Life Photography

Photography Blues

Canon Xti + 85mm, backlit by strobe + umbrella.

Lately, I’ve become so hypercritical of my photography that I haven’t been able to post any of my shots on my blog or Flickr in ages. I literally have hundreds of shots that I’ve worked on and never uploaded because I didn’t think they were good enough. This even includes all of the shots I took at the Olympics.

I had such high expectations of myself going into the Olympics, that I was inevitably disappointed with the shots I took.

Olympic-sized Crowds on Granville St.
5DMKII + 16-35mm.

Rigorous editing of your photos is an important process in a photographer’s journey, but becoming a stubborn perfectionist ultimately hinders growth.

Because of this unattainable need for technical perfection, my creativity has hit an all time low and I have lost confidence in my photographic ability.

In an effort to jump start the process towards a more laissez-faire attitude in my artistic pursuits, I’m going to start sharing these imperfect shots with you, because if nothing else we can learn from my mistakes.

That or we could form a therapy group called “Photographers with Issues” where we gather for low pressure photo walks, mutual back patting, and emotional gear sharing sessions…

First topic:

    When L-Lens addiction takes over your life: How to ween yourself off before you max out your credit card and alienate all your friends.

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  • Reply
    Johnny Canuck
    March 19, 2010 at 1:19 PM


    You rock, your pics are great. The more you post and share, the better you will feel. Mostly because people will get a chance to tell you so.

    Take a page out of Thomas Hawk’s book: Create, Snap and Release. If you try it in any other order you’ll get stuck.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    When your “imperfect” images easily outshine some of our “showcase” shots, then believe me, the world ain’t a bad place for you Lisa!

    Take heart in the fact that even on a “bad day” your shots inspire those around you! ;)

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    My addiction began with the 70-200 f/2.8 IS. A friend threw it up for sale on Facebook & Seattle Craigslist and I hit him up for it and within 2 days I had a barely used L, my first! I’ve since bought the 17-40 f/4, a great value lens.

    My trick for not going overboard on glass is simple. I sock away $50 every paycheck (once every two weeks). This adds up overtime and makes me honestly consider if I want to buy it. I’ve been able to do this method (vacations, gifts, bills) for all my expenditures successfully. If I didn’t do this, I would be knee deep in L boxes :)

  • Reply
    Joël Cox
    March 19, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    I know how you feel Lisa, and I guess most photographers do. I read the story you posted with the photo above earlier today on Flickr; just before I left the house to help out at a local event where kids were walking to collect money for wells in Mongolia. Capturing the faces of those kiddo’s playing with water was a true joy. Not a creative challenge, but it helped me see again where photography is about.

  • Reply
    Terri Jacobson
    March 19, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    OMG sign me up for therapy, but please don’t take my 24-105 f/4.0L away!

  • Reply
    Greg Kalmbach
    March 19, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    I am exactly the same.. I haven’t posted anything in such a long time because to me, they are not worthy of posting. I’m all for starting a “Photographers w/ issues” group.. Could be fun.. ;)

  • Reply
    Gary Simmons
    March 19, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    LOL… I have to say that I’m in the same place (check the last uploaded date on my flickr, Jan 23rd).

    I love the “Photographers with issues” walk. You should register the domain!

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    Good idea. I’m sure all of your photos are better than any of mine. I just started out in photography and I’m trying to learn all I can, and your photos are wonderful. I’m learning a lot of from you and my other photographer friends.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    Lisa, these photos are beautiful! You produce some great work, don’t hold it all back!

  • Reply
    Marty Skitch
    March 19, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    As I tell my kids perfection is the enemy of good enough

  • Reply
    Scott A. Ettin
    March 19, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    Always be proud of what you take, regardless. The art of photography is a perpetual learning process. We ‘practice the art of photography’ in much the same way musicians are always practicing so that they, too, can be better communicators.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    L can be addictive but every Love is…

    In the end it’s all about our eyes and what we see. A lot of photographers look but see hardly anything. Love and care what you see and show it to the world. Perfection is not the picture but what you see…

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    I feel the same way about my woodworking. I’ll turn a bowl on the lathe, and everyone thinks it’s great, but all I can see is the patch of grain tear out, or the that the bottom isn’t perfectly smooth. We are our own worst critics, and the best therapy is to share your work with others, who will tell you it’s much better than you think it is.

