This idea is taken from one of the greats, Jay Maisel. One of his quotes, paraphrased, is “If the thing you’re shooting doesn’t excite you, why makes you think it will excite anyone else?” Good advice. I try to remember it all the time, but I sometimes find myself trying to force it.
Sometimes when I am out shooting (most of my shooting is outside) I can feel it. There is a tingling in my gut, my pulse is racing, I just know I’m going to love this image and I hope I don’t mess it up. Please let the light hold for a few seconds more; please don’t let the person move until I get the picture; please let me get to the place I need to be to get the shot before things change. This is one of the adrenaline moments of photography. It is like being is a flow state when you are working. Everything aligns and falls into place. Things get easy. It is a joy.
Sometimes, though, it seems like you can’t find a good image anywhere. You look and look and nothing excites you. It is a natural tendency to force it. To talk yourself into believing it is better than it is. Yeah, I can make something out of this in Photoshop. This will composite with something and it will get better. It’s really not so bad. It is actually kind of interesting…
All artists probably have a lot of self talk in our heads telling us all kinds of things. This wishful dialog can be dangerous, though. It can fool us into settling for mediocre instead of holding out for a higher standard. Mediocre is always going to be mediocre. No amount of wishful thinking is going to magically transform it into a portfolio image. Be realistic with yourself. Sometimes you just have to pack it in and move on to someplace else.
However, nothing is black and white (except black and white prints ☺). The muse, if that is how you view the creative spirit, works in strange and non-obvious ways. Sometimes you don’t get the tingle in the gut at the time. There are times when a scene just calls to you without necessarily exciting you. I have learned to go with it and shoot what seems interesting, even if I don’t fully understand why. This is not the same as trying to make something out of nothing.
Sometimes looking at images later on the computer, maybe weeks or months later, the light bulb goes on and I realize my instinct was drawing me to something very interesting. Maybe I did not get “the” shot that time, but it opened the idea and the vision. If possible, I will go back to the location later with this new inspiration and capture what the little itch was trying to tell me.
The basic idea from Jay Maisel still applies. If it doesn’t excite me, why should I expect it to excite you? Maybe I am sometimes slow to pick up on the excitement, but that is part of the creative joy. You, the audience, deserve the best, the exciting ones. I should never try to pawn off mediocre images on you just because that was the best I could find at the time.