The “No Excuses” Exercise

A simplified attempt to find where your gut instinct is, what your work is about and where you’re heading, which I call “No Excuses”.

Method:

Go through as much of your work as you can, and reject any shot that asks you to make excuses for it.  By excuses I mean anything from technical imperfection, sloppy styling, odd posing – anything that stops the shot from being perfect in your eyes.  It’s crucial that you’re ruthless in this process, otherwise the entire exercise is a bit pointless.  If you have any doubts about an image at all then reject it – you’re looking for shots that you know in your gut you couldn’t improve on.

Blackbox 2007
All of 2007 to choose from. Very few of these have “No Excuses”

Ideally you’ll be left with a very small number of shots – in my case 10 taken from the past 6 years of jobs (all I had conveniently to hand) which represents approximately 300 000 shots.

These shots for which you can make no excuses (namely they’re pretty perfect) are now your starting point.

Peter Crouch - No Excuses
No Excuses from Peter Crouch

Shots which have excuses are worth analysing.  Try and spot trends, as it’s likely that you’ll be making the same mistakes over and over again.  These become areas you need to focus on from now on.

Once you’ve got your shortlist of perfect shots (I’d be surprised if it’s very many at all if you’re doing this exercise properly – it’s very, very easy to find fault in shots) look at what they have in common.  Unless you’re genuinely schizophrenic I’d be willing to bet you’ll find that these shots are exploring similar themes, have similar approaches, and as such represent your visual interpretation of the world.

Don’t get hung up on the technical by the way (how many times have I found myself saying that when I’ve been trying to help people with their creativity).  It won’t help you in the long run if the trend you spot amongst the perfect images is “they’re all lit with flash”, or “they’ve all been hit heavily with the high pass filter”.  Knowing that you like to shoot things with a certain technique is not the same as knowing what actually drives you to shoot in the first place.

Ranulph Fiennes - No excuses
Or from Ranulph Fiennes

The results I got from this exercise were as follows:

What have my “no excuses” shots got in common?

Drama, grandeur, technical polish, unambiguous framing, some sense of narrative – either through pose expression, props or styling, the environment, or lighting and technical execution.

Harry AA - No Excuses
None here either

What were the most common excuses I made for the others?

Lack of technical polish, ambiguous framing or moment of capture, nothing going on in the frame (either too flat/bland technically, or no emotion/involvement from the subject)

So, I need to focus on:

  • Drama/Narrative – something going on in the frame.
  • Grandeur – sense of the subject being impressive/worth looking at.
  • Technical Polish – clean shots with unambiguous framing, depth and dimension to the frame.

Follow this through yourself, and you’ve basically got a recipe for producing better work.

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