Tonight I flew up to Portland to train for the world championships. This evening flight is always scenic. I looked out the window at magnificent views and wanted to take some photos.
The problem was, the plane windows were scratched. Any beautiful vista I saw was obscured by blurry smudges.
I tried to move my camera lens around the smudges, desperate for a crisp image. Then I imagined something different. What if the scratches weren’t a problem? What if they were the point? What if the photo were focused on the scratches?
My photo shoot immediately transformed. Once I figured out how to tame the primitive focusing abilities of my mobile phone camera, a new kind of image emerged. A more authentic Arthur image. My photographic style straddles the super formal and the worship of imperfection. By letting scratches be not only okay but the reason for the image, I let my creativity loose and reconnected to the kind of art I like to create.
Then a funny thing happened. The flight attendant, Lori, saw me trying to focus and took pity on me. She thought, “that poor guy is struggling so hard to get a nice sunset photo.” She asked for my phone and offered it to the passenger in front of me, hoping he could get a clearer image.
I thanked her and let her know my crazy-looking refocusing was on purpose. I could tell she didn’t quite understand. At the end of the flight, I showed her my favorite image and thanked her again for looking out for me. Not quite sure she believed my appreciation, but I think she got a better idea of the unconventional image I was trying to create.
The flaw – those damn scratches and smudges – were the key to innovation. I’m sure others have taken images like this before, and I’ve used this technique in the past of focusing on an unexpected foreground to create a different composition. Guess I had forgotten. I know I got better results tonight than if I clung to the rules.
It’s a good reminder. When we see something we assume is a flaw, it might be an opportunity to innovate.
(This article was originally published on arthurcoddington.com)