Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Essay #008

"Compromised Images"

Juvenile Sandhill Crane at Dawn

by Tom Hill <2002>

A concept of critical importance to the pursuit of high order nature photography is “originality”. Everyone wants their images to look fresh, different from their peers, to stand out in a crowd. Originality gets you there. It’s the means by which people take a different road. They’d be going one direction then on a whim, choose a different path. It’s the “road less traveled” to quote someone. Anyone who’s worth his or her salt wants it. Few have it. And, fewer still have control over it. To be out in the field struggling over a landscape trying to produce an image that blows people away—why settle for anything less—isn’t unknown to anyone that’s honest with themselves. I’ve done everything except magic dances trying to invoke the power of the Originality Gods to get that special insight, the revelation that makes the image happen. It’s a confusing, frustrating situation at best. I’m here to tell you how to reduce the frustration and perhaps reproduce those moments of ultimate clarity .
First, we have to know what we’re trying to get. I’ll keep things simple to avoid anything that sounds like mojo magic. We’ve got enough of that in our lives already. I’ve written an article on the Quality of Images. Let’s build on those concepts and get our hands dirty trying to be original. First, we back up. I introduced the idea that the vehicle for producing quality images was innovation. While quality is the beginning, the inspiration for all great images, it doesn’t get anywhere without a path and a car to get you there. Innovation is the car. It uses your technical and artistic skills to make those great images. One “knock-off” or copy after another doesn’t get you there. Placing your tripod legs in the same holes as the masters doesn’t get you there. Innovating, trying new things is the trick to get you there. It’s the car that will get you those oooh’s and aaaah’s. Originality on the other hand is the end state.

Let’s throw a couple definitions around:

Quality – the highest or finest standard.

This isn’t much of a definition for our purposes. But, it points to “bowl” those impressive images were produced in. It’s the context within which the masters ply their trade. From the application point of view, it’s the perspective any student of quality images should be viewing their work—the highest, finest, uncompromising standards.


Innovation – the act or process of inventing or introducing something new.

Notice the road to originality is named “Innovation”. It’s the act of creating something new. Further, note it doesn’t say anything about “goodness” of what your doing. Notice it doesn’t care why you’re being innovative. Innovation will lead you astray as easily as bringing you your goal. While innovating is the tool to get those great images, in the wrong hands, used from the wrong perspective, innovating can produce bad looking really new things. You’ll get no argument from me innovating in a vacuum won’t get you anywhere. You’ll get really new nothings if innovation doesn’t have a guide


Originality – the quality of newness that exists in something not done before or not derived from anything else.

Notice a thread here. Originality is bringing our key words together. Originality; that newness quality that never existed before. It didn’t start from anything else. It’s really not related to anything. Impersonal innovation brought you originality. The nature—the goodness—of originality is totally based on quality. Start with a poor standard, compromised perspective, you’ve got crap for originality—garbage in, garbage out


Elephant Seal Sleeping

Where am I going with this? I’m trying to show you--oh student of quality images--the road to produce great images is fraught with danger. Give up on something along the way; you’re on your way to making disappointing images.

Let’s analyze the road to see what I mean. Example, you’re out in the field shooting a landscape. You analyze everything—composition, colors, exposure latitude--and finally you realize the dynamic range is well beyond your film and you don’t have the tools fix it. You shoot the image anyway hoping for the best. Regardless of the effort leading up to making the image—you hiked a million miles, up hill, in a blowing blizzard, both ways—the image is still the way it is. Innovation doesn’t care how much time effort and emotion was spent. It only is the conduit of the standard you have. It only knows you fell short. Give up on the dynamic range, you settle, the image shows off the compromise with a vengeance. Innovation has no sympathy for those that compromise.

What’s this got to do with originality? Remember, originality simply reflects your standards. You compromise on your standards; your originality shows off the compromise. Is there hope you ask? Originality is like a muscle. It’s like teaching kids what’s right and what’s wrong. You need to keep after it and you can’t waiver. You need to exercise that muscle to make it strong. Originality isn’t a god given talent. It’s part of a highly complex path that needs direction. Never exercise the path? You’ll never have control over what you produce. Give up on something along the way, you loose perspective. Never practice innovating and being original; you never exercise your standards or uncompromising behavior. You never test the envelope; you never can reliable control things when you’re on the edge.

Notice one thing here. I never said you need to practice defining quality. Quality is the way it is. You don’t define it; it’s already defined through your experiences. It’s the start of this whole process. The variable to getting original, high quality images by innovating is the potential of compromising on your standards.

So, when your out in the field the best thing you can do to put your mind in the correct reference for making great images is think this: don’t compromise. If you keep your standards high, those technical and artistic skills will be doing all they can to producing those awesome images. If you don’t compromise, you won’t be shooting your self in the foot.


Tom (

2 Febuary 2002


Snoozing Subadult Male Elephant Seals
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