John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

Let It Grow: Turning Errors into Seeds


let it grow

In a another article of Photographic Psychology, I talked about serendipity - how an error in shooting might accidentally lead to an unusual and interesting image.

Here’s another version of that situation. Did you ever work on an image, only to discover, perhaps quite late in the process, that there was a rather significant flaw that you hadn’t noticed? Or maybe you noticed that flaw from the start and didn’t quite know how to fix it.

Consider this possibility: Don’t fix it. In fact, let it grow. Maybe it can serve as a seed to help you shape the image in a new way. Let it be an idea that guides you to a different interpretation of the image.

So, for example, this image of the Department of Agriculture in Washington. I was standing on the sidewalk right in front of it when I took this shot, so the perspective distortion was rather intense. In Photoshop I quickly used the transform tools to fix the problem, then moved on to some other more fun image shaping techniques. When I was almost finished, I noticed that in my haste I hadn’t done a very good job of fixing the perspective. I couldn’t recall exactly what it was that I had done wrong, but several of the supposedly solid and stately columns looked quite wavy. I fired up the transform tools again, but getting the lines straight was turning into a very tedious endeavor.

Then an idea hit me. Did the lines HAVE to be straight? Why not make them curvy on purpose? In fact, because this was the Department of Agriculture, giving the building the appearance of growing itself would be appropriate to the theme. So I gave it a definitive upwards sweep, added a green photo filter, some budding branches on the columns, some agricultural glimpses into the inside of the building… and. voila! An alternative interpretation for the image.

Now this strategy won’t work in all cases, and maybe it doesn’t even work all that well in this case, but it’s a fun and challenging exercise nevertheless. It can help you transcend the excess baggage of worrying too much about "correct" photography.

Would you like to read or participate in a discussion about this article in flickr?

If you liked this article, I'd recommend these other ones in Photographic Psychology:

Good and Bad Shots
Breaking Rules

Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche