Some folks put quite a bit of value on their dung heaps. Gardeners come immediately to mind. In a world where there’s plenty of bullshit, bullshit is something gardeners value… in the form of steer manure dung heaps. Because bullshit helps their gardens grow. Actual bull shit, that is.
Yep. There are dung heaps and there are dung heaps, real and imaginary, and even imaginary, not-actually-made-of-dung, no bullshit dung heaps can have value.
Some dung heaps, for instance are photo dung heaps. Photo dung heaps are made up of all the images you and I snapped but, when we were later editing them, we realized some of them, possibly many, looked like shit or, to use an old American saying, “Didn’t cut the mustard.” (I have no idea how that phrase came to be but you hear it often enough.) As a result, we tossed those non-mustard-cutting pics into the trash (or dung heap) knowing we can’t, or probably won’t, use them for much of anything. Bummer, right?
Yes and no.
Digging Through Your Dung Heaps
Like a gardener’s dung heap, there’s value in our piles of shitty and non-mustard-cutting photos. All we need to do is take the time to examine a few of them somewhat carefully and thoughtfully to determine exactly why we relegated them to our photo dung heaps.
Instead of simply tossing those not-good-enough pics into our computer piles of such photos – and let’s face it, those images represent the majority of the images we all shoot with almost every set of photos we capture – and forgetting about them, look for those of them that came close, really close, to making the grade. The “Damn! Almost a good shot but, sorry, no cigar” pics. You know photos that reached hard for the brass ring but didn’t quite grab it. We all have plenty of those sorts of shots. I know I do. But learning from those images can help us increase our skills, our shooting skills that is, when we are faced with deciding which of those magic, decisive, moments our fingers will be pressing the shutter at in later shoots.
Trying and Failing Until You Don’t
The difference between successful photographers and those who seldom or less-often successfully capture the images they hope to capture – and by successful, I’m not necessarily talking about those who pursue photography as a business, I’m talking about all photographers, hobbyists and pros alike – is tenacity, determination, learning, and practice. Successful photographers keep trying and (often) failing until they don’t. Until they don’t shoot photos that mostly suck. Until their photos not only don’t suck, but they’re good, consistently good, good on demand, sometimes better than good. Occasionally, great.
How many times have you looked at an otherwise terrific photo you captured only to say, “If only…” If only her head was turned just a bit more. If only I didn’t cut-off her fingers or toes. If only her other arm was a little bit visible. If only I noticed that tree trunk looking like it’s growing out of her head?
Lessons in Our Dung Heaps
Examining and analyzing the images in our photo dung heaps helps us develop an eye for detail. It helps remind us of the importance of paying attention to things beyond how “hot” our models might be. It helps us learn the difference between what works really well and what doesn’t, whether it’s the lighting we employed, how we framed the shots, how the model is posed and what sorts of expressions she’s making or emotions she’s projecting and more. In other words, it helps us develop an eye for those images which don’t look like shit or just barely won’t make the cut and, as a result, may not end up in our virtual, photo dung heaps.
It can be a great learning exercise to go through some of the images in our dung heaps and ask ourselves, “Why doesn’t this one work? Why specifically doesn’t it work?” Better yet, taking it a step further and listing those negatives on a notepad. Marking up a dung heap photo (if a printed hard copy is available) much the way a literary editor marks up a writer’s manuscript is an even better exercise. If/when we do that enough times, we turn looking for those negatives in our images from an after-the-fact process to one where we’ll be actively looking for them while we’re shooting. Better yet, we eventually may not need to actively and consciously look for those things that create dung heap photos. Instead, the “looking for them” will become automatic with little thought given to the process.
You’ll Always Have Dung Heaps
Sure, we’ll still shoot plenty of frames that are worthy of our dung heaps and belong in our piles of shit. But guess what? Many of the images in our new dung heaps will likely be better, overall, than the images in our former dung heaps. That means the images that aren’t consigned to our piles of shit will probably be even better photos than most of our better, non-dung photos were before. How cool is that?
Successful photographers keep trying and failing until they don’t. And when they don’t, their dung heaps become smaller and smaller or the photos in them better and better. Successful photographers not only become more and more discriminating about which photos are tossed and which are “keepers,” but they develop a more discriminating eye while shooting, instead of mostly while editing. As a result, they often end up shooting less photos during their shoots because they also end up better knowing the difference between dung heap pics and keepers while they’re shooting them. Why? Because the process of examining our dung-heap shit pics and asking ourselves why they’re in the dung heap, specifically why they’re shit or didn’t make the grade, helps us develop a more discriminating and watchful eye while shooting. Discriminating, detail-oriented, watchful-while-shooting eyes are hallmarks of good photographers. All photographers, hobbyists and pros alike.
Thanks for reading!