“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough — that we should try again.” ~Julia Cameron

I’m prone to perfectionism.

I don’t mean that animating spirit of creation that inspires one to do one’s best … that fuels ambition, say, to make fine prints; I mean that demon that has me burn through a box of expensive paper only to abandon the job as “not good enough,” or halts a project before it is even started because, according to the demon, I’m not up for the challenge.

When I’m painting — I don’t mean on canvas; I mean ordinary house painting — I’m reminded that it’s best to keep looking ahead, rather than second-guessing. You don’t want to concentrate on where the brush has been, but where it’s going, in order to cut a straight line. Thinking where it has been or tarrying on the last flaw will only lead further astray.

Mistakes happen. Even Nature leaves room for imperfection.

Not to say that some ideas don’t end in cul-de-sacs and are better left where they expire. But the perfectionist, like the indecisive painter, has a hard time letting go and moving on. He sees failure as a catastrophic dead end, rather than as a lesson to be applied to the next job.

The worst thing about the perfectionist is that not only do they torture themselves with their pursuit of the unobtainable, but they often submit those around them to the frustrations and unreasonable demands of their harrowing quest, whether simply by proximity to the wailing of disappointment or, worse, that they are also held to impossible ideals.

I don’t mean this confession to be a rationalization for sloppy work. Nor is it an excuse for the use of digital filters that ape the “imperfections” of analog photography, as used in the feature image above. Film photographers worth their salt … or silver, or platinum, went to great pains to reduce such artifacts.

What I do mean is that we should give ourselves a bit of space, a bit of self-compassion as the Buddhists would have it, to be human — particularly when it comes to work that, presumably, we have taken on for the love of it.

Even so, that bannister I’ve been painting, I think needs a second coat.

Do you battle the demon of “Not Good Enough?” If so, how do you deal with it?

Photo Technical: Camera: Fujifilm X-Pro2 | Lens: Fujinon 23mm f1.4 | Post production: JPEG adjustments in Lightroom | filtered in Nik Analog Pro 2 | Sized and saved for web in Photoshop
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Muse Uncovered

There is no such thing as pouring stream of unedited writing that comes out sparkling and perfect. Those who say that are liars or just don’t care about the quality of their writing. Read any meta-writing by writers and they’ll all tell you that writing is basically rewriting.”  ~ Annabelle Bernard Fournier, freelance writer and editor

A few years back, I wrote a post on my other blog, VeloWebLog, titled “writing undressed” — a lament about the fickleness of the muse, on whose mercy, I claimed, I was completely dependent for my creative output.

In that post, I referenced my first post on that blog where I quoted a Canadian writer who claimed his writing spilled fully-formed and perfect onto the page, pre-edited.

An impressive skill, if true.

But freelance writer Annabelle Bernard Fournier was having none of it. She left a comment on the post expressing her doubt. She might have also disagreed with my excuse that irregular output could be laid at the slender feet of the mercurial muse.

I am still beset by creative block from time to time, whether the malady holds up production of blog posts like this, or the photography that underpins most content on raymondparkerphotodotcom. But now I’m not so quick to blame it all on the betrayal of the mythical Mistress of Motivation.

I’m more likely today to cleave to the advice of experts who have “been there, done that,” including my own more experienced self — seeing as I’ve been here and there and done much more, and my own observations often agree with productivity pundits.

“A blog post that’s published that’s not perfect is a lot more effective than a blog post that’s never published.” ~ Michael Hyatt

Creating a space for inspiration

Here are some of the things I’ve learned by trial and many errors:

  • Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. Edit, yes, but at some point you need to publish and move on.
  • Learn from mistakes. You’ll get better as you go (see above)
  • Sit down and get to work, or pick up your camera. Do it. Now. Even if uninspired, get something started. It might be a sentence or two, an outline of a planned blog post or preliminary “sketch” of a photographic project.
  • Keep at it. Don’t give up. Practice might not make perfect (what is perfect, after all?) but it will definitely keep skills honed for the rare occasion when the muse does decide to bless you with material for a masterpiece.
  • Turn off distractions. Social media and email won’t disappear while you’re working. The latest episode of the Donald Trump alt-Reality Show will still be in rerun tomorrow (perhaps for eternity). Try some inspiring music instead. Or enjoy the sound of rain on the skylight, as I am now.
  • Don’t bother with editing until you’ve got your mind-dump down on the page. Unless you are the aforementioned genius Canadian author, you will need to dress up your creation in better clothes. Photographers will have endeavoured to previsualize their picture and will express their polished vision in post-production.

