That Said…

by Stefani on 2-April-2008

Well, now that we’ve talked about composition and cropping and what not, I thought I’d make the case for not messing too much with your photos. I told you, I’m kind of a purist, and here’s why:

I ran across this one a couple of days ago, and I just keep staring at it.

LIttle Ol' Me>

That little muffin that’s about to slide off the horse is me.

See the hand that’s on the right edge of the shot? I think that’s either my mom or grandma, ready to catch me.

Now look over on the stove. See that metal pot? I can say with absolute certainty that it’s full of biscuits. I know this, because that’s my great grandmother’s stove and that pot was ALWAYS full of biscuits.

See the big cans of grapefruit juice sitting beside the stove? I remember watching my great grandmother open those cans. I remember seeing them in the fridge. In the same way, I remember that linoleum floor, and that wooden door. I can hear the hollow sound of walking on that floor, and the creak of old hinges.

Whoever took this photo was intending to get a picture of a cute (if I do say so myself) kid on a horse, but instead, they got so much more. They got loving hands ready and waiting to catch a little one. They got tradition and nostalgia. They got vintage and warmth. They got tastes and smells and sounds.

The photographer probably had this shot developed and thought, “Too bad, you can tell she’s slipping, and all that junk is in the background and those hands are mucking up the photo….” But to me, this shot is so much better than the one that was intended.

So I guess the lesson is, pretty is nice, perfect is admirable, but sometimes the mess of life is sweeter still.
I’m going to try to remember that, the next time I am tempted to hit that crop button.

Sarah April 2, 2008 at 5:25 pm

This post totally reminds me of our most recent studio family portrait experience. It was a horrible night, everythng was going wrong, and when it came time to choose a photo most of them were bad. There was one pretty decent shot, which the photog kept pushing me to choose, but instead I chose the one that is less than perfect because *it* was the most accurate reflection of our family in that moment.

emily April 2, 2008 at 5:31 pm

you’re so smart. (have i said that before!?)

molly April 2, 2008 at 6:02 pm

so, so true my friend! last night i tried to take a picture of my kids in the bathtub – they haven’t taken a bath together for ages and it may never happen again! – anyways, there was not enough light in the bathroom to take a picture (this would have something to do with the fact that out of 4 lightbulbs in the room, 3 have burned out and i have yet to change them). i resorted to flash photography – which i cannot stand either – in order to capture the moment. the picture will not be blogged, will not be uploaded to flickr, but it will always be a snapshot close to my heart, pink razor in the soap dish behind them and all.

amy April 2, 2008 at 6:03 pm

what a lovely thought you have left for me
thanks xo

Sarah Jackson April 2, 2008 at 6:05 pm

That is one cute little muffin! And you’re right – all the outside “noise” gives total context to the photo. Are you saying I should embrace my clutter and let people see it?

One thing I do when taking family photos is what Sarah talks about above – I try to make it real. We do things pretty, but we do them funny and tearful too. And those are often my favorites.

Maureen April 2, 2008 at 6:17 pm

What a great POV, if you’ll pardon the pun! You are absolutely right; I have photos from when I was young that reveal many hidden memories in the background.

Something to think about in this day and age, for OUR kids, that is.

OMSH April 2, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Or y’know ALWAYS save the original and hit the crop button for the blog shot.


devil’s advocate and all

We used to drink juice from those cans too. I remember the triangular hole punched in both sides (one to let the air out). Ours was pineapple juice.

Relyn April 2, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Isn’t it amazing, all that our memory holds? I especially like your notice of the loving hands ready to catch you. Lovely post, wonderful thoughts for ponderings. If you don’t mind, I would like to link to this post on my own blog. Not sure when, but I definitely want to pass along your thoughts.

erna April 3, 2008 at 1:41 am

you’re so right!

Eren April 3, 2008 at 3:28 am

True dat sista! Love how you always put things in perspective for me.

erin April 3, 2008 at 4:13 am

i had the same horse!
and i love this shot for all the reasons you listed – memories are precious things.

alice April 3, 2008 at 4:15 am

Very well put!

golden April 3, 2008 at 4:47 am

I was just thinking the same thing this weekend. A friend of mine had her 50th birthday. At her party, she had a photo album she had put together of her 50 years. As she is turning the pages pointing out that person and this person, I wasn’t paying attention to what she was pointing at. I was getting lost in the backgrounds! Such moments in time, in history, preserved in their natural state.

Kate April 3, 2008 at 5:22 am

What an important thing to remember…thanks for the reminder!

miss chris April 3, 2008 at 6:09 am

Just joining the chorus of ‘Amen, sista!’ There is a lot of story to be told in every picture. And I’m pretty sure I’ve got a photo very similar to that one, somewhere…

Jennifer April 3, 2008 at 7:23 am

I totally agree! My mom made me an album of my life and the little details was all I could focus on. The coffee table, mugs, ashtrays (born in the 70s) etc. It was like a glimpse back. My mom was very surprised that the details were more interesting to me than the intended photo!

Mariss April 3, 2008 at 8:22 am

That touched my heart! What a great post, and photograph. I especially like the loving hands ready to catch you!

Julie @ Letter9 April 3, 2008 at 9:57 am

I like the background noise in your own photo of the photo, too. Green paint all scratched up. Provides visual interest but also raises questions — who scratched it all up, why, when? You know. Of course my version of the story is that it’s a desk that your kids scrawl all over.

Molly April 3, 2008 at 11:06 am

Amen to that.

This issue of cropping has been something I’ve talked about in relation to scrapbooking. It is such a heartbreak for me to see people cut out the irreplaceable backgrounds that reveal so much about life and love and family. Leave the photos alone … I’ve said it before … I couldn’t agree more strongly. The next topic is captions, you know. A few added words, lovingly phrased brings a photo to life.

Susana April 3, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Cutie pie for sure. God bless purism!

Mrs. B April 3, 2008 at 4:32 pm

I have said it time and again, a picture to me is more about the memories and the place it takes me back to and what was happening in the picture than if everyone was posed perfectly and looking straight into the camera, that isn’t a memory! The little details in the background are and all those old memories, that’s what it’s all about!

Tipper April 4, 2008 at 7:30 am

Loved the post. My Granny always had biscuits on the stove too.

Kristi Richards April 4, 2008 at 2:12 pm

wow, that is good on so many levels. You alwasy make it so real, love your blog posts!

Molly April 6, 2008 at 7:15 am

thanks for the link to Amos Lee (right). think i’m in love.

Betsy April 6, 2008 at 10:22 am

As with photography, as with life. Why strive for perfection, you may miss the most important details. I’m going to try to apply your philosophy to parenting and see what I’ve been missing. Thanks.

Aimee Greeblemonkey April 7, 2008 at 11:00 am


Aimee Greeblemonkey April 7, 2008 at 11:04 am

oh, and when I am cropping and Photoshopping, I always think about a story a photographer friend told me. He was having a family photoshoot once and the 7 year old (the family clown) was being a big a big goof on the way there, cracking everyone up jumping around or something, and fell down and got a little mud on his dress pants. There was no time to change before the photo shoot, and you can plainly see the mud spot in the photos. My friend said he debated about editing the spot out (pre-digital days even) but in the end left it in. He saw the client a few years later and they said the mud spot was their favorite part of the photo, that it reminded them of how fun that day was, how silly their son was, what a happy family they are, etc.

I love that story.

(But I still edit my zits out, ha!!!)

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