Running a business is hard enough without pixel peeping and stressing yourself out over things that don’t always matter. So stop it already!
Are you guilty of pixel peeping? How about wasting HOURS tweaking your logo time and again? Do you constantly waffle between two edits for an image and cripple yourself with indecision?
Yeah, me too.
But pixel peeping, like so many other things we do in photography, doesn’t make us better photographers or help us serve clients. It only serves to stress us out and waste our time.
There are lots of ways we create stress for ourselves, as I’ll discuss below. But if we want to me more productive and concentrate our efforts on growing our skills and our businesses, we need to let go of some of these behaviors.
Read on to learn about some of the self-destructive behaviors we all engage in from time to time and why they are a waste of your time and emotional energy.
What is pixel peeping? Why is it bad?
Pixel peeping is zooming in on a digital image (usually to 100 percent or greater) and analyzing the minute details of an image.
Pixel peeping is bad, and a waste of time, because we become obsessed with small details and flaws that are only visible when zoomed in to unrealistic proportions. It also leads photographers to believe that their images are grainy, or soft, or have weird chromatic aberration problems. So pixel peeping, in turn, causes stress. Sometimes there isn’t even a problem to begin with. Other times, you’re stressing over things you can’t change, which is completely pointless.
Perfectionism is just fancy fear
I’ve got to be honest. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to get things perfect, especially early on in my photography business. I hemmed and hawed, changed something only to come back and undo those changes the next day. Edits, ads, blog posts…I want them perfect. I’ve even worn that perfectionism like a badge of honor on occasion.
“I know it takes me too long to edit a session,” I wrote in a photography Facebook forum once. “But I want them to be perfect.”
The problem with perfectionism is that getting things perfect is just a symptom of the problem, not the disease itself.
Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book “Big Magic,” says it best.
“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more that a deep existential angst the says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”
Pixel peeping is a symptom of fear. We zoom in on our photographs trying to see what flaws there are so we can either fix them before someone else notices, call attention to them before someone else does (and lessen the sting of criticism) or find ammunition to beat ourselves up with because we fill like frauds at this photography thing.
It’s self-destructive. It’s inefficient. And we’ve got to stop.
This is not a cop-out.
To be clear, this article isn’t an excuse to be lazy or cut corners. And it’s not an excuse to half-ass your work. We should always be striving to get technically correct and quality images in-camera and to improve our technique.
But I do hope this article serves as a wake-up call for those of you crippled by fear and indecision. I hope you realize you aren’t alone in some of these fears. And I hope that you’ll read it and give yourself permission to stop pixel peeping, stop obsessing over the minutiae. Instead, learn to focus your energies in more productive areas, like education, practice, connecting with clients or even simply relaxing with friends and family.
Stop letting fear waste your time and energy.
Aside from pixel peeping, what other things do photographers stress? As it turns out, a lot of things.
Stop stressing your logo and watermark
One of the first things new photography business owners worry over is a logo. Should you choose a signature logo? Should it have a camera? What font should you use? Should the word photography go over or under your actual business name?
Yes, you need a logo. But only you will notice those tiny details you are agonizing over.
Try this exercise. List four or five local businesses you frequent. Now think about those businesses’ logos. Can you even say for certain what the logos look like? What font did they use? How is the font placed?
Chances are you have only a vague recollection of their logos, if that. Consumers don’t care about the small details of your logo. They’ll pay it very little attention if any at all. And those small details, like a serif or sans-serif font, certainly don’t affect whether or not they will do business with you.
Seriously, when’s the last time you didn’t do business with someone because you didn’t like the kerning of their logo?
And if that isn’t enough to convince you, realize this…logos change over the years. They get revised and tweaked. Just look at how far the Starbucks logo has come since its beginnings! So make a decision and make a logo. If in two years you hate it, make a new one. It’s not that big of a deal.
Stop Stressing Your Business Cards
Business cards are another example of pixel peeping…making minor problems into mountains of crippling indecision. We want them to be perfect not because they are really that important, but because we don’t want people knowing we are scared and a little insecure.
