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Troublesome Choices

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I’ve had an awful time lately trying to figure out what to write about. Not due to a lack of choices, mind you. No, rather, the trouble is that there are far too many of them. This isn’t the first time either, that I’ve had trouble figuring out which way to go because of all the choices available. Then it hit me; I could write about choices. It solves one dilemma and might just help someone else out as well. And that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

The problem

So here’s the rub. When you haven’t got any choices, or very few, it can feel pretty limiting. But when you’ve got a whole plethora of things to choose from it gets to be overwhelming. Here’s an example. You get your first camera and you have one lens. That’s great for a time but then you start thinking, “If I had this lens or that lens then I could do so much more.” Your lens suddenly isn’t long enough or wide enough or fast enough or one of a dozen different reasons. You’ve convinced yourself that you need another lens because you feel limited by only having one choice. Take the flip side of things now. You’ve got 5, 6, 7, or however many lenses. They get taken everywhere with you in your camera bag so you’ll always have them as an option, should you need it. (And possibly you feel slightly guilty for spending all that money, so you carry them around to justify it.) Now you’ve got to lug all that extra weight around and fiddle with swapping lenses, potentially missing the moment because you’re too busy trying to pick a lens. You’ve got so many choices that it’s hard to figure out what to choose.

It’s not just limited to lenses, by the way. This problem could apply to all sorts of things. You start with just one editing program but are constantly saying how, if you had that program over there, then your images would be far better. But when you’ve got all the editing suites and 200 presets to go with them you can’t ever seem to decide what you want to do. Maybe you’ll spend 2 hours clicking through presets, hoping one of them makes your image pop. Or maybe you’ll think how daunting of a task that would be, so you just don’t do anything. Your pictures never get finished and shown to anyone but instead slowly fade from memory, wasting away in a cold hard drive hell.

What to do about it?

That’s an awful fate for your pictures, really. Never fear though, there is a way to save your images from such a harsh end. A lot of people have probably got this all sorted already. Or maybe everyone does and I’m just behind the game, I don’t know. It took me a while to figure this out for myself and I’m not even sure that I’ve gotten it all the way. The point is, if you’re not having all this trouble with choice then there’s likely no reason to keep reading. However, if there’s even one person that I’m able to help out a bit (and to prove I’m not the only one) then I’ll be set.

So what can you do about this problem of not enough/too much choice? Part of the trouble I’ve had is that I didn’t know what it was I wanted. Still don’t half the time. I would shoot arbitrarily and just push around a bunch of sliders in the edit, all the while keeping my fingers crossed that I’d find the secret recipe for that image and for editing in general. For anyone who doesn’t know yet, I’ll let you in on something. There is no magic formula or shortcut to getting a fantastic image every time. It doesn’t exist. The only repeatable thing I’ve figured out is to be more deliberate every step of the way. Identify what you’re after when shooting. What you’re trying to say with an image (which always sounded confusing to me), what feeling or moment you’re trying to capture. You might have to slow down for a while to figure it out but it’ll have been well worth it in the end, I promise. After you figure that out it’s simply a matter of making the choices best suited to get the result you have in mind. Pick whatever lens you have that will best capture the moment you’re after and then edit to maximize that feeling or mood. Cut out everything that doesn’t help you reach your vision for the image.

This isn’t to say that you’ve got to have a crystal clear path for every single image from the start, of course. I usually start with a pretty fuzzy idea that gets refined along with the image. It’s an “I refine the image and the image refines my idea” sort of thing. To be able to do all this though doesn’t require buying another lens or whatnot. You’ve got to master the gear you have first. How else will you know what’s best to choose for a particular situation? If you can afford more gear (which includes software and such, by the way) to help you better capture what you’re after then great. But don’t think you have to buy stuff just to have it. It’s really not about the gear; I don’t think it’s ever been about the gear. They’re just tools to get you to the end after all.

There’s always tomorrow…

So my suggestion, if you find yourself struggling with choices like me, is obviously to do what I said above. I’d like to add one other thing though. If you can’t decide what exactly you’re after, or you think one choice might be best but you’re not entirely sure, then just choose an idea and go with it. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. If you’re shooting digital then it doesn’t really cost much (or anything) to redo it. At least you tried. And besides, there’s always tomorrow.

Matt Kaiser

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Posted in Thoughts & Musings.