Your Best Photos Aren’t The Ones You Think

Photograph of Garden of the Gods
Red Rock Formations in The Garden of the Gods. Colorado Springs, Colorado.

I recall seeing a documentary on television a few years ago about Ballet. There was an interview with a famous ballet instructor where she was talking about her students lamenting over their own talent and how to become recognized. It seems all artists struggle with this concept of self worth and evaluating their own talent. In the interview the teacher said that she always tried to teach her students that “You aren’t the judge of how good your art is.”

Art appreciation is highly subjective. Don’t delude yourself with thoughts of inadequacy or supremacy. Let the viewer tell you.

When I look and choose what I consider to be my best photographs I’ve come to the realization that I’m more often wrong about it. Yeah, I know a good photo when I see it, but my emotions won’t make the image more commercially viable nor will they infect the eye of the viewer. The photos that sit at the top of my list may indeed be good photographs, though in a commercial sense, they are not the ones that make the most money or get the most attention in public. My wishful or delusional thinking doesn’t alter reality.

Today’s photograph illustrates my point. A photo taken at The Garden of the Gods, a city park in Colorado Springs. It’s a famous venue, known for it’s scenic rock formations and views of the Rocky Mountains.

I took this photograph a few years ago, mostly as an afterthought. It was nothing special at the time. There are a thousand photos just like it out there, many of which I consider to be better than mine. My thinking was, it would make a good stock photo. I would never hang it on my wall though. It just wasn’t a personal favorite.

Make a good stock photo it did. I uploaded this shot to all of my stock agencies thinking it would earn me a few bucks. Boy was I wrong. It’s one of my most downloaded stock images for 2018. On ShutterStock alone, I’ve sold over 115 copies of this photo this past year. It’s even more popular on other stock agencies.  It’s paid for itself many times over. Who would have thunk? Small surprises happen all the time.

Don’t get me wrong though. Often times my best shots sell nicely and I’m quite pleased with that. But the best surprise is that image I take for granted as being “average”,  is flocked to for commercial use and ends up being a top seller. I’ve heard famous musicians lament this conundrum many times. Joe Walsh comes to mind. He can’t shake Rocky Mountain Way, a song he claims he never put much effort into nor really cared all that much about. The public eye is a fickle thing it seems.

This photograph has done far better with commercial sales than I would have ever given it credit. It’s been featured on web sites, television, Readers Digest and who the heck knows where else? And the sales keep coming in.

So, don’t think you are always the best judge of your artwork. Other people see your work through their eyes and they attach their emotions to the image and those thoughts will not coincide with your feelings most of the time.

This is why I try to teach my students that the best time to take the photo is when you see it. It may be a second thought or something that you contemplated skipping. It may be worthless. But, if you don’t take it, you won’t have it and you won’t learn nor earn a thing from it.

Always keep an open mind. Your best photos are probably not the ones you think.