[How to Take a Photograph] Forget Perfection


I wanted to allow myself the time to really learn my camera and capture everyday moments. It’s an outlet for me…an extension of my heart and my eyes. I don’t just see an image, I feel that image. Ashley Sisk

Taking photos allows me to be in the moment. It forces me to stop and recognize the blessings surrounding me. Hill

I take photographs to capture the simple moments. Miel et Lait

I like taking photos because I know that when I’m a little old lady, I will love nothing more than to use them as I remember the special moments of our everyday lives. Abby

I couldn’t not take photos, I love seeing life through a lens it really helps you see what is important. Rebecca Spencer

I really like taking pictures because I want to capture my world. Julie


Last week I asked you Why do you like to take photographs? There were some beautifully inspiring answers left, I truly enjoyed reading through your comments and wanted to thank you so much for leaving your thoughts with me.

We love to take photographs because we enjoy being able to capture little pieces of our lives, either to keep as memories for ourselves or to share with others. We will look back on these photos in months, years, decades and we will remember when we lived in that house or when we really thought that colour scheme looked good. We’ll remember the pets we had and how small our children once were, with their chubby little arms and legs. So why do we worry so much about the photographs we’re taking now?

In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful. Alice Walker

I think that the best way to get better at taking photographs is to take more and more of them all the time. We shouldn’t let a fear of not being able to take the perfect photograph right away stop us from pulling out our cameras. To learn, you need to be able to push yourself and to make mistakes. You should be able to experiment with different ideas, look back at different shots you’ve taken and see why one thing worked and another did not. With digital photography we have the wonderful opportunity to be able to take as many photographs as we want without worrying about wasting film. Our mistakes are much less of a risk in digital, we can use them, go back and learn from them.

Even the so-called rules are open to exploration, Kat Sloma has written a wonderful exploration of the compositional rule of thirds on Mortal Muses. Equally, most of the rules that exist in photography and in art are gentle guidelines, things that when kept in mind will help you as you grow, but that don’t necessarily have to be be followed every time.

In a similar way, the principle applies when editing the photos you’ve taken. I know I spent a lot of time using different free actions in Photoshop that are available for download around the internet, running them on each photograph and dissecting them backwards to look at exactly how they work and what they do to the photograph. Learning how you prefer to edit your shots after they’re taken also helps with learning your own style of shooting and how that fits in with your editing workflow. I eventually found that I much prefer to shoot in RAW and do minimal editing myself without downloaded actions, getting the photograph right in-camera as much as possible so that I have less post processing work at the end but also using RAW so that I have complete control over the process from beginning to end. Some of you may feel the same way, others may prefer to shoot in Jpeg and not edit their photos at all. Each person has their own process.

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. Edwin Land

Of course some of our mistakes as we’re learning end up being photographs we’re going to want to keep, or will even become favourite photographs for years to come. Because when we look back at photographs of our lives and our children we don’t think about the missed or soft focus, we don’t worry about the harsh lighting, limb chops, lack of catchlights or the poor exposure. We’re thinking about that moment in time when we clicked the shutter, and isn’t that what photography is for?

Do you have a favourite photograph you’ve taken that technically breaks the rules? Tell me about them or link to them in the comments!

Photo Settings:

1. [Nikkor 50mm 1.4] 1/250 f/3.2 200ISO [Edited in Adobe Lightroom 3]
2. [Nikkor 50mm 1.4] 1/250 f/3.2 200ISO [Edited in Adobe Lightroom 3]
3. [Nikkor 50mm 1.4] 1/250 f/3.2 200ISO [Edited in Adobe Lightroom 3]


  1. Wow – I don’t even know what to say. What a beautiful post. At the beginning of my journey I learned one important thing – if you want to take good pictures, you must take lots of pictures. I took it to heart and carry my camera with me everywhere. Granted, my shoulder hurts from time to time but I can’t imagine not being this way. Your question of a favorite shot…I’m posting one tomorrow that I almost threw away but now I love it.

  2. One of my favorite photographs is completely out of focus. Well, really I think the focus landed on an elbow, or the corner of a shirt sleeve- but the photo captured the essence of a moment so perfectly that I can’t help but love it. My fiancee and my son, both on the carousel at the zoo, both with happy smiles. It captured the speed, the happiness, and both of them…I can’t even really adequately describe what the photo does for me every time I look at it.
    Melanie´s last post ..An American in Ramen- Day 1

  3. My personal favourite photograph that isn’t technically great was one that actually ended up being quite resonant with a lot of other folk – mostly through my account on DeviantArt – ‘The Break Up’. Technically it’s very average, the quality is awful and I lost the original file very early on so the ‘final’ shot was the worked version of a back-up in lower resolution. Ultimately it contains a moment I consider myself very fortunate to have caught and to this day I genuinely believe that not one photograph I have taken contains the same raw emotion that is in that shot.