“Every once in a while I make the effort to put creativity, technique and thought into my writing. I’ll slave over several days, proofread, ask those close to me for suggestions & tweaks, and… nobody ever comments, retweets, or links to my masterpiece. More engagement seems to happen with the most random, short, off-the-cuff comments. I envy those who remain relevant AND quick with their writing.” ~ Richard Masoner, bike blogger

Working what works

This is by no means a comprehensive list of creativity hacks, nor should they be taken as recipes for success. What works one month or year may change the next.

For example, when it comes to writing, longer posts seem to be working better these days. Google likes them and so do readers looking for detailed information — but only if they are well-crafted and “authoritative,” meaning they are well written and illustrated.

As for photography, I’m still trying to figure out what works in these days of photo saturation on Instagram, Tumblr and 500 pixels. Perhaps great images depend upon a visit from the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne.

“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth … that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.” ~ W.H. Murray

Waiting for Bardot

Coincidentally, I’ve recently been coaching a new blogger who has expressed some of the same apprehensions I did in the 5-year-old blog linked above. Besides cutting teeth on the technical trials of the blogging platform, he rejects the idea of it becoming a “job.”

I understand the concern, which I expressed in the old post. At first, the pressure to produce can feel laborious (see point one above). Though it would be misleading to say that creating good content doesn’t require hard work and a consistent process, as one becomes familiar with tools and evolves beyond the burdens of perfectionism, then work becomes more of a calling than a chore.

No need to wait for the perfect subject, the skills of a Goethe or Ansel Adams, the ultimate scene, or god rays spilling from golden clouds. Work with what you have. Look for the sacred in the mundane.

If I can offer any advice beyond the dry technical tips of blogging blogs, professional mentors, and content creation coaches, it would be this: follow your beautiful vision where ere that may lead.

Do you have a preferred method to coax the nymphs out of hiding? Share it with us in the comments below.

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  • Rob Campbell - Frankly, I believe the muse is a fake: she pretends to live in the soul but doesn’t; she lives in the mood. And that’s where you’ve got her: you can make mood.

    Insofar as photography goes, you simply need to consider the situation of the pro. He can’t afford to await the call, and has to come up with the right solutions every time, and he usually does, to the best of his ability so to do. That ability, measured over time, marks him as either good or not good at his job.

    Remove the financial imperative and, as they say, what do you got? No pressure that matters, just the option to laze or not to laze, as Shakespeare might have said. Awaiting the muse, as amateur, is nothing more and nothing less than the reality of can’t be bothered making itself felt if not heard. Because in the grander scheme of things, it just makes no damned difference if one gets that snap or not, scribbles that paragraph with or without indignation, or just yawns and makes a cup of java.

    To make a difference, it has to matter; if it doesn’t matter, why expend the energy?

    On the other hand, there is the question of therapy, in which case it does matter. For those of us with fractured lives photography can certainly provide moments of freedom from thought, periods where conscious thought can be suspended and the demons driven behind a temporary wall. In such cases, or at least in the hunt for relief if only from self, I’d recommend going out into the street, looking at the things around one, and taking note of the common absurdities and juxtapositions that can excite the eye. They are everywhere, and half-an-hour spent on one’s feet can easily result in half a week at the computer which, of course, gives rise to yet another set of situations one might prefer to avoid. Nobody said life was perfect.

    Mention is often made of planning, of starting everything off with a plan, a preconception. To me, that’s part of the problem: there are already too many plans, both of our own and of others on our behalf. Get out of the grip of plans; use the freedom from them as you take that stroll down the street. Open your heart and mind and be random. Life happens, even if nothing’s happening in a town near you because you can’t see it.

