6 Jan 2014

From drought to flood: on the inconsistency of photographic hit rate

You are excited: you have been anticipating a trip for weeks, even months, preparing every small detail, planning every visit with great care and enthusiasm. It could be your first visit in a long time, or your first visit altogether; it could be far from your city or just around the corner. No matter the context, the feeling of anxious anticipation dwells inside you, and you can't see the day when you will finally board that plane; when you will finally land and your camera will be ready to capture everything you have been dreaming of. But a few days later, once all is said and done and you are back at home, you insert the SD cards in the computer and, huh, there are not many keepers in there, if any, after all.

Physical memories, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Erawan waterfall, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Shadow map, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
We have all been there, and we all know how it feels, though there's not much we can do about it. Yes, the better observers can probably find scenes in places that remain hidden for most of us, and training the eye is definitely the way to go in order to avoid, or at least minimize, this inconvenience. But it will still happen, from time to time, for a number of reasons that are not easily identifiable. That's what happened to me in my last visit to KL, for instance. Almost none of the pictures I took during that trip made me satisfied, yet I still uploaded some that were merely acceptable because this blog is, above all, a retelling of my memories through the images I capture. My goal is to improve the quality of the photographies along the way, obviously, but that's not the only purpose. Retaining experiences usually comes on top.

Three colors I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Two colors, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Yet there's the opposite malady, as well, and, as unlikely as this may sound, there is such a thing as an overload of good captures. You might not have been expecting much of this trip, or maybe you were, but your mind-frame was busy somewhere else; perhaps you simply let yourself go with the flow, without preplanning anything in advance, or you just felt at peace, content with yourself and with the surroundings. Whatever the reason, this virus that I will call the EGP for the sake of simplification (stands for "Excess of Good Pictures") randomly infects you through still undiscovered means and grants you an unusually high success rate in your shooting. This might seem like a lucky event, but the worse effects are still ahead: a few days later, when you are comfortably copying the loads of files in your computer, the nightmare starts: the monster of culling appears.

The ladder I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The ladder II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Spiral staircase, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
What should be a joy and a pleasure (choosing the most beautiful photographies) becomes an exercise on agony and extenuation: discarding the not so fortunate stills that in any other circumstances would have been the frontrunners in the selection process. This is exactly what happened to me in my last trip, for the first time, and I'm still recovering from the shock. I couldn't believe how many images I had that were exactly as I had envisioned them! But the time spent culling has been so long compared to any other entry I have posted before that it has delayed quite some time the moment of working seriously on the captures and, in the end, publishing them. The pictures that appear in this post are exactly that, the "leftovers" of that long culling process that ended with the favorites that will appear in my next post (which you can see right here). And, to lift the mystery, they are all taken in Sangkhlaburi, a beautiful village in Western Thailand.

The eye that dreams with trees, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Afternoon light, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The watch-tower, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Twin windows, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The wise trick of letting the pictures sleep for a few weeks in the darkness of the hard disk before resuming work on them has not worked that well this time. I usually work on stills that I have captured a month or two before, and this distance truly helps sharpening the critical eye, making it easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. But, as I said, this time not even this distance helped that much. I slowly reduced the number, but it was still too high for what I consider appropriate in a post. I believe an overabundance of deserts will weaken the impact of every single one if taken separately or in small quantities, and it's the same in photography. Set yourself the highest standards you can reasonably achieve and, once there, raise the bar again. Be your fiercest critic but also be proud of yourself whenever you achieve something you are satisfied with.

Three colors II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
The crematory in the woods, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Parking lot, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
When I talk about quality, obviously I'm referring to our own, personal standards. We are not Adams or Salgado, but that's not the important point here, and I would go even further and say that that is totally irrelevant in this matter. You are at one point in your own, personal photographic journey, you have your own level and standards, and that is comparable with none else but with your own previous production, exclusively. If you feel your work is becoming stronger than before, sharper and more defined, more clearly understood, more consistent and maybe even with a deeper signature style, that's what I call a success. It's the fact that you are able to best yourself, not by a lucky chance but because you are working seriously on it, both on a conscious and an unconscious level.

Perspective and disappearance, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Far ahead, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Distances, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
If you ever reach a level that is comparable (on general consensus) with that of other recognized, renowned or admired photographers, time will tell, but that should not blind your eyes: know yourself inside out, what you want and what you like, what you are willing to sacrifice and what you are not, what you are good at and what puts you in trouble, and work from there to become better, to learn, improve, and feel proud of yourself. Photography, as any other art, is a means of self-expression, so the only measure of success is if you are able to express what you feel within you to a broader audience.

Deserted plant, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Sleeping birds, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
On hold, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
One final word of warning, however: if or when this virus strikes you, because eventually, at one point in your journey, it will, don't fall in the self-indulgent trap of believing this is the beginning of your success, and that from now on all your trips and photo-sessions will reward you with countless keepers, such as in this rare occasion. No. It will not. That's a common side effect of the EGP virus: a boost of self confidence that becomes counterproductive, as it gives us a false sense of proficiency that we, in fact, lack. We are in the right direction, yes, but we should take this for what it is: a proof that we are doing some things right, but an indication that there are so many other things that we still don't get and we have to work hard to get better at them.

Lunch recess, GH3 + Olympus M Zuiko 45mm
Curious seriousness, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm 
Amicable eyes, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Skipping class, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
All in all, I would say that EGP virus is a bless and a curse at once. The former if we are humble enough to learn from it, the latter if we only take an ego boost out of it. Why were the masters never completely satisfied with their best work when everyone else was praising even their mediocre one? For the same reason that the amateur photographer doesn't fear to recognize he or she has achieved something good: they both have set a personal standard and both are trying to surpass it. No matter the level they both have now, the way up points always in the same direction.

Luggage, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Early learning, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The bright red of earth, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm


  1. Wonderful images... really magical.

    1. Thank you John. It's a magical place, after all! ;)

  2. Absolutely wonderful images and statements of personal principle. I would relish the opportunity to be able to work beside you.

    1. Thanks for your warm comments, docgipe! If you live in Thailand, we might share a photowalk one day!

  3. Awesome pictures. I'm bitten by that EGP virus to. One small detail tho. Sangklaburi is in the west, not eastern Thailand in the Kanchanaburi province. I've been there many times and just love the place for its peace and lovely people. :)

    1. Thanks for your words and for the correction, Tom, you are right, it slipped without me noticing, I have changed it already! Lovely little village so close to Myanmar that you can already smell it!