    Essentially I had a point and click with me when I spotted a couple having a blazing argument, but then it calmed down and I grabbed a shot quickly, and this was that shot. There was no time to worry about composition, focus or camera settings – all came on automatic – but I knew I stood a chance of catching a look in an eye, what I got was better, and is something that I always look for in photos, non-posed, genuine human nature.

    It’s a sad image, it is the moment when a relationship has run it’s course and the argument has just ran out of steam, the moment that many of us have experienced and will likely see again. To me ‘perfection’ is something that can be assessed in so many ways, and many people have a photo that they are proud of for their own reasons. That’s why I love photography.

    Since I uploaded it to DeviantArt I find it used on blogs when people have clearly Googled the term ‘break up’ and have found some common ground. I love this, and always keep the websites as I find them.

    This is the shot: http://fav.me/dk0128 – I’ve had it as my ‘Featured’ image on my profile for a long time, and can easily see it staying there for some time to come.

  4. I found your blog a long time ago when I was getting to grips with my D-SLR and trying to work out how to go manual. I just found some old notes and looked up your blog and am so glad to have found your site again. These are lovely photos and I love those quotes on photography. Since I reconnected with photography last year it has become an important factor in my life. I was thinking about this recently and realized that photography has brought me back to me – it is something I do for myself, that I love, that is not to do with my new life as a Mom. It gives me a creative outlet, gets me outdoors into nature (hiking and photography being a match made in heaven for me) and is challenging me in new ways.

    I think you are absolutely right, you learn by taking photos and making mistakes. I make a lot of them. You also do have to try things – sometimes the seemingly impossible shot will work. I went out on a very windy day a while ago and took some photos of some wild flowers. The 30mph gusts were blowing the flowers about madly, so I was sure nothing would come out but I got some lovely, dreamy shots of the flowers. You can find them at http://tftmomeries.blogspot.com/2011/04/windy-day.html. It remains my second most visited post so I guess it did work 🙂
    Jane @ One Photo´s last post ..An Apple A Day

  5. I really love this. You are so right, the rules are just gentle guidelines. Photography is art and art is subjective. What I might find beautiful, others may find unpleasing to the eye and that’s totally fine. Sometimes we learn and grow more in our photography by breaking those rules. They cause us to step back and see what works and what doesn’t. And at the end of the day, it’s like you said…we don’t click that button for the perfect lighting, exposure, composition. We click it because we want to freeze those fleeting moments.

    Great job! 🙂
    Kristi {at} Live and Love Out Loud´s last post ..Crazy Days of Summer Week One- Flowers

  6. I so agree with all this…someday I will have boxes of technically imperfect photos capturing our life, the moment, the mood, so to me they are perfect in that sense!

  7. Wow, love these thoughts (and the photos!). I love looking back at photos that I thought were so great when I started out – they’re not (surprise!) but I don’t care – they really mean something to me still, and I hope they always will!


  8. These shots are just wonderful. You really captured his experience 🙂 I can almost feel the dirt. I love his little hands…you will cherish looking back at these someday when those hands are big and strong.
    Julie Anders´s last post ..Flowering Crab

  9. I love your article! When almost in business, remembering why I take pictures is what brought me back to being a hobbyist. I have LOVED being a hobbyist because it allows me to focus on my family and memories. I have plenty of images that are lacking in technical aspects, but I print and preserve them none-the-less. I love your images above. They are a memorable set!

  10. Yes!!! That moment in time. That IS what photography is all about. Well said. This encourages me to follow my heart more, I like unusual crops, that is something that resonates with me. Who cares what everyone else thinks, right? This is MY art. This is YOUR art. And we love it.
    Holly Thompson´s last post ..i heart faces from a distance

  11. what a wonderful post. I have to say that most of my favorite photos are the ones that were shot “by accident”. I found you through Clickinmoms and I’m so glad that I stopped by.

  12. Pingback: [How to Take a Photograph] The Stage | Bumbles & Light

  13. staceyrw

    Thank you for this post…such a nice reminder. I get so caught up on all of the mistakes in my photographs. I actually find it hard to let go and enjoy my mistakes…but am starting to appreciate more and more all of my photos good, bad, and ugly! I do think there are cases where breaking the rules makes a better photograph. And obviously, I still take quite a bit that remain just a weird/bad photo. I take so many, I am learning to delete the ones I know I really don’t want. Otherwise, I would need numerous EHDs. So…learning to edit…edit with an open mind! Soft focus (or emotionally in focus!), limb chops, unusual compositions can make the cut!

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