  • Reply
    Ahmed Eid
    March 19, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    I know exactly what you mean…this post hit home
    I’ve been focusing on what gear to get, reading high iso comparisons all day long, and in the process, have not taken many shots


  • Reply
    Derek K. Miller
    March 19, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    My suggestion: shoot film for awhile. You can’t examine the pictures right when you take them, be critical, and then try re-takes. Your media are limited, so you won’t blast off a dozen shots when one will do. You have to wait to get the shots processed, so you have a bit of distance before you look at them again. And, even if you get them scanned right away (as you should), you’re less likely to futz around with them.

    I find I get more keepers when I shoot film than when I’m shooting digital, in part because I’m concentrating on the viewfinder instead of the LCD, and because I’m more careful with my shots. And less likely to worry about imperfections when software is not a built-in part of the workflow.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    Lisa, don’t be so hard on yourself!
    You have done a great work so far. We all have our highs and lows, but PLEASE, keep shooting.
    You are a natural talent, and hav the sensibility that most of us don’t have.
    I, for one, am not half the Photographer you are.


  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 4:01 PM

    Yes, I’ve been there, and I’m still there at the moment to some extent. The perfect is often the enemy of the good. By the way, what does a perfect photograph look like anyway???? I’ll settle for evoking an emotional response of any kind, preferably pleasure. Plenty of your photos have done that.

  • Reply
    Dan Overes
    March 19, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    This is a great post, Lisa. It got me thinking about my own photography blues, even though I’d love to produce images as great as the ones you don’ think make the cut.

    I posted my own blog entry as a response to yours on my site.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 8:09 PM

    Lisa, I admire your work and certainly feel
    your pain when if comes to over-indulging in self-criticism of one’s own work. One suggestion for you would be to give the lens flare effect a rest. I like lens flare, but your images are becoming a bit repetitive. Try a few portrait sessions and intentionally avoid lens flare. Branch out and try new things.

  • Reply
    Rob McKenzie
    March 19, 2010 at 8:55 PM

    I don’t know you – will more than likely never meet you, yet this post has made me want to comment on it because I have felt identical for long periods at various times in my life.

    You have simply voiced a concern/feeling that every creative person has had at some point of their life – if they haven’t they are arrogant douche bags!

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 10:21 PM

    A) You got nothin to worry about in the “photos sucking” department

    B) I’ve gone through these phases as well, and my advice is to leave the L series lenses, the dSLRs, and all the tech at home and go out with the simplest camera you have (preferably film), and just snap away at whatever interests you at the time. Do it just for the fun of getting out and taking photos, without the stress of whether they are technically perfect. You know how to take technically amazing photos, go back to the basics and just have fun.

    C) I’ll take the L series glass off your hands :)

  • Reply
    Chris W
    March 20, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    Hi Lisa,

    I’m often in the same place. I’m such a harsh critic of myself. I know I’m not where I want to be photographically and I have a long way to go to get there. The people I photography always seem to be happy with the photographs I take but I almost never am. Hopefully, some day I will be able to pat myself on the back and say, “Good job, Chris!”

    Here’s a video posted by Zack Arias ( that inspires me. There are some followup posts in the blog that were rather touching as well.

  • Reply
    March 20, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    I love my L series lenses. Well I have two: EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS and the 17-40mm f4L. I would love to add more and being at the paralympics surrounded by people with 400mm, 500mm and even 600mm glass makes want to go out and buy them!

    But being unemployed (well on EI) makes it hard to spend money on something that starts at $5,000, right?

    Renting lenses is an option. $35 for a weekend with a EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS lens wasn’t bad. Minus of course the deposit of $1800.

    I need to find myself a media outlet who has L series lenses to lend out to their photogs! That would be a treat!

    AS for you photos: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of yours to which I would say that’s ‘Meh’. Your work inspires me and I love to see what you can produce even with your XTi! (surprised you still use it when you have a 5DMkII)


  • Reply
    March 20, 2010 at 4:40 PM

    Can I have your stuff? A 16-35mm lens would work great on my T2i.

    Seriously, just look at your flickr for all the good shots you’ve chosen previously and realize you’re not that bad.

  • Reply
    March 20, 2010 at 8:18 PM

    Not that I can give advice to a talented photographer like you, but I remember going on trips and feeling every shoot in my camera was bad. When that happened, I just put my camera in my bag and forget about photography for a little bit. Soon enough, I would see somethings and wanted to capture them again. I would re-discover what got me into photography. Just like what Scott Bourne wrote in this post:, photography is supposed to be fun!

