I compromised like hell on this shot, starting with the camera: a Nikon V1, which is a mass of compromises if ever there was one. The image itself is a cropped JPEG shot in sRGB color space. It might have looked better if I had shot it with a Hasselblad and Kodak TMax 100. Then again, you probably wouldn't notice the difference in a JPEG for the web. It looks pretty good just the same, if I do say so myself.
Read enough photo blogs, forums, and websites and you will find someone describing themselves or someone else as an “uncompromising photographer.” This is presumably someone whose standards are so high that they refuse to settle for anything less than the best—or at least nothing less than what they consider the best. They use the best cameras and lenses, the best films and papers, the best software, the best inkjet printer and paper. The list goes on.
I have a problem with this. First of all, if there is such a thing as an “uncompromising photographer” it implies that those who are not, almost by definition, are “compromising photographers”—you know, the unwashed masses; folks with lower standards; folks who settle for less. If you think it’s not such a big deal to be something other than uncompromising then left me ask you this: Who do you know who aspires to be a compromising photographer? Not many, I imagine.
And yet, in a world of finite time, resources, and abilities, we are all forced to make compromises. If you are an outdoors or travel photographer you’re forced to compromise maximum image quality against portability. If you have limited means you have to compromise what you might want against what you can afford. If you’re a sports photographer you might sacrifice absolute focusing accuracy over focusing speed. That doesn’t make you a lazy, feckless, compromiser with low standards. More likely than not, it just means you’re being practical.
I’m not saying there’s no such thing as sloppy work habits. There is. That’s why it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a photographer who’s got skills and one who doesn’t. Investigate further and you’ll discover that even the most skilled photographers make compromises all the time. The difference between them and the less-skilled is that where the less-skilled make compromises often without intending to, the skilled make informed compromises. The results are still excellent and often better than they’d be without the compromise.
Another problem with this “uncompromising” idea is that suggests you can buy your way to excellence, as if owning an expensive camera, lens, monitor, printer, and such automatically makes you a more Serious photographer than those who don’t. This philosophy is particularly attractive among people who have a lot more money than time. They can slap a credit card down on the counter, tell their dealer “I want the best,” and be done with it.
As harsh as this may sound, I say it with no malice. None of these behaviors or attitudes are harmful in and of themselves. When internally focused they can even be beneficial. I wrote this mainly for the benefit of anyone who, from time to time, feels a bit intimidated by the uncompromising. Don’t be. If you can go through life without seriously compromising your self-respect, integrity, and values you are doing well, my friend, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.