May 25


Why Chasing Perfection is the Enemy of Creativity

By Dan

May 25, 2021

NOTE: This is a sample lesson from my exclusive Photography On The Brain course. If you’d like to watch more introspective lessons like this and explore photography and creativity from a more cerebral standpoint, click here to get the 20-lesson bundle for over 50% off.

In Japanese philosophy there exists the idea of “wabi-sabi,” the act of embracing the flawed or the imperfect. 

However, in our modern society, signs of imperfection are shunned. Everything from music to photography, social media, to how we look, how our life looks. In many areas of our life, perfection is an absolute must.

However, this outlook creates many contradictions. And said contradictions complicate our day to day lives, draining the depth from many of our interactions. We become mentally fatigued and this hollow complexity creates a repeating cycle that leaves us longing for something more.

Without the presence of imperfections, the wonders of the world would not be so breathtaking. After all, it’s the imperfection that gives the world it’s charm. 

In art, Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity

In art, a dichotomy exists between creating the perfect thing, and yet trying to create it in such a way that adds a sense of individuality so that it’s truly ours and truly unique. In other words we add our style, and for the most part, style sort of implies a level of imperfection, doesn’t it?

In my latest video lesson, I explore the notion of why chasing perfection in photography is not always the best idea.

Blown histogram. Shoulda thrown this one away.

As photographers, we all live this constant contraction between trying to find the perfect subject, and then photographing it with an “imperfect technique.” Not placing subject in the center. Using off balance compositions to achieve a more dynamic feel.

And we often overvalue the notion of technical perfection. The dilemma is that unlike other forms of art, with photography, we can perfectly reproduce the subject matter that’s in front of the camera.

Perfection is boring. Mistakes are human. If you’re too fixated on perfection, and you’ll miss the moments that take your breath away.

the more we fear and obsess over perfection, the less attention is given to making images in a way that actually connects with your viewer.

To get away from this, one thing we do is go back to old technology, or in most cases, modern replications of old technology. 

Blown exposure, or moody, dark image?

I’m fascinated with the notion that photography isn’t about reproduction, it’s about representation, and when get that into your mind, you suddenly open up a lot of doors. You suddenly have a free pass to do whatever you want, because your goal is to create a photo that doesn’t show your viewer what they’re looking, at, but instead evokes a feeling that reminds them of what they’re seeing. 

I consider myself a technically proficient photographer, but sometimes I love breaking those rules and seeing just how far I can go and still tell get the message across in a compelling way. 

Your assignment this month is to get out there and break some rules. Give yourself permission to go completely outside the box as you try and represent your subject matter with what might be considered non-traditional techniques, or else with technique or styles that you’ve resisted in the past. 

I know for some of you, this might be as simple as cranking up the ISO dial, which, god forbid, might add a little bit of noise. You might intentionally blur your shot, or focus on something that isn’t your subject. Maybe you’ll use a color palette, film simulation or processing technique that is radically different from what you’re used to, that is a long way away from what would be considered “accurate.”

Try thinking like an impressionist. 

Damn… this one’s out of focus.

This will require a lot of experimentation, and you’ll probably blow a lot of frames, but I guarantee, if you keep an open mind, both during the shooting process and when you’re looking at your images, I guarantee, you’ll get something that works, that communicates your idea in such a compelling way that all those imperfections will simply fall away. 

And even if you don’t plan to shoot like this all the time, playing around with this sometimes will give you one more tool to use in your quest to create unique images. 

In the end, letting go of perfectionism can help unleash your creativity and ensure that you don’t miss important moments. 

Watch the full lesson here:

What the heck is this…?

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About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 25+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

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