It's been said that anything worth doing is worth doing right.
Some things are worth fighting for.
The juice is worth the squeeze.
There's a common theme here, and the basic idea is this—the quickest and easiest way to do something will not usually get you the best result. I'm a firm believer that the best camera is the one you have with you, but the overwhelming sentiment lately is that your smartphone photos are good enough.
In fact, there are more photos being taken today than at any given point in the past. There are legitimately trillions of images recorded each year, and billions of them shared on social media. People now realize more than ever that photography can be equal parts documentation, creation and expression. This may sound a bit lofty at first, but the most worthwhile and lasting images tell a story—with subtext. Many of the rest of these images are usually just good enough.
However, good enough is the enemy of art, self-improvement and true expression. Sure, it's an aggressive statement. There are times when good enough is acceptable— but know that true greatness never came from settling.
Give Yourself Permission
"If I have any 'message' worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no shortcuts in photography."
— Edward Weston
There's no quick way to become a great photographer. To perfect a craft takes a lot of time, concentration and hard work. There's no learning the piano over a weekend, even with the most impressive smartphone app. Try not to let that scare you off, though.
The pressure of having your creative works meet a certain standard can be crushing, and the thought of having to create something better than just good enough can cause a lot of hesitation. Creative paralysis due to the anxiety of not living up to your own best standards is a real thing. For this reason, perhaps it's fairer to tell creators, artists or photographers to simply begin with making something that's good enough and progress from there.
Give yourself permission to do something (photography, for example) badly at first, and improve as you go. The best way to get those wow-worthy photos is to continuously put forth a little more effort than the last time. If your only photography experience is with a smartphone, try an app that gives you manual control over your camera settings, and venture beyond what's comfortable and safe.
Show Others What They're Missing
"Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field."
— Peter Adams
Ok, I hear you. Not everyone is striving for greatness when they're taking photos of their kids opening birthday presents or sending snapshots of their new garden to the family. Of course not.
I'm saying that putting forth a little extra effort could go a long way. Be better simply because you can. If you're a self-proclaimed smartphone photographer, think of how much better you could convey emotion with a dedicated camera and a good lens.
Imagine you're taking photos of a friend's kickball game, or a niece's first performance in the church choir. Next, think of all the people at these events who are taking photos with their smartphones. Now picture showing these people a photo taken skillfully with a pro-level camera and comparing the intensity and emotion between the two methods. The pro camera photos will almost certainly draw the attention and envy of the folks who are stuck taking photos with a phone.
We see this kind of envy all the time at our meet-and-greet events. Photographers both young and old want to learn, touch or have some kind of involvement with these image-making machines. We'll have a Rolleiflex TLR or a Graflex folding camera on our table and watch how many people's eyes light up when they see these no-longer-prevalent cameras.
That's the difference between being good enough and going a little further.
Find The Subtext In Each Moment
"If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."
I mentioned above that the most worthwhile images have subtext. By this, I mean that sometimes, just getting the most basic point across isn't enough.
Think of a well-known work of art or literature and take out the details that make them noteworthy.
The Great Gatsby is a story about a guy who tries to make a girl love him by being rich. Some people die for no reason.
Michelangelo's David is a tall rock that looks like a naked guy.
The oversimplifications don't do the works justice. Even if you don't consider yourself a photographer or artist, you owe it to your future self to better preserve these memories that you're trying to photograph. Do justice to every moment by capturing images with a real camera. Your memories deserve better than a photo that's just good enough as an afterthought.
This is why people hire professional photographers for weddings instead of telling the attendees to take photos from their seats, and why concert photography is more than just someone in the crowd holding their phone up over the crowd.
Never Stop Trying
"You don't take a photograph, you make it."
— Ansel Adams
Take the two photos above as an example. One of them is good enough to show the scenario. The other is elevated. I’m certainly not trying to say that my cat photography is exceptional, but I think it’s better than a quick snap from my smartphone.
Of course, there were steps of progression from the photo on the left to the photo on the right. A better camera and lens, a change or perspective, years of camera experience and learning technique brought me to the second photo. Let me tell you a secret—
The second photo isn't good enough for me to stop learning. It's good enough for this article, sure. It's good enough for today, but there's still room to improve. There are other formats to try, other photographers to research, and techniques to attempt. With photography, there is always something new to learn or try.
So I challenge you to do better. Dive deeper into your passions. Push a little harder. Wake up a little earlier to catch the sunrise and take a couple steps closer to your subject. Together, let's put a stop to settling for good enough.
Good enough is the enemy, and we're here to fight back.