Clients don’t care. They just want your phone number or website. They aren’t grabbing a magnifying glass and examining the business card from edge to edge looking for flaws. Most people don’t know the difference between Reflex Blue and Pantone Blue 072C. Nor would they care. It’s just…blue. And they really don’t care if you pay extra for rounded corners or square cards.
Make your contact info easy to read and get a good price. Then move on. Like a logo, you can always design new ones down the road.
Your crop-sensor camera and kit lens are nothing to be ashamed of
I hear so many emerging photographers say things like “I need a full-frame camera before I can take on clients.”
Or “I’ve only got a crop-sensor camera. It’s so embarrassing.”
Friend, your clients have no idea what a full-frame camera or kit lens is. Customers don’t care what type, make or model of camera you are rocking. They only want you to make them look good. There is nothing wrong with shooting a crop-sensor camera or using a kit lens. Nothing. It does not make you less worthy.
Let me repeat that for the folks in the back. Shooting a crop-sensor camera or kit lens ain’t nothing to be ashamed of.
Some of the leading photographers of our generation got their start with crop-sensor cameras and built profitable businesses with them. Some wildly successful photogs I know still shoot crop-sensor bodies. Owning a full-frame camera doesn’t make you a professional photographer. It just makes you a photographer with a more expensive camera. Ditto for a new lens.
Are there reasons to switch from a crop-sensor to a full-frame or get pro-grade glass? Absolutely. You could need better low light performance, more resolution or want to take advantage of the bigger sensor. But worrying about what clients (or other photographers) will think about your gear isn’t a good reason.
Keep that crop-sensor camera or beginner lens and learn to squeeze the most out of it. Then, when you’ve got a little money saved up and know the technical reasons why your gear isn’t cutting it, invest in a new camera.
Stop Pixel Peeping and Embrace the Grain
Stressing grain is one of the problems caused by pixel peeping. But let’s be honest. Did you EVER notice grain or noise in photographs before you became a photographer?
It’s sort of like going back and playing a video game from thirty years ago. Now, with the advantage of perspective, those early video games like Pitfall or Donkey Kong seem positively primitive. But back then, they were the most amazing and wonderful thing we’ve ever seen.
So goes it with some grain in images. You only really notice it because someone has taught you that you should.
Grain bothers other photographers way more than it ever bothers the everyday client. And yet, I hear new photographers explain away under-exposed or blurry images by saying things like “I didn’t want to raise my ISO past 100 because I just cannot stand grain.”
First off, you’re always better off to get a properly exposed and technically correct image in-camera than you are to try to fix it in post-production, even if you have to raise your ISO. Second, most modern cameras can handle higher ISOs like a champ. And finally, a little grain or noise isn’t as bad as blowing the shot.
There are actually photographers out there who add grain to their images in post-production. They don’t’ like the crystal clear feel of images from today’s crazy resolution images, so they add noise or grain back into the image to give it a more authentic feel. Ditto for a lot of the social media filters you see.
Yes, keep your ISO as low as possible. But don’t hide behind the fear of grainy images. And don’t miss the shot because of it.
Soft images vs. Blurriness
Sharpness is another area where pixel peeping will get you in trouble. I wrote this section mostly for myself. Soft images drive me nuts. Like hair-pulling, dropping f-bombs-under-my-breath-at-my-monitor nuts. I agonize over it. Beat myself up over it. I criticize my work and others over it.
Why? Because I was taught by someone that anything less than razor-sharp is unacceptable. So I made sharpness the hill I would die on. In my mind, softness=unacceptable crap image=crap photographer. Crap photographer, ergo, crap human being.
Do you see the giant humongous flaw in that thinking?
Don’t get me wrong. Sharpness is important. You can’t deliver blurry photos to clients. But a touch of softness isn’t going to matter to anyone but you and other persnickety photographers.
Let me tell you a little story to illustrate this point.
There is a photographer in my area whom I love and adore as a person. But her images are consistently soft. And yet, she is ridiculously busy and booked out months in advance. One time at a photography club meeting, we were discussing things clients have said about our work. I asked how she handled complaints about soft-images.
