Seeking Perfection

I am always trying to make a better picture. To take a perfect photograph, that has everything I wanted and no flaws.

This is a portrait I took of my daughter. I like it, but it’s not perfect. As a photograph I am happy with it but I know it could have been just a bit better. When she first sat down in the chair and looked at the camera – it was perfect. I wasn’t ready, so missed that first moment. Within a second she had moved. Her expression had changed and what results is my efforts to get her back to that initial moment – sitting up straight, posed like she thinks she should when having her picture taken and giving her full attention to the camera, without looking bored. She is a wriggly five year old and because I’m her mum I have even less influence over her in this senario, than I would with someone else’s child.

I have been trying to find other ways to photograph young children that are set apart from the family snap shot and create a more interesting photograph. I have been looking at old Victorian children’s portraits. The Victorians used back braces to keep their children still enough for the required long exposure times. I have considered concentrating on photographing older children for my Generation Pink project. It is easier to make a good portrait with an older child, as there is more of a connection between the photographer and child. The child is more aware of themselves and that someone else it looking and photographing them. Young children are so un self conscious. They know you are photographing them, but are too young to show any sense of vulnerability.

I have just edited out a lot of my earlier portraits from this project. I knew all along that there was something not quite right with them. I had told myself that as the subject matter was sugary and sweet and pretty that was what it was. They just weren’t interesting enough. I came across a quote from W. M. Hunt “Insist on engagement. Wrestle with what is difficult. Pretty is boring. Seek intensity.” So out they went and I am almost starting afresh.

It is important to include younger children in this project so I am trying a new approach. For a while I went down the road of being really flexible and almost following the child around, going with the flow with what they wanted to do and give to the camera. Lately I have taken more control over the situation . I choose a background/setting and get them to sit down more formally (without back brace) and just look at the camera. It won’t work with all children, but I think I’m now heading in the right direction.

  1. It’s a lovely picture but certainly not perfect. As a perfectionist and someone trying to continually improve my photography , I have come, after many many years to realise that perfection lies precisely in the “flaws”. In this picture of your daughter, I am visually distracted by the bed, bear and radiator…..and that’s not to say that I don’t like the composition….but my focus is not on her. I do not learn a great deal about her as a person…. As a father with a three and half year old son whom I’m always trying to photograph, I empathise fully with you!….with children, as I’m sure you already know….thousands of shots have to be taken…and the best in my opinion are observed portraits.

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