Here’s a little story from my world as a Colorado family photographer, but I think I’m bumbling toward something for all of us—whatever our field—so stick with me here.
In the spring, I took the exam to become a Certified Professional Photographer, and in order to complete the image portion, I had to purchase a new lens—an 85 mm. The 50 mm and the 35 mm I already owned and had used for years didn’t meet the criteria for this particular exam. I had read all about how the 85 mm is a perfect portrait lens, but I couldn’t have know what that meant until I bought and used one.
Suddenly, I was in love with my new lens. It truly makes beautiful portraits and—without getting into the weeds about bokeh and compression—let me assure you, it creates perfect portraits. But it also creates a whole new experience: I have to hold still when I use my 85 mm. Now, depending on my subjects, that may be fine for an entire shoot, or that maybe that’s fine for a picture or two and then we’re off and running (imagine a young subject who is mostly interested in playing hide and seek with me and my silly ol’ camera).
My whole focus since starting this business was to get away from stiff, awkward family portrait sessions and move toward fun, playful sessions that capture real emotion between subjects. But how great it is to learn and grow as an artist! It’s especially interesting in my new process of meeting with clients to help them choose which pictures to use in which ways and to see how that interaction influences my work. I have learned that just because a photograph checks all the boxes for me—lovely lighting, perfect composition, capturing connection or emotion—it may quickly be disregarded by the family because someone’s face is hidden.
It’s so important, too, to consider where the image is going to be used. Detail shots can fit perfectly on the page of a photo book because the entire page conjures up memories of more than just a smiling child. Suddenly you remember the texture of that tiny dress, the pitter patter of her steps, or the way her little hands were like a cherub’s until a year later when they were the hands of a slender little girl.
Would you want a detail shot blown up and hung on the wall? I guess it depends on your style, but probably not.
I guess what I’m learning is that there is a place for the perfect traditional portrait. They make especially lovely Christmas Cards, which I am so excited to help families design this year. It takes a bit of sitting still, looking at the camera and relaxing the shoulders, but it can be worth it!
Too much of this is painful for children and husbands (mamas on the other hand might be thrilled if someone actually invited us to sit still). So in each session, I try to find the balance between the perfect and the beautiful. It’s often found in the movement, in letting go of perfect composition and in seeing what’s happening in the moment. It often means going with the energy of the group rather than trying too hard to contain it.
And I’m finding this balance in all of life—gardening, housekeeping, etc. If we focus too much on perfection, some of the life of the thing gets sucked away, some of the energy, some of the beauty. This is by no means permission to be sloppy or lazy, but it is a call to flow with the energy around us in order to harness and reveal the beauty rather than fixate on creating something perfect all the time.