Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

Mediocre Skills or Being Artistic?

A while ago, I posted these two images on one of the social networks as an example of how my photography skills have evolved over time.

From a technical perspective, there are many flaws in the second photo. Some of the more obvious – mediocre composition, blown highlights, and lacking shadow details. The overall lighting for the photograph is too harsh. My goal was to capture the beauty of the place, but instead I came away with an image that is almost black and white.  Still, more than one viewer commented that the image was a “moody” and “artistic” representation of the scene.< My first reaction was to dismiss those comments. Maybe they were posted by people who lacked the skills required to produce the photograph I really wanted. But on further reflection, I realized that not all great artists rely on technical perfection to create an impact. Sometimes, artwork lacks “technical correctness”, but still produces a strong emotional impact.

So I found myself contemplating this question: Do photographers try to disguise their mediocre photography skills as “artistic”?

For me, the question comes down to intent. If my intent was to capture the color, light, and details I saw in the forest, then my image is less than mediocre. On the other hand, if my intent was to capture an artistic impression of the forest, then maybe you’d say I succeeded in doing so.

Of course, in this case, my intent was to capture the falls the way I did in the first image (a few years later). Clean colors, rich details, and smooth water. I didn’t know how to do that the first time I photographed these falls. So rather than categorizing my earlier attempt as a failure – I think of it as an opportunity to learn… and learn I did. Now that I know how to capture a scene like this one more effectively, I have so many more options!

Do you evaluate yourself by your artistic ability or by your technical skills?

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.

Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams

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6 replies
  1. Ariel
    Ariel says:

    Obviously shot 1 is prettier than shot 2. But here’s my perspective on the whole matter.

    We only deceive ourselves and hinder our own growth if we say “I was being artistic” when we know it was lack of technical skill. On the other hand, I think it’s equally silly to deny the fact that we learn and improve every day and who you were, artistically, back then will be better in the future as knowledge increases. You did your best with what you knew at the time, but if you don’t do your best, well… To me that’s what mediocre means.

    Shot one looks timeless. Shot two looks photo journalistic. If you were happy with shot two at the time, then that’s what matters. Like Jay says, my favorite shot is the one I’ll produce next.

    Reply
    • Jay Patel
      Jay Patel says:

      My take on this is that you have to be honest with yourself. If my response to lack of technical skills is to pretend this is what intended to do because I like artistic shots…then you are just trying to deny the reality and hurting your chances to grow.

      Reply
  2. markdoolan
    markdoolan says:

    I think it depends on the purpose you had when taking the photograph. Obviously if you were taking the photo for a magazine you would want clean images with good detail, light and colour. If you were a fine art photographer then the “feel” of the photo is way more important than all the technical detail.

    Anyone can pick up a camera and press the button to get a photograph, but not everyone takes great photos that you can really connect with. Andy Carr and Michael Wood, authors of The Practice of Contemplative Photography put it this way, “You need to know how to look, where to point the camera, and when to press the button. These acts depend on the eye, mind and heart.”

    Reply
    • Jay Patel
      Jay Patel says:

      Well said Mark…Yes to some extent evaluating your photographs depends upon how the photo is to be used. But the how do you know that your skills needs improving or what you are doing is the best thing since sliced bread?

      Reply
  3. Thorstein K. Berg
    Thorstein K. Berg says:

    Interesting views you present here, but I must say that if you settle with what you self deem mediocre by the standars you self want to be judged, then I will say it’s just to cover your own failure to present a image as artistic.
    And how will one learn if one shall pass of “lesser” images as artistic and moody. By that standard very one is an artist. In my view, you can only pass on your images as artistic when you have made the “mistake” with the know-how to do the mistake, not just that you landed there by chance.

    Reply

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