The Insidious Photographer’s Ailment.

Curves And Raindrops

When you look at a photograph what do you first see?

Do you see a well composed photograph that perfectly captures the beauty of the scene, or do you see the slightly blown highlights in the water in an otherwise good image of a waterfall?

Do you see a dramatic sunset with an amazing sky, or do you notice a horizon that is almost imperceptibly crooked?

Do you see an excellent image of a city skyline at night, or do you see the digital noise, however slight it may be?

Do you notice the brilliant green and wonderfully patterned leaves covered in raindrops, or are your eyes drawn to the several specs of dirt that should have been clone out?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you are afflicted with what I refer to as The Photographers Curse. 

I too am cursed.

Sadly I’ve found the better I become at the craft of photography, the more severe the symptoms of this insidious disease, the more even the slightest perceived flaw in an otherwise perfect photograph jumps out at me.

Edited to add – I don’t necessarily find these “flaws” detrimental to the overall photograph, a good photo is a good photo after all. It’s that I can’t not see them if they are there in the first place that is the curse.



Are you afflicted, and are you able to “turn off” the inner photographer and simply enjoy?

59 thoughts on “The Photographers Curse.

  1. I love this picture, but I’m not a perfectionist, I guess. Specks of dirt are there — I mean, it’s nature. So, just go with knowing you have the prettiest leaves in the blogroll reader today! Thanks!

    1. I feel your pain. The good thing is, and I edited the post to add this, is that it doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the photo. Assuming it’s a good photo in the first place. It’s almost an annoyance that no matter how good a photo, if there is an issue with it I’ll see it.

  2. I used to shoot for perfection but quickly abandoned that notion as most of my photography happens between 30-80 mph. Photography is perceived in many different ways. As long as you are happy with it I think that is great. On the other end of the spectrum – if you are trying to make a living, then you need to shoot for a different standard or set of standards. My photography is what it is – mine; I enjoy it – if other people enjoy it too, that is bonus. Absolute perfection can be a huge time-suck. I’d like to think I have found my own acceptable level of “perfection.” I would not be completely honest if I said I couldn’t identify with the notion you are putting forth though. My day job is analysis; that bleeds over into my photography at times. It is my nature.

    1. Excellent comment Dan. I treat my photography the same way. First and foremost it’s for me. I do strive for perfection, realizing it is an unattainable goal, which I believe drives me to become better at the craft. And I am my own harshest critic as well. I think we all are. The small flaws I may notice in someone else’s work don’t at all detract from my appreciation of the image. My own work I hold to a much higher standard as an aspiring professional, when it comes to these flaws. And let me tell you, I could find fault in every image any client has ever purchased from me if I looked hard enough. The important thing is that they are happy in the end.

  3. In some ways it’s a good curse as it shows the desire to continually improve. Some perfections we might disagree on – for example the specks of dirt are real and as long as they are not too large to intrude I think that is part of the picture. I think it depends upon the purpose of the photographs too – for my blog and am relaxed about what I put up, but not for a fee paying client. There is my tuppence worth, and by the way, nice image. MM 🍀

    1. Thanks Mick. I do think it helps me to improve, being able to notice these things. Fortunately, as I’ve mentioned in a few replies, and edited the post to reflect, these flaws almost never cause me to enjoy someone else’s photograph any less.

      Also, I did take care of a few obtrusive specs of dirt, but as with most all of my nature photography I try to present them in all of Nature’s perfect imperfection.

  4. I see no specks of dirt until I click and maximize the size of the photo on my screen. This is a plant…dirt is its home. To take photographs is to engage with what exists in the world. To perfect that and match it to something that exists only in the mind is to enforce a will unnecessarily, in my opinion. The color, the lines, the dewdrops and the dirt are all beautifully one.

    1. THAT is how I wish I could see other people’s photos! Seeing only the beauty, being completely oblivious to the flaws. As I’ve replied several times already, I don’t enjoy an image less if it has a few flaws, but it is annoying that I can’t not see them. 🙂

  5. I am most definitely an amateur photographer, but I think that maybe those ‘imperfections’ are what make a photograph perfect. If the specs of dirt, digital noise, and slightly crooked horizon were amended, the image would loose those little details that make it unique. The imperfections are what make the image real and what actually draw me to most of my favorite pictures 🙂

    1. I have to admit I try to correct all of those in my images. As with this one, several rather large and obvious pieces of dirt were unceremoniously cloned out. Also, a crooked horizon in a landscape photo is something I can’t overlook. The horizon is straight, so it should be in a landscape photograph. Don’t even get me started on the obviously intentional crooked horizon! My personal opinion is that it is overdone, and rarely to good affect.

