wrote.

      The struggle about the photo not living up to expectations… well, I guess it comes from everything that happened and was “around it” that evening – the people, the low tide mess, the almost empty and bland sky… both my friend and I had hoped for a little more of “that something”, which I also mentioned in my reply to Susan Chavez.

      Ideally, good photos are the result of just being somewhere and seeing something but for certain locations and situations, we have certain expectations, things that we (think we) need to happen or be there for the photo that we had envisioned. That day, I had these expectations, and as it was, the day and place did not live up to them, or “deliver”, perhaps. :)

  3. Thank you for this self-evaluation. Not only am I humbled by it, I learned a lot! In my humble(d) opinion, the image has interesting and balanced shapes, with monochrome leading the eye back to spectacular color. I love the simplicity. Just another pretty picture? Perhaps that depends on the eye of the beholder.

    • Thank you, Susan. :) It is a matter of taste and expectations. I’m glad that you like the simplicity of the image and see something appealing in it. And so do I – but it is lacking “that little something” which would add some special touch, something more interesting, perhaps a fix point instead of all the ambiguity that I see. I’m happy to hear that you learned something from what I wrote, and your feedback is much appreciated.

  4. I like the look of this photo very much. The details and color and textures really appeal. I have never done much if anything with Luminance masks. I need to try it out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It definitely does not deserve the delete key. I know though that I have different favorite images than others. Just seems to be what appeals to a certain person’s eye I guess. I am surprised a lot of times by the ones people think are really good as compared to the ones I really like.

    • Having different favorites than others… I consider that a good thing. Landscape photography in particular (I know you’re not doing that much of it) had a tendency to be somewhat formulaic I’d say, it’s good to NOT be part of that. Thanks for the kind words about the photo, they are much appreciated.


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