Why I Take Lots of Bad Photos and You Can, Too

I started to comment on ktmade’s recent post The Montreal Botanical Garden (or Why I Take Photos) because I admired her both willingness to listen to the voice inside as well as the stunning photos from her visit to the aforementioned Garden.

But when I hit, say, 250 words and still hadn’t finished, I figured it’d be more neighborly to retreat to my own soapbox to finish up.

https://instagram.com/p/zvIO4ch69u/ A snap from my current photo challenge, #instamarchlove. Details at Elegance and Enchantment.

Aside from a couple of elementary school photo projects, I never took a lot of pictures until I got my first iphone, about 4 years ago. It was so easy because I always had it with me, and not having to develop film meant there were zero barriers to clicking away and seeing what came of it.

Then a few months after I got my phone, I lost most of my vision for most of a year. AWKWARD.

In the time since, I’ve really come to appreciate how taking photos (1) validates that I can see something and (2) helps frame and focus my attention in the moment.

That photo lacks composition? The lighting’s off? TOUGH. I came, I saw, I snapped.

And since my sight could go again at any time, I’m going to darn well keep snapping away until then. And maybe after then, too. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it and stop to take a picture.

Taking pictures often and in quantity also pushes back a stubborn perfectionistic streak that I’ve been trying to snuff out since elementary school. I think of the koan about the art teacher who tells half the class that their only assignment all semester is to make one single vase. The other half of the class’s only assignment is to make as many vases as they can during the semester.

What we’re to believe is that the quantity-over-quality kids — through dint of practice, repetition, iteration — also turned out the best vases, while the single-vase kids either just made one shitty vase or (more likely) ended up rocking in a corner somewhere, paralyzed by the pressure.

Sounds plausible, anyway, and not just if you’ve ever seen my stunning paralysis skills. I read in a best-of National Geographic issue a year or two ago that “A photographer shoots 20,000 to 60,000 images on assignment. Of those, perhaps a dozen will see the published light of day.”

Well, shit.

If even bumbly-old unartistic ME took 60,000 photographs, surely at least 10 or 12 would be decent. At least 30,000 of them would probably even have the lens cap removed!

I’m not great at math or photography, but it sounds like it’d be impossible to shoot so many photos and not come up with something decent. Just by chance.

And you know what? I think it’s true. I take dozens of photos on an average day, sometimes over a hundred. The more I take, the more I can edit out. The more I can edit out, the more strength I see in those allowed to remain.

Even if nobody else sees the cutting room floor fodder, I know that I’m keeping, and sometimes sharing, my best. The Best of the Best, even.

Finally, the flow of life these days is just too deep and wide and swift to stop and verbalize, to tell and retell. So photos have become my favored alternative. It’s still storytelling, just different, and sometimes better. I love that my boys will have more memories to look back at than I do/did.

So yeah, ktmade, don’t start apologizing. I promise not to, either. Now, say “cheese!”

3 thoughts on “Why I Take Lots of Bad Photos and You Can, Too”

  1. So good, EJ, so good. (1) Those wood grain tiles are amazing – I really had to look to see the little interlocking parts. (2) You are so funny. (3) I cannot imagine how scary/weird/other emotions it was to lose your sight and how that must change everything about seeing now, and I loved what you said about photography then being a validation that you can see something. (4) I’ve never heard that vase story, and I love it. Like deep, deep love. (5) It’s clear to me that we could totally be National Geographic photographers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And I love being able to peek into your life and watch your adorable boys explore, play, and pose for the camera. Snap away!


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