Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

When To Stop

I admit it. I am a perfectionist. This can be a problem. If I may quote Brooks Jensen from his recent interview with Ibarionex Perello on The Candid Frame, “The practical consequence of perfection is procrastination”. If one is constantly and persistently trying to improve a print, as Brooks put it, “the work simply won’t get done”.

I can vouch for that. It can take me several weeks to take an image from RAW format to a completed print. However, I do have a ‘day job’ as well as kids. My photography time is therefore somewhat limited and so maybe it turns out that I am not quite as pathologic a perfectionist as was being described in the interview. But, trust me, it is a problem. And this year I have decided to solve it! I thought it might be useful (or at least therapeutic for me) to describe how to properly diagnose and cure this photographic malady.

How can this diagnosis be made? How can you tell if you might be a fellow sufferer? Based on my personal experience, I can offer the following. When you find that you have a large stack of ‘test prints’, both as small working prints and in final size, that’s a clue. When the changes made between print ‘versions’ tend to end up being so minor that when you ask your spouse (or insert ‘significant other’) which version they like best they tell you they see no real difference, that’s a clue. When you find yourself thinking that the reason your spouse can’t tell the difference between versions is that they have an unrefined eye, yup, that’s a clue as well. And when you start asking your kids the same question because you think their vision is probably better than your spouse’s, that, too, is a warning sign.

The cure can be difficult, but I am willing to relate what I am trying, and which seems to be an effective remedy. First, I made a photographic New Year’s resolution. I have decided to complete a defined, discreet project over the course of the year. I have given myself a well-defined goal and deadline. To meet these goals, I need to have 30-40 completed prints by the end of the year. I currently have five images printed and completed, so I am right on schedule. I know that I have to complete 3-4 images a month.

Perhaps more importantly, I am learning when to stop trying to further refine an image. I am not saying that you shouldn’t ask anyone for their opinion, but when your spouse tells you that they don’t see a big difference between images, they’re probably telling you the truth. And, by the way, your 12 year old kid’s vision is probably not that much better than your spouses and it is certainly not more refined.

A strategy to limit image modifications needs to be devised, particularly if, like me, you have ‘gone digital’ and it has become all too easy to continue making minor ‘tweaks’. My strategy is as follows. After I have gotten the image where I want it and have gone through four or five small test prints and one or two full size prints, I look at the differences between the current and the last two versions. At this stage, I think one knows, in their heart of hearts, if the changes being made are minor and if a viewer is going to be able to recognize them. When that stage is reached, I then compile a list of all the further minor changes that I might consider making and give myself one final opportunity to apply them in one last Photoshop session before making a final print. Then, the moment of truth. I force myself to make an irrevocable and final choice between the last two versions….no going back and making further adjustments. It’s either one version or the other. Period.

It is definitely working. I do see myself becoming more productive.