Brooks Jensen Arts

Every Picture Is a Compromise

Lessons from the Also-rans

Most photography websites show the photographer's very best work. Wonderful. But that's not the full story of a creative life. If we want to learn, we'd better pay attention to the images that aren't "greatest hits" and see what lessons they have to offer. Every picture is a compromise — the sum of its parts, optical, technical, visual, emotional, and even cosmic – well, maybe not cosmic, but sometimes spiritual. Success on all fronts is rare. It's ok to learn from those that are not our best.

This is a series about my also-rans, some of which I've been able to improve at bit (i.e., "best effort"), none of which I would consider my best. With each there are lessons worth sharing, so I will.

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The Modern Dilemma

In 2006, I spent six days photographing the 300+ acres that are known as Hell's Half Acre in central Wyoming. In those six days, I completed 244 different compositions. This photography led to a folio of a dozen prints and a corresponding PDF. The project still holds up well after the subsequent 16 years. All well and good.

Here is the dilemma. In the folio and PDF, I used a scant dozen of the 244 compositions, leaving me 232 images that are available, but as yet unused. These are two of them. Assuming (just as a wild guess) that ¾ of them are crappy images, that still leaves me 58 images (I'll bet there are more) that I like, that are technically workable, that I'd like to use somewhere. Having just reviewed the images, I'd guess there are closer to 100. What do I do with them? Hell's Half Acre, Part 2?

This over-production is repeated in a dozen projects of my own — 800+ finished images from Fort Worden, 10,000+ RAW captures from Dakota Creek shipyard, 15,000+ from China, and 17,000+ from Japan, just to name the biggies.

Today's photographers can produce work in such volume — and with technical success that far exceeds the needs for any project. I have over 100,000 images in my Lightroom catalog, all of which are exposed well and sharply focused. Of course, only a fraction of them are aesthetic winners, but whatever percentage of them are add up to far more images than I can ever use in my projects. What are the implications of an art medium that can produce far more than it can use? And multiply my experience by the number of talented individuals who are diligently working to produce their personally expressive photography! Where does this dilemma lead us?