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.

Breaking Taboos

In a post several days ago, I was looking for assistance in taking better photographs of Trillium. In that post, I mentioned that as part of my query I was breaking a taboo by purposefully showing poorer images, the ones that I would never display, to an audience. There is even an old saying about this that goes something along the lines of “The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the professional never shows you the shots that didn’t make it”. I was thinking about this issue some more, and feel even more strongly that it can be a wise decision to show your poorer images, it just depends on the venue and purpose.

For example, I would never display images that I thought didn’t quite make the cut. I would never want to make a show out of them. But I think that there is a good deal to be learned by examining these shots that ‘didn’t make it’.

For one, and this is probably the most obvious reason, it gives an opportunity to request input from others about improving aspects of an image that you think have failed. Sometimes you can go around in circles missing obvious, or not so obvious, solutions that are more apparent to someone who might think about things just a bit differently from you. Secondly, it gives an opportunity to receive feedback about which aspects of an image work well and which don’t.

However, there is yet another reason. While this may be the most obscure, I also think it is quite important. It allows others to learn from you. It allows others to experience the creation of an image through your eyes. This is perhaps best illustrated with an example.

I have always been moved by the iconic image “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange. Most people have seen this image (and my understanding is that there are no copyright concerns with the use of these images):

"Migrant Mother"
Dorothea Lange

However, many people do not realize that “Migrant Mother” was but one in a series of images that Dorothea Lange had taken on that particular occasion. The other images from the sequence include the following:

Images By Dorothea Lange

Had Lange destroyed the negatives from the images above, we may well have lost an opportunity to better understand how she approached her subject. Seeing the other images raises various issues that are useful to think about. Why did she take the entire sequence? Was she ultimately working her way in, knowing that the images she was taking up until “Migrant Mother” was just ‘exercise’? How did she think about framing the image? Did one image ‘lead her’ into the other? Was the final choice of image as apparent to her as it seems to us now?

Imagine what could be learned if we were able to look over the shoulder of photographers that are more accomplished than us, no matter what our individual level of expertise is, and watch the editing process of another image maker.

I believe that polite but very objective feedback regarding one’s images is important for growth. As long as it is clear that the venue is discussion and learning and that the audience is not “The” audience, I think it can be a very positive experience to discuss one’s failures. Through that discussion, other photographers besides ones self might end up benefiting as well.