Photography and the art of compromise…

This is an old opinion piece that has been well used in teaching, writing and seminar work.

Photography and the art of compromise is a title for an essay that’s been rattling around in my head for a while. The other day I tweeted a version of what I wanted to say in “140 characters or less” and it was responded to or re-tweeted more times in a few hours than anything else that I’ve ever written on that particular social networking site. It was at that point that I decided that I needed to put my thoughts about the subject down as a blog piece.

All photography requires compromise – the better your skills as a photographer, the more control you have over the compromises you make.

That was the wording on Twitter (OK, there was a hashtag on the word photography). It seemed to strike a chord with a lot of my peers – maybe because it is possibly the single hardest lesson to learn when you become a photographer.

For the less experienced photographers amongst you who might be unsure about the kinds of compromises I am talking about, here are a few of the choices that you need to make on a day-to-day basis that lead to compromise:

  • Shooting wide open apertures to get a shallow depth of field versus stopping down a little to make sure you get the subject in focus.
  • Going for a higher ISO than your camera is comfortable with versus the chance of getting camera shake at the lower ISO where there won’t be any noise in the shadow areas…
  • Having to shoot at f22 in bright sunshine so that you can shoot flash and still keep the shutter speed down to the camera’s maximum sync speed.
  • Placing your flash unit close to the subject to get the effect of a proportionally larger light modifier versus placing it further away to reduce the effect of flash fall-off.

And so on and so on. Every time you alter a setting on your camera, every time you place a light and every time you focus the lens you are making decisions most of which lead to a compromise. Sometimes the decision has a small effect on the image and sometimes it has a crucial one. The technical and creative skills that we pick up throughout our time as photographers equip us with an ever greater understanding of the options. As we practice our craft, we learn to take more and more decisions in real time – often without really thinking about them and it’s these decisions that dictate our style of photography.

As a photographer my preference might be to worry less about depth of field and more about critical focus when I’m shooting some jobs whilst I’d almost certainly place a light where it will give me the right light on the main subject and allow me to worry about backgrounds second.

Put simply, that’s what makes my pictures mine and the decisions that you would take in a similar situation would mark your images out as yours. Where decisions become compromises is the place where creativity lives and where most photographers do their best work


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