    Just don’t sit at home waiting for bulbs to illuminate. They only do that in cheap Internet adverts.March 9, 2017 – 11:17 amReplyCancel

    • Raymond Parker - Thanks you very much for writing this comment, Rob. I agree. Would that I had written such concise and compelling arguments in the paragraphs above.

      I also agree wholeheartedly that photography, unencumbered by expectation, has great therapeutic value. I’m reminded every time I lift my camera how completely I am in the moment.

      I also concur with commercial photographers like the late Brian Duffy, who spurned the affectations of the “fine art” crowd (please ignore my own conceit in the header above) ― though he managed to create some of the finest images of his time, simply by attending to his craft.

      But what of the numinous? Is there a place for “Provenance,” as W.H. Murray put it in the quote above? What did I see lurking under the iridescent platinum emulsion of Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s Xipetotec, 1979? How was it that a friend, unaware of my experience, later saw the same spine-tingling ancient Aztec spirit animating the image?

      And what about synchronicity? How coincidental that I used the subheading “Waiting for Bardot” in this post … and you have, it appears, photographed the famous French muse.

      I have no answer to such mysteries. But I do believe, as Richard Avedon put it, that it’s the photographer’s job to attend to surfaces (I presume he meant honing the craft) and the rest will take care of itself.March 9, 2017 – 12:29 pmReplyCancel

Uncle Dick, 1966

At the risk of further chronological confusion, today I put the blog into reverse again, this time a couple of decades back from the “Eighties Vancouver” period, to my first days in Canada.

It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off Canada, especially as the horrors of high school began. I missed my friends, racing my bike, the English countryside, even the ticky-tacky housing estates of Wednesfield.

My extended family followed the trail to Canada blazed by my maternal great-grandfather, who first settled on a homestead at Golden, BC. My immediate family made the move in 1965, sponsored by my mother’s sister and brother-in-law, the Slaters.

It was my Uncle Dick who, perhaps unwittingly, planted my unsure feet on Canadian soil. He was, after all, just pursuing what he loved best about his adopted country, but he opened my eyes to the wonder of my new home.

One day he roused me in the middle of the night and we drove in his gigantic Ford Fairlane along the Sea-To-Sky Highway — then a narrow, tortuous track — up Howe Sound, where we launched his aluminum skiff into the “salt chuck” at Horseshoe Bay.

We watched the sun rise over Coast Range peaks I would one day climb. My fishing reel whizzed and a pink-sided salmon broke the surface of the blue sea.

Right there, I was hooked on Canada.

The same summer, we plied the dusty, unpaved road into Golden Ears Park, to camp on Allouette Lake. This English lad had never felt the kind of heat that summer brought. I swam in the glacier-cold lake, hiked, and skimmed across the water on wooden waterskis behind a motor boat. Maybe there was some fun to be had in this odd place, after all!

The following summer, the Slaters invited me along on a trip to the Interior. We drove in through the fantastic Fraser Canyon and on to Mabel Lake, where we set up camp on the shoreline. That’s where, with my Bakeliite Kodak Brownie,  I recorded the scene of camping bliss, among the canvas tents, camp cots and barbecue tackle.

Tragically, Dick’s life was cut short in a terrible motor vehicle accident, not long after this happy time. This photo reminds me of his comfort among the forests, lakes, sea and mountains of British Columbia and how he inspired me to explore the great country where we put down our roots.

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  • Wiebe de Haas - I very much enjoyed your story. I recall a camping trip I took with my father and sister, in ’58, to the Okanagan, returning through the Fraser Canyon, when the highway, in some sections was a wooden road hanging on the edge of the canyon. Parts of that road, near the Alexandria Bridges should still be visible today. I took photos of it in ’73.March 6, 2017 – 12:32 pmReplyCancel

    • Raymond Parker - Thanks Wiebe. The thing about those days is that there were many fewer cars on the roads, despite their size! Mind you, perhaps car sizes are eclipsed today by giant pickups and increased road freight.

      Anyway, as I noted, the road into Golden Ears Park was unpaved and I retain the distinct memory of the huge plume of brown dust kicked up by the Fairlane, receding behind us beyond the rear window. Keep in mind that, aside from the Riley one of my uncles owned in England, big cars were an unusual experience.

