Perfectionism vs Creativity – On Letting Go Of The Need To Conform

“Perfect photographs do not move the heart”

David DuChemin – The Vision Driven Photographer

One of my favourite photography quotes, in fact one of my favourite quotes generally.

Now I’m not for one moment saying that this photograph will move anyone’s heart. But I am saying that it’s not perfect. It’s hazy and it’s soft, I’m not sure that any of it is in focus. Technically it’s really not good.

black and white lensbaby portrait

Some people will hate it but I’m ok with that.

Or at least I’m fairly ok with that. I took this photo for no-one other than myself. There’s no paying client, no need for me to conform to any so called “rules” of photography. It’s more or less what I was aiming to create. I say more or less because I only ever have a vague idea in my mind so nothing can be exactly what I aimed for. But soft, hazy, blurred, haunting were all words carried in my mind at the time.

But still there’s a tiny doubt in my mind that stops me sharing this image on the day it was created. It needs to sit a while, I need to come back and look at it several times. I need to stop looking at it. Then I need to come back a few days later and look again. And maybe then I’ll be ready to share. Maybe then I will have decided that I’m happy enough with it not to really care whether it’s well received or not. Because I know some people will hate this photo. They won’t like that it’s not in focus, they will wonder why I’m happy to lose all the shadow detail, they’ll be dying to point out that there aren’t really any catch lights in the eyes and don’t I know that the light bit on the background wall is distracting.

So today I’m finally ready to say I don’t care. I know the rules. I know where I’ve broken the rules. But I don’t care. I can play by the rules but sometimes I just don’t want to.

How did a creative art form end up so bound up in its own rules that we all feel an ingrained need to comply with them? How did we come to value perfectionism above creative expression?

I have a question for you….

What if you let go of the need to conform, what if you didn’t worry about blown highlights, shadows that are too dark, images that aren’t pin sharp zoomed right in?

What if all the rules no longer applied and you were free to express yourself without constraint?

What would you create?



{Photo taken with Lensbaby Edge 50 as part of my Year Of Unconventional Lenses}


  • Joanne

    I think all artists and photographers need to be reminded of this. Some of my favourite images, I know, will not be approved in awards circles, but they move me so much more. I love that quote and that connection to an image is much more important to me, but I so very often forget to remember this and the little critic devil sits on my shoulder telling me it is not technically right. That’s not what drew me in to photography in the first place and your blog is a nice reminder of that.

    • Janet Broughton

      It’s hard to shake that little critic devil though isn’t it? PetaPixel asked for a larger version of the image and as I was sending it that devil was sitting on my shoulder saying “they won’t like that it’s too noisy” which is ridiculous considering the content of the post!!

      Glad the post was helpful Jo, thanks for your comment x

  • Chryssy

    Its very true we get lost in the external almost pretentious chatter & forget to listen to that internal creative voice. Blur, motion, low key, movement, all depict mood, energy and emotion, something that is lost in the tack sharp clean mindset. There’s a much more emotive feeling with this type of shot. I love paolo roversi’s fashion work &nSaul leiters street photography it’s moody, blurred, gorgeous with muted colours & reflections, an almost impressionistic view of the world. You are an artist and it’s your own vision that you share. You work is beautiful Janet, glad It popped up for me to see.

    • Janet Broughton

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Chrissy, and for your kind words.

  • John

    What a refreshing article. Thank you Janet.

  • Sarah

    I was drawn to the image because it was haunting, I don’t want it to be perfect. But there is such a push for perfection, perfectly lit, perfectly composed, perfectly in focus. We need a few more rebels who are willing to shoot for imperfection.

    • Janet Broughton

      Totally agree! But there’s no point rebelling just for the sake of it, it needs to feel right in our hearts too. There’s nothing wrong with perfection if thats what sets your soul on fire!

  • Melissa

    Great article Janet.

    • Janet Broughton

      Thanks Melissa!

  • BillC

    Would this have been a “good” photo if it did conform to PPA standards? Yes. Is it a “good” photo as is? Yes. There is room – there is need for a variety of interpretations of the visual world. That is what keeps me looking. Thank you for this one.

    • Janet Broughton

      “Good” can be interpreted so many different ways can’t it? I suppose any image can be classed as good if it meets its objectives, a “good” image shot for personal pleasure may not be a “good” image for client purposes and vice versa. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Ann

    I participated in one competition with two of my images. What I found was that the higher the images scored the less they were images I liked or loved. The ones I would have been willing to hang on my own walls weren’t the images that scored the highest but the ones that ended up scoring around the same as my own submissions. I don’t know what that says about the judges or myself but I would not have hung any of the award winners anywhere I would have had to view them ever.

    • Janet Broughton

      I think it probably says that you and the judges were looking for different things from your images, sometimes the two collide but sometimes they don’t and thats OK.

  • Lisa Wright

    I love breaking rules – sometimes you get the best shots that are particularly personal. And yes, we often want to share them with the world but hold back because the world isn’t inside our head and seeing what we see, the memories outside of the periphery. Thanks for this! Great post!

    • Janet Broughton

      Thanks for your lovely words. On the whole I think it’s probably a good job that the world isn’t inside my head!!

  • Laura van der Burgt

    Interesting to read all these stories and struggles. And it’s so recognizable. Maybe you need to know all the rules to learn to break them. Not sure. The impact for me was that I’ve lost my creativity. Until I discovered the lensbaby which pictures went straight to the hart. It’s indeed not the perfectionism that moves the soul.

    • Janet Broughton

      Sorry I just found your comment in the spam section for some reason!

      I think you do need to know the rules before you can break them, I believe that you need to acquire a certain amount of skill before you can start to do things your own way. But then you can easily find yourself feeling the need to constantly conform and never exploring anything new or different. A Lensbaby is definitely the cure 😉

  • Suzanne

    Great post, Janet! I can so relate to the process of letting an image sit for a while, coming back after a couple of days etc.
    So well put your final thoughts on perfectionism vs. creative expression. And I love that portrait!

    • Janet Broughton

      Thanks so much Suzanne, glad you enjoyed the post!