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The Quest for the Perfect Shot

When capturing a photograph, what makes the perfect shot? Is it the lighting? The subject? The background? A combination of all three?

Maybe it’s the camera. Is a DSLR or mirrorless camera better than a cell phone? Is film better than digital? What defines better?

As a landscape photographer, my idea of the perfect shot may not be the same as if I were a portrait photographer. What may be the perfect shot for one landscape photographer may not be the perfect shot for another landscape photographer. Photographers are artists, and art is subjective.

A couple of years ago, I visited the Getty museum in Los Angeles. There were many great exhibits, but one particular piece caught my eye. The piece was a group of 17 silver gelatin prints, photographed by Robert Kinmont, and titled My Favorite Dirt Roads. The photographs themselves were not anything special, experts would even call them amateurish (this was intentional, by the way), but they made me feel something.

To me, that’s what makes the perfect shot. That connection, that feeling. It doesn’t have to be technically perfect. It doesn’t have to be large enough to hang above your living room couch. It just has to resonate with you on a level that makes you remember it years later. You may not even remember what the image looks like, but it makes an impression on you that lasts. Sometimes, we can’t even define why a particular image makes us feel something.

With My Favorite Dirt Roads, the connection was clear. I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and the piece made me remember my own favorite dirt roads. The dirt roads by my childhood home, leading to the trees I used to climb and the pond where I caught tadpoles. The dirt roads to my family farm, where I fed cows in the winter and cut hay in the summer. The dirt road up the canyon, where we herded cows every spring and went camping as a family.

I even began photographing my own favorite dirt roads as an homage to Robert Kinmont’s piece. I have since abandoned the project, but I may return to it in the future. The idea still makes me feel something, and I want to pass that feeling on in my own work.

I know such a project won’t resonate with everyone, but it will resonate with some. Maybe we shouldn’t always be concerned with getting that perfect shot, that photograph or artwork that will be loved by the masses. Maybe we should just focus on what resonates with us. We may not sell as many pieces that way, but art isn’t really about sales, is it?