It’s Good to be Dissatisfied

Woodland scene from Acadia National Park, Maine, USA
Woodland scene from Acadia National Park, Maine, USA

I was out taking photographs with a friend at weekend and mentioned that it’s good to be dissatisfied. Let me explain my theory.

When we first start out in photography it’s likely that we won’t take very good pictures. After some weeks or months of practice we might capture a few images that we recognise as being better than the rest. At this point it’s likely we will begin sharing these with other people. If we are really honest we find that most of us are probably seeking validation that our work is good.

This sharing of photographs will continue as our desire for external validation of our skills grows. After some time, as our skills improve (possibly years later) we will reach a point where we recognise that our work is good and no longer care what others think. We now have an internal reference against which to judge our work.

When we reach this point in our development, where we don’t care what others think, we move to the next stage. Here we recognise our work is good but you also immediately pick out the faults. These can be many and varied but ultimately we become dissatisfied with our own performance, be that technical or aesthetic. Interestingly, we seldom show our work in public for comment at this stage. We may however show selected images we believe are of a better quality with other photographers whose opinion we respect. This is not to seek their approval but their agreement on the faults and how to improve the image.

Just occasionally, we manage to capture an image where everything is right. When this happens to you, you will immediately pick the image out of your collection as being much better than the rest. You will likely show this to the other photographers whose opinion you respect to see if their assessment is the same as yours.

This happened to me this weekend where I shared my print of the above image. Now it’s likely you are looking at this image and thinking there is nothing to it, it’s just a bunch of trees. The print however is exceptional and looks like you could just walk into the scene. The screen view just doesn’t do the image justice. Interestingly this print was with others that aren’t as good yet my friend still managed to pick it out.

This is very satisfying.

3 thoughts on “It’s Good to be Dissatisfied

  1. I am surprised that this deeply insightful and, for me, introspective, article hasn’t attracted a bigger response. I see this article as closely linked to ‘Keeping it Real’ (Sept 23).
    In my second year of Club membership, by being a good boy and keeping the rules, I started to achieve competition successes. However, within 12 months I realised that pre-visualisation had been replaced with ‘There’s a judge behind you’! Hence, I’ve not competed for the last three years. I know that my photography has improved, but I have no external source of reassurance or validation. Back to the mounting board, methinks and Thanks, again, for the photo-psychoanalysis!

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