          1. Hopefully it’ll be better soon. The summer is definitely on it’s way.

            For a while I was posting photos in a photographers forum. Everyone there are pixel peepers, so it kind of ruined my experience. They almost never bother to comment on photos and when they do, their main concerns are things like: there’s a small corner that’s slightly burnt out, the water in the river is burnt out, too much noise, etc, etc.
            Plus: the only photos that do get comments there (every single time), is bird photos. So, now I hardly post anything there.

            1. I hope so too!

              I’ve long since given up on most forums. I’ve got zero tolerance for the pixel peeping know-it-all crowd. I couldn’t care less if a photo isn’t tack sharp out to the edges or noise free when zoomed in 1,000%. What I care about is how it looks in a print.

  6. Both. I am glad that my first reaction is always on the aesthetic of photograph, critique is always a second thought. I am especially critical of my own photos which is good 🙂
    I love this shot of marvelous color and lines!

  7. I must humbly plead guilty to (usually) discomfort with (and, occasionally, intolerance for) a skewed horizon. Or too many images in which the main subject is dead center. Or inclusion of elements that (to my eye) either don’t contribute to (or worse still, seriously distract from) what seems to me to be the reason the photo was made. But what a boooooring world it would be if we all had the same tendencies and sensitivities!

    1. Me too Gary. As I mentioned to KiwiBee, the intentionally crooked horizon is an enormous pet peeve. Yet for some reason it is something far too many amateurs do. As far as I’m concerned, in a landscape photo the horizon should be horizontal, period!

      I also subscribe the the “dead center is deadly” in regards to composition. Though break this rule can make for an excellent photo, knowing the difference between when it works, and when it’s a poor compositional choice, makes all the difference.

  8. Fantastic shot! I love the composition and detail. I’m trying to be more detail oriented with my photos, concerned with proper cropping, etc., but I’m still fairly new and have a lot to learn. I’m starting to become a LOT more observant though which is a good thing.

    1. That’s a great way to be. I’ll bet that the more experienced you’ve become the fewer shots you take when you head out with the camera. I think that is a direct result of becoming a more thoughtful photographer, and simply knowing what you want to capture and how to capture it.

      Photography will do that to you. I see the world in an entirely different way than I did “before camera.” Now I literally “see the light” and I’m looking for the photograph in every subject and scene.

      1. Thanks Jeff. I do notice there are now only 150 where there used to be 300, LOL!! But seriously, I do know what you mean. I’m starting to see lines and contrast and light infinitely better than I did before. Now everywhere I go I think “oh, that would be a great picture at twilight or morning or whatever”. I’ve got the bug!

        1. Soon I bet it will be even less. Even on a sun up to sun down day I rarely break the 100 mark.

          I know what you’re talking about. You don’t see “things” anymore. Now you see light, shadows, colors, shapes, and textures. What’s funny is that it isn’t a conscious decision, at least for me it wasn’t. All of a sudden I realized I was seeing the world around me in a completely different way.

  9. Rusha Sams’ comment is perfect. And I wouldn’t change a thing with the photo above.
    Having said that, though, there is something about a leaning or angled horizon that makes me want to do some photo-shopping. 🙂
    Am working on enjoying what I see without an urge to fix….. a work in progress. Enjoyed this post. thanks for sharing.

  10. Interesting read and I entirely understand where you’re coming from.

    Perhaps because I mainly do street photography, where the aim is to capture the moment in a split second, despite the imperfections such as motion blur, uncontrollable backgrounds, and the like, I would say that I care less about the fine minutiae and concentrate more on the overall feel of the photo. It also helps that I don’t own photoshop.

    1. Ah street photography, there is an art form where the perfection lies in the imperfection. Capturing the moment and conveying it to viewers is all that matters.

  11. In all things there is beauty, which include imperfections. I would rather own a photo with its imperfections highlighting the beauty of the subject, then a sterilized version with the beauty lost.

    I guess it is all in the eye of the beholder as they say. Your photo above is one of beauty! What I see are the patterns and the water droplets as my eye is drawn to the very center of the photo (as you intended).

    Kiwbee, said it better than I did!

    1. I agree. Nature isn’t perfect, so I don’t try to present it that way, though sometimes she does need cleaning up. 😉 I will admit there were a few dirt spots in the above photo that I felt were too distracting to leave in the final photo.

    1. Oh it’s much more than a curse when it comes to your own photos! I think we’re all much harsher critics of our own work that we are of others. I know I’m brutal when it comes to the photos I make. Even the slightest doubt can me deleting.

  12. Absolutely, Jeff. It’s even worse for me though! To the point where its almost like now I’m making up imperfections that aren’t even there! For example, I’m about to post a couple photographs of the state capital building that I took the other day. I the image taken much closer to the building, I swear it’s slightly crooked. But according to the graph lines in LR5, its dead straight. I even looked at a painting the other day and in my head I was like, “Beautiful, but I wish the hooves of the cow in the front weren’t painted out of the picture.” Lol, its a terrible thing, but I’m working on turning it off. I still enjoy photographs of course, but sometimes I’m just not pleased enough to share my own with others.

