Life is messy, and when we stop trying to make it perfect, perfection will be the result.
Recently, I watched a YouTube video about a concept called “Perfect Imperfection.” The video was specifically dealing with photography and how sometimes photos that would be technically defined as “imperfect”, such as out of focus, messy perspective, poor lighting, etc., are actually made more “perfect”, specifically because of these imperfections. He went on to profile several photographic series, talking about how “technically” the photos had many flaws but how those flaws made the photos much stronger and helped them to tell quite compelling stories. One of the artists profiled takes photos through the window of his car giving them a surreal quality. As a very technical photographer, this concept intrigues and repels me at the same time.
One rainy morning on my way to work, not too long after watching this video, I was thinking about this concept and thought it might be interesting to strive for perfect imperfection by shooting a scene through my car window and focusing on the raindrops with nothing in sharp focus. I used a slow shutter speed to compensate for the dark morning and a low f-stop to further blur the image outside. My thoughts... I love rainy days. They are quiet, yet chaotic. Gloomy, yet cleansing. And they scream unexpected potential. When looking at the photo later, I was genuinely surprised by how much I liked it.
When I think about this concept and how it applies to my work as a wildlife photographer, I considered how I often concentrate too much on making sure my photos are “technically perfect”, as in the subject’s eye is in proper focus, the light is right, and there’s a clear and interesting background, and not as much as I should on whether or not the photograph tells a story. Unintentionally, I took quite the imperfect wildlife photo during a weekend trip to Galveston, and like my intentional photo in my car, I was genuinely surprised by how much I liked it. The location is a beautiful coastal wildlife refuge but presents a bit of a photography challenge as it’s also on a shipping channel with heavy barge traffic, so the issue becomes photographing the wildlife in what appears to be a natural setting. This photo isn’t great for a few reasons; the sun was just coming up so it’s a bit dark and grainy, the bird isn’t crisp and well in focus, plus there’s a boat passing right behind the bird. As I was sorting through all the photos I took that morning, I found myself continually coming back to it and eventually opted to keep it. As I set about developing it, I thought about the story it told and how the “imperfections” make it, to me, a much more interesting photo. I love the serene setting of a new dawn with the boat in the background and how it represents the tension between man and nature.
As I ponder this amazing life I’m living, I think about all the imperfections that have made up my adventures… my marriage, raising children, running a business, time with friends… and I have to smile remembering that those times when carefully laid plans went completely off the rails were often the times when we experienced the best and most rewarding memories.
Maybe that’s the lesson… life is messy, and when we stop trying to make it perfect, perfection will be the result. So, here’s wishing you a perfectly imperfect day!
To view the video that inspired this article, visit Jamie Windsor’s YouTube channel and watch “Wabi-sabi: When Bad Photos Are Better”.