She looked at me blankly and said “My images are soft? I honestly don’t think I’ve ever gotten a complaint about that.”
It was sort of eye-opening for me. I’m over here pixel-peeping and stressing that my photos aren’t razor-sharp and freaking out. And she’s over there, loving on clients and creating a thriving business and ridiculously loyal clients, soft images and all.
Sharpness is good. But it’s not the be-all, end-all of a good image. I’ve had plenty of tack-sharp images that were complete rubbish, and some soft images that clients love.
Bokeh only impresses other photographers
“I just don’t like this image. Those bokeh orbs are too oblong,” said NO CLIENT EVER.
Yes, clients love creamy backgrounds. But they aren’t dissecting the shape or quality of the bokeh. They aren’t pixel peeping and telling their friends on Facebook they’d really love the image if only the bokeh wasn’t so onion-like.
If you like blurred backgrounds, awesome. Shoot that lens wide open and blur the background into oblivion. But don’t start pixel-peeping and stressing the difference between your f/1.8 lens and an f/1.4 lens and think the smoother bokeh is going to get you more clients. Or that the key to really getting your business to take off is a new $2,000 lens. That’s fear dressed as perfectionism talking. It crushes your soul and your bank account.
Clients Don’t Notice Subtle Editing Differences
“Which edit guys? I just can’t decide!”
These kinds of posts pop up regularly in photography Facebook groups. Most of the time, I can barely discern that there is even a difference in the edits. One might have a touch more contrast or have slightly different blues. The differences are so subtle you have to look for them to find them. To the untrained eye? There is no difference.
Stop putting on your fancy fear coat and calling it perfectionism. Unless the edits are wildly different (dark and moody vs. light and airy) it’s not worth spending large amounts of your time on. Is the edit consistent with your style? Are the colors, tones and composition representative of your other work? Then pick and edit and move on. You have pixel peeping, er….blogging, to do!
Remember the criticism is of the image…not your worth
And finally, when you post an image for constructive criticism, remember that it is the image others are critiquing, not your self-worth.
I see this all the time in photography groups. A photographer posts an image asking for people’s opinions then has an existential crisis when people offer said opinions. To begin with, if you don’t’ want to know what people think, don’t asked. All you are doing is wasting your time and theirs and causing yourself stress from opinions you didn’t want in the first place.
Why is feedback so hard to receive? Because we internalize it. We mistake criticism of our images as a criticism of who we are as people.
Can photographers go over the top and rip each other apart in cruel and unusual ways? Yes. Lawd, yes. They can be rude and brutal and ugly and there’s no call for it. But to grow as a photographer, we need to learn to separate our self-worth from the quality of our images.
You are not your work. You are a person who is beautiful, talented, loved and worthy. Your image that other photog just ripped on is just that…an image. It’s no more a reflection of your worth as a human than your meatloaf or your handwriting or the fact that you can burp the entire alphabet backward.
You are enough. You are worth love. Remember that above all else.
What will improve your photography?
Pixel peeping generally serves no purpose other than to stress you out. Neither does obsess over bokeh or sharpness. So what does impress clients? What really matters?
- Emotion, soul and creativity
- Clear concise communication
- Sessions that make clients feel good about themselves
- Images that make clients feel good about themselves
We can hide our fear of failure in a cloak of perfectionism. We can waste time pixel-peeping, editing and comparing ourselves to others and pretend like we are accomplishing something when we stress small details. Or we can learn from our mistakes and grow. We can pour our energy into improving our skills, becoming more creative and connecting with clients through authenticity and vulnerability.
The next time you feel yourself agonizing over one of these things, take a deep breath. Relax. Ask yourself if this detail really is important or if you’re just hiding the real problem…fear.
If it’s a problem with your technique, study up on how to improve it. Got motion blur? Review the rules for shutter speed! Is part of your image soft? Watch your aperture time and make sure you have enough depth-of-field.
But if it’s fear, give it a name and address that problem. Invest in education. Practice. Experience. Support. These things help us overcome our fear. We can improve our art and our business in a thousand ways. But pixel-peeping isn’t one of them.