    1. It took me a while, but I was finally able to turn it off. Well maybe not all the way off. I do still see them, I just don’t let them detract from the overall enjoyment of the piece.

  13. I see no problems in this one, nor do I see them in your other photos. This post is great – and you made me confess that I too have the curse problem. I meant to ask you if you had problems with the sensor dust?

    1. Thank you Paula. For me the real curse is that I see these faults, even tiny ones, in other photos I look at. Rarely does it make me enjoy them any less, but just the fact that I see them bothers me because when I’m enjoying a photograph I don’t want to see them. I really want to enjoy the image for what it is.

      And yes, on occasion I do have a sensor in dire need of cleaning. I usually don’t worry about it unless I have to spend a bunch of time cleaning up dust spots in a photo. And the new clone/healing brush in Lightroom 5 is so good that it will be a while before I clean my sensor. Which by the way is very easy to do. I was a little afraid to do it the first time, but now it’s just another chore I need to do every once in a while.

          1. Thank you Jeff 🙂 Hubby bought one some weeks ago, but he is reluctant to use it. He says our place is full of dust 😀 I will leave it to him to decide. You helped a lot and you calmed me down 🙂

            1. The biggest thing to remember is to use a bulb type blower to get the big stuff off. And make sure you have a fully charged battery. The last thing you want to have happen is the shutter closing and the mirror dropping while you’ve got the cleaning swab in there. I’ve done it many times and never had a problem.

  14. Such a true curse 🙂 I have found myself getting away from capturing moments that made me pick up my camera and worrying about blown highlights and blocked shadows. Great self observation 🙂 but keep in mind…you are not alone 🙂 continue with your great work.

    1. Based on yours and many of the other comments so far, I think people are misunderstanding me. While I have always been brutal with my own photos, with even the slightest flaw being cause for deletion. Where “The Curse” comes in is when I view other peoples photos. I can still enjoy these photos even if I do see a small blown highlight or blocked shadow, but I don’t want to see them. Because in some small way I know it must be affecting how much I enjoy the photo. I don’t like the fact that these small flaws, which are meaningless and don’t take away from the overall quality of the image, are distracting me from completely enjoying the photo too its fullest potential. Fortunately I’m getting better at turning off the inner photographer when I’m in a situation where I’m enjoying the photos of other photographers.

      1. Ahhhhh I see. So true of the curse! I can relate – maybe you can just give yourself permission to enjoy the scene 🙂 Anyway good luck and start enjoying again (or for the first time) 🙂

        1. I am able to just enjoy the photos, which is a very good thing. Lately I’ve been very good at turning off that pain in the ass know-it-all stuck in my head 😀

  15. It’s been interesting to read all of the replies.
    I’m pretty simple. I’ll use wine as an example: I may not know how to describe a wine, or pick out the notes or fruits, but I know what I like and what I don’t like.
    Same with photos that others take …some I am immediately drawn to; others I can pass by. I say this as a complete amateur as a photographer, but an expert at knowing what I like.
    and I LOVE this photo. To me it is stunning.

  16. I am too an expert at knowing what I like and that’s enought for me! 🙂 Now… I do not understand, Jeff, why did you like many of my pictures, all of them are sooooooooooooooo imperfect 😉 By the way, beautiful green juicy leaves 🙂

    1. Yes Lucy, your photos are just so terrible, how could anyone like them 😛 They are so bad I wish every one of them came out of my own camera so I could call them my own. 😀

  17. I believe it’s better to have high standards. I see many blog photographs that have noticeable imperfections and that I wouldn’t post. I’m reminded of the adage about behavior: if you can’t say something nice about someone then say nothing at all. In general I’d extend that to photography: if you can’t show a good photograph then don’t show any at all. I’ll grant that determining what’s good is a subjective matter and people can differ a lot on that, but if a photograph’s subject is out of focus, for example, I’d say don’t show that photograph.

    1. Steve, I am in 100% agreement with you here. “Good” in any art form is very subjective. But there is no mistaking an out of focus, poorly composed, taken in the worst and harshest mid-day light, photo. My biggest concern when I first decided to take the leap from casual hobbyist to a more serious, though not full time, professional was “are my photos really good enough?” I knew I couldn’t/shouldn’t trust family and friends. SO I found someone who wouldn’t spare my feelings to critique my work. It took another year before I shared my first photos online because of that.

      Mild imperfections in an otherwise good photo don’t bother me at all, even though I do notice them. Technically bad photos I don’t like at all.

Comments and thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

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