It was a rainy, cold morning at the Philbrook Museum of Art. My niece brought a selection of dresses she had designed as well as three wonderful models. We had an hour before the Philbrook opened and we had to leave. A daunting task for a photographer still relatively new to working with models.
I anxiously waited while the models donned the dresses. Museum security watched closely the entire time, adding to the stress. In the end, I felt I had done my best. Looking back nearly seven years and I am both amazed and dismayed. I used a single flash and a kit lens. Finding the balance between the colorful garden, the gloomy cloud cover, and the white of the dresses was a challenge. Somehow, I made it work.
I mean to say that I did a decent job of my biggest session to that point. I would love to have another shot at it. Given the exact same conditions, I know I have grown considerably enough that I could do better. Add improvements to my skill set, technique, and equipment and I feel like I can create something far better.
I am surprised that some of the images are not far more blurred. I handheld one of the shots above at 1/25 of a second, trading shutter speed for depth of field with an f/9.0. At full size, it shows. I know what I was thinking at the time and why I went there. I also know that I would have approached this particular Philbrook puzzle differently today.
With portrait photography, I go back to 2007. For the beginning of my “modern era”, I can go to 2004 with landscapes and wildlife. I still have a few prints from my first real attempts at photography in college a decade before that. There are a few gems and a lot of memories. Somewhere along the way, I gained a competence that I remember thinking I would never achieve.
Today, I look at the work of photographers I admire and think I will never achieve their level either. Every time I think I have plateaued, I look back to that morning at the Philbrook. As difficult as it was, I produced what were arguably some of my best images at the time. Knowing how far I have come is a great reminder of how much better I can be tomorrow.