      Speaking of the Fraser Canyon, despite its enduring beauty, it’s sad to drive it now, since the Coquihalla has siphoned off much of the traffic. Another of my memories from that trip to Mabel Lake is stopping for a breakfast of giant pancakes at one of the many roadside family-owned restaurants that thrived on the Trans-Canada in those days.March 6, 2017 – 2:13 pmReplyCancel

Fujifilm X-Pro2 pano

The method

I recently made some test shots in anticipation of a planned series of photographs. I’ve often used Photoshop’s Photomerge process to stitch panoramas and to make composite images — with my Janion Building, Victoria, BC, 2015 as an example.

Though the method has, in one form or another, been around since the earliest days of panoramic photography, it has recently been associated with photographer Ryan Brenizer, who has popularized the technique, also known as “bokeh panorama,” by integrating it in digital form into his portrait work — which is exactly what I intend to do (models may apply via my contact form).

The “Brenizer Method” by stitching a number of images together, mimics the characteristics of large-format photographs, including limited depth of field and high resolution. Besides aesthetic considerations, this technique holds other attractions: it can be practised with lightweight, smaller-format equipment … and it’s cheaper, much cheaper.

It’s especially attractive to those of us who have no desire to return to the darkroom, or $50,000 entry fee to, say, the 100 megapixel Phase One XF *

Subject & technique

To find a suitable subject, I visited a nearby park, representing remnants of the once-abundant Garry oak ecosystem native to this part of “Cascadia.”

I took along the Fujifilm X-Pro2 mirrorless camera, fitted with the Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR lens, and the Nikon D800, coupled with AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.

The Fujinon 50-140, with the X-Pro2’s APS-C sensor is nearly equivalent to a 70-200 on a 35mm “full-frame” sensor (76-213mm to be precise).

My workflow was this: I set up my tripod** with Swiss Arca-style clamp (FLM SRB-40) on an FLM 38 FTR head. Both the Nikon and Fujifilm cameras are fitted with Arca compatible L-plates — the Nikon with Sunwayfoto PNL-D800R, the Fui with the (considerably more expensive) Really Right Stuff plate.

These make it simple to switch and orient cameras (though I used the revolving collars on the respective lenses to set cameras to vertical “portrait” position).

With lenses zoomed to their longest focal length and aperture set at f2.8, I made 6 exposures, using all manual settings, including focus, starting with the lower trunk of the tree — that is, I made 3 images of the lower part of the view, then tilted the camera(s) up to capture 3 more sections, making sure to align and overlap all exposures by about 25%, sides and top/bottom. In this case, I shot JPEGS.

Post production was limited to importing files into Lightroom, opening in Photoshop and using Photomerge, before some minor tweaks. After cropping to 8X10 ratio the images end up around 100 megapixels.

Photoshop performed admirably, merging branch structures flawlessly.

That’s really all there is to it the technical details. Let’s compare results.

Results

The X-Pro2’s jpegs are great, right out of the camera. No surprise there. Both images, to my eye, contain wonderful detail in the bark and other elements in the range of focus. They both exhibit that “large-format look” admirably. But the Nikon wins the battle of the bokeh.

Here’s where Fujifilm’s 23.6mm x 15.6mm (APS-C) X-Trans CMOS III (24.3 million pixels) sensor can’t quite match the Nikon 35.9 x 24.0 mm CMOS (36.8 million pixel) sensor. It’s smaller size restricts the amount of softness we can achieve. The bare branches of the winter oaks in the background show this effect clearly: the Nikon image renders the out-of-focus branches smoothly (it’s very creamy!) while the fuji equivalent is sharper.

Both make wonderful prints. I began by pulling a couple of 11X14s on Epson Legacy Rag.

There are a couple of other reasons I’m not yet ready to liquidate my full-frame DSLR gear, in spite of GASD (gear acquisition spectrum disorder). Add the results of this test to my list.

Nikon D800 pano

*Yes, I realize a sensor-to-sensor comparison can’t really be made.

**Strictly speaking, a tripod is not de rigour as long as shutter speed is fast enough to hand hold. Nonetheless, a tripod will help visualize overlap. I used the pan function on the head to control those parameters.

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