  • Reply
    March 20, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    You think your photos are meh… Then the rest of us should jump off a building… But I do understand the lows and we can all just do our best in the darkroom. What may be imperfect to the image maker could be utterly spectacular to the viewer. Pwi or not.

    I’ve got 24-70 and 70-200 2.8 and sigma 10-22. Just need to be grateful for the projects that pays for the toys and use what you have to it’s full potential.

  • Reply
    March 20, 2010 at 9:13 PM

    Perfection is boring.
    Real life has sharp edges and cracks.
    Publish…it’s the only way we can see the world through someone else’s eyes.

  • Reply
    The other Stephen (the kiwi)
    March 21, 2010 at 12:05 AM

    Who cares? Shoot like no tomorrow, don’t get hung up or yopu will be hanging.

    Imagine how us Nikon shooters feel, we don’t know which way to turn with all the glass we can have :D

    No point in having a group like that, there is no room big enough…..

  • Reply
    March 21, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    Okay, first, you make stunning pictures. Then sign me up for therapy. Please. I’ve rented the 24-70 f 2:8, and I find very hard to get back with the (however excellent) 50mm f1:8. Quel dommage…

  • Reply
    Jeffrey Lindsey
    March 21, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    I don’t know what you mean about L-Lens addiction, but I think I know what you mean about going through tons of shots and never uploading them because they don’t seem good enough. And I’m pretty sure you’ve hit on the right resolution to that problem, which is to just go ahead and upload some of them anyway.

    One way that forces me to make sure that I’m always uploading or sharing something is by deciding that I will share enough to tell the story of what I saw. So if I took pictures at some event, then I would have to process and upload enough pictures that can retell the story of that event. With this goal in mind, it forces me to do two things:
    1) Choose only a single picture for a single element of the story (preventing too many pictures of the same thing), and 2) Choose pictures that are not all that great technically but are crucial for telling the story.
    The second item I feel applies to your photography blues. I have found that this also forces me to practice different ways of presenting my photos when they may not be all that great on their own.

  • Reply
    Stephen McGrath
    March 21, 2010 at 8:12 PM

    Know the feeling well, and glad you’re recognising it in yourself. Photography should not be a discipline that is bound by technology and perfection. It should primarily a way of capturing mood and memory. That’s all. If you’re a people photographer just make sure the face says it all – nothing else matters. Rule of thirds? Pfft. Over-exposed highlights – don’t care. ISO noise, soft lens, plastic digital look – not a problem if the image is compelling enough. In fact, I’m moving back the opposite direction and beginning to shoot with my iPhone or snapshot Panasonic. The Canon only comes out at night when I need my 50mm 1.8 for rock shoots, and my 70-200L never made the trip to Vietnam. It’s staying back in Australia gathering dust.
    Keep doing what you’re doing. Your shots are good because of your eye, not your lens, camera or post-processing skills. Please don’t become a Flickr slave – one of those people who post nothing but digital art instead of real photographs.

  • Reply
    March 21, 2010 at 9:54 PM

    Just keep shooting. You’ll find a gem among those pictures. Maybe instead of photoshop, why don’t you start a project to compose your shots such that no photoshop is necessary? I learned that if you don’t like the shots, just delete them on the spot, and recompose for a new one. It will save you lots of headache later on to decide whether to fix the pics.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2010 at 1:41 AM

    Well Lisa,

    It seems to me that all of us that responded to your call for help, have provided some answers, advice and most important of all, we all enjoy your work and your view of the world.

    Now… kick that blues feeling on the butt and show us some of your “bad” photos.

    Regards from (sunny) Portugal


  • Reply
    Rich Charpentier
    March 22, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    Like everyone else, I’m with you Lisa! It happens to all of us at some point. For me, my solution is trying totally new things that I wouldn’t even try. A few weeks ago I tried my newest experiment and posted it. Not perfection, but me stretching my own comfort level.

    Don’t stop doing what you do. The “blues” will pass.

  • Reply
    clarke thomas
    March 24, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    imperfection is a far greater quality. if everything were perfect it would be quite boring, it’s the imperfections which make everything more interesting.

    Also with ability to take endless digital photos, you will find perfect shots amongst the thousands you take. You just need to take more. With film we were more likely limit ourselves due to the cost & annoyance of cartridge changes. And it’s from our mistakes/bad photos that we learn more.

    On L lenses: gather a collection that you’re likely to use often. I have 3 which are used daily, everything else I’ll rent. (granted I have 3 non-L lenses as well).

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