Why it's fine to love your 'bad' images

First published:
October 4, 2022
February 6, 2024

Why it's fine to love your 'bad' images

First published:
October 4, 2022
February 6, 2024

Focus editor Philip discusses why the only person you should be pleasing when it comes to your photography is yourself

I’ve seen many photographers on community and social networks, particularly Instagram, post an image and only then, shortly after, delete it or even quit the platform entirely simply because their photo didn’t get enough ‘likes’ or positive engagement, leaving the photographer to think that their image is bad and not worthy of displaying or sharing.

This negative spiral can have significant consequences. It can make photographers think they should only be taking pictures of subjects others will like, even if their heart isn’t in it. They might lose their passion or stop taking images altogether. It might also mean that photographers only create images that rigidly follow the ‘rules of photography’, disregarding any alternative, or take the same images as other photographers.

I have several issues with all this; first of all, you can never truly glean what’s genuine with actual engagement; Instagram’s algorithm is a wild ride that’s constantly changing and is increasingly moving away from being a platform for photographers. And also, it doesn’t matter where you share your work; the only person you should be trying to please when it comes to your images is yourself. This was something drilled into me throughout my time studying photography, and I still stand by it today. While you should always strive to improve your craft and be willing to take on constructive feedback from your peers, you should never take pictures merely to please someone else.

The same goes for only following the ‘rules’ or photographing popular subjects; while rules are helpful, they can inhibit originality and lead to the false impression that photography should only follow strict guidelines; or that anything that diverges is considered ‘bad’. Again, what others think doesn’t matter; if you love your shot, it’s good.

"While you should always strive to improve your craft and be willing to take on constructive feedback from your peers, you should never take pictures merely to please someone else."

I want to give an example with some of my images; below are five photos that don’t follow any rules, have what would be considered unfavourable elements, and otherwise might not be considered my best work. However, I don’t care about that, as each image means something to me (with notes on why too). For these reasons, I’ve included them in my portfolio, and I would encourage you to think about your images in the same way.

1 Dusk at Filey Brigg, North Yorkshire, 2020

f/14 | 30s | ISO 320

I have a particular connection with this image as it's one of the first long exposures I ever took at a coastal destination. It inspired my Coastal North photo series, which I've worked on ever since. Since I've progressed with seascape photography, I've taken much more dramatic shots at the coast, but this represents a moment for me. It was a special time that evening; a calm, clear evening with the sound of the waves lapping against the rocks, and having been locked down for months, being outdoors like this felt more liberating than ever.

2 Ravenscar at Low Tide, 2020

f/14 | 30s | ISO 640

This was another image captured shortly after both the lockdown period and when I started getting into seascapes; one time during the lockdown, I took a walk around Ravenscar, North Yorkshire, without my camera and was taken aback by how much of a remarkable place it was (where you just conntect with somewhere). Desperate to come back once I purchased my new Fuji mirrorless, this is one of the shots from that outing.

There isn't any specific point of interest for the image's foreground; the sky is a bit messy, and I didn't use a polariser filter (so there's lots of glare from the rocks, which could have been removed). And I underexposed the shot, so this edit is pushing it as much as I possibly could. However, it's another one representing a particular moment of being by the coast as darkness descends. At the same time, the noise of the cooing seals (there's a colony in the area) provided the perfect spooky soundtrack for the evening.

3 Eastern Turkey from the Night Train Window, 2009

Captured on ISO 3200 black and white 35mm film

When studying photography at university, my friend and I decided to make an epic hitchhiking trip from London to Armenia. We got as far as Turkey by hitchhiking, and being the train buff I am; we decided to take the Doğu Ekspresi (Eastern Express) from Istanbul to Kars as part of the journey through to the very Eastern edge of Turkey; it was one of best train experiences of my life.

The shot above is from an ISO 3200 roll of film as the train passes through a town at night. I love this shot and what it conveys as part of that journey - despite being completely blurry and lacking any real detail.

4 Galveston Orange and Teal, 2019

f/18 | 1/100s | ISO 160

I can't pinpoint exactly why I love this image; I just do. Yes, the composition is odd, and the scene isn't particularly striking. Still, I feel for me; it represents that particular place and that moment in time, be it the blue sky, the colour palette, or the non-subject of the alleyway blocks; it comes together to create an intriguing image - in my opinion, anyway. Many may disagree, but I like it, and that's fine too; sometimes, you don't need any particular reason to like an image.

5 The Fog over Cayton Bay, 2020

f/16 | 60s | ISO 100

Photographed on one of my Autumn trips to Cayton Bay, North Yorkshire (which soon became my lockdown escape zone), this was a shot taken after my main picture-taking session was over and I was heading back to the car.As darkness descended, an ethereal fog began to roll over the cliffs, and I just had to stop to take a picture. I'm a big horror fan, and it reminded me immediately of John Carpenter's The Fog, my favourite film. Again this image is a representation of that moment, and as much as there's a fair bit of negative space in the image and the composition could be much tighter, it's one that I still love.

Final thoughts

I hope you feel encouraged by this piece, both to not worry about the thoughts of others and that the only person you should be pleased with when it comes to your photography is yourself, not for others and not for 'likes'.

Overarchingly, I also hope this piece inspires you to look at your work and feel good about it. And if you have shots that you genuinely cherish but didn't feel would make the cut for one reason or another - none of that matters; if an image is excellent in your eyes, that's all that matters.

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