The Perfect Photograph

August 10, 2015 ·

Nigel Turner

Forest,-Yosemite

Does striving for perfection in your photography improve or hinder your pursuit for top quality images?

I have to admit that I have never been totally satisfied with any of the images that I have made over the last twenty-five years.  I always feel that I could have done better.  I look for perfection in my image making.

Havasu-Creek,-Arizona

The more we practice, it would seem that the better we would become. I feel that one’s personal vision is something that is honed over time. What I shot years ago means less to me now, since I have grown as a photographer and my images are stronger.

When I first took up landscape photography, I set myself very high goals and standards, which I feel I have somewhat honored over time. I am in a very fortunate position in that the images I make are ones that please me. I have never set out with the goal of making lots of images; instead I try to make each and everyone of them count. I recently looked back over the work that I have made over the years and was quiet shocked at just how few images I made. I have never been a prolific shooter by any means, but my pursuit of perfection means that I am very selective in the images that I do make.

Lone-Tree

One time I was conducting a workshop on the Big Sur Coast; I took my clients on a tour of the many photographic galleries in Carmel. Most, if not all of them, were stunned into silence with the quality of work on display.

Later that evening over dinner (while I was plucking bones and dissecting the head of my under-cooked fish) I noticed that one of the chaps had turned decidedly quiet and wasn’t his normal jovial self. Having decided that he hadn’t chosen the same dish as myself, I approached him on the walk back to the hotel to ask him what was on his mind. It turned out that he had become very disillusioned by what he had seen in the galleries and he felt that he was just wasting his time. He indicated that he would never be able to reach the level that he had viewed earlier in the day, because in his mind the images he had viewed were perfect. Of course they weren’t, but that is how he felt at the time.

Morning-Light,-Death-Valley

In this particular case, I thought I had failed him miserably.  It certainly hadn’t been my intention. I had hoped that he would have seen what was possible and this would have driven him forward with motivation and the self-confidence to know that with hard work and a unique personal vision, anything is possible. All you need is self-belief because that certainly goes a very long way. A few months later he contacted me and thanked me profusely for showing him the way, stating that his photography had vastly improved. His vision was becoming stronger and that it was all costing him a lot less as he wasn’t shooting ‘crap’ anymore.

Storm-Light,-Grand-Tetons

One of the main points that I really try to get across to those who participate on my workshops is to capture quality rather than quantity, think about composition and how the subject and the light work together in harmony. In many ways, just slowing down and seeing what is before you can leave you with the greatest appreciation of what landscape photography is really all about.

Storm-over-Canyonlands

But is achieving perfection even possible when making photographs? I have to believe that striving for perfection in one’s work is the only way forward.  It’s what drives me as a photographer. If I didn’t have the belief that one day I might make the perfect image, I would have given up making photographs long ago.

Tangle-Creek

By searching for perfection your photography will only improve by leaps and bounds.  It should be every photographer’s goal, but will it ever be possible to achieve? I hope not, as that only leads down the road to complacency.

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Nigel Turner

Nigel has been capturing the landscapes of the American West and exhibiting in galleries in both the USA and UK since 1988. His work has appeared in many leading photography magazines, including theBritish Journal of Photographyand thePhotographic Journal of the Royal Photographic Societyplus many of the consumer photography magazines. He has been conducting his workshop and tour programme continually since 1994, which has had over 1,500 attendees during that time with many repeat clients over the years. He feels extremely lucky to be making his living from what he loves to does, making landscape photographs. www.nigelturnerphotography.com

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