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In defense of mediocrity

July 8, 2009

When I started this here blog, a few months ago, I did so with an eye toward my business.  One thing I learned about SEO in the course of developing my retail site is that the more links you have coming in, the better you look to the search engines.  So I started a blog with the idea that I could keep my customers informed of kitchen witch events, retail locations, new products (yadda, yadda, yadda) and also post a link to my retail site to boost traffic and rankings.

In the process of doing so, I discovered TasteSpotting, a site that allows bloggers to submit food photos in exchange for unparalleled traffic.  Seemed simple enough, so I submitted a professionally taken photo of my Apricot Ginger Scones, carefully wording my entry so as to sound appealing but not spam-my (which is clearly verbotten at TS).  Ultimately, that photo was rejected due to the use of the phrase “make these scones,” when the link provided did not lead to a recipe.  (It did lead to a product page for ready-to-bake scones, but I digress).

This was my first submission to Tastespotting.  Rejected because the caption said "make" but the link did not lead to a recipe.

This was my first submission to Tastespotting. Rejected because the caption said "make" but the link did not lead to a recipe.

All in all I think I have submitted around seven or eight photos to TasteSpotting and two to FoodGawker.  I have had two published at TS and one at FG.  So much for driving traffic to my site!  After feeling the sting of rejection, however, I hit upon the idea to launch TasteStopping, a site which welcomes all the foodie photos rejected from the other sites.

Fast forward a few weeks, and most mornings you’ll find me scouring the TasteSpotting posts for new bloggers to contact.  Most have responded enthusiastically (as you can see by the posts on TasteStopping), a few refuse to allow my comments on their posts, and some take the middle road, allowing me to leave a comment, but editing out anything that is promotional on my part.  Fair enough.  One morning over the recent holiday weekend, I made the mistake of submitting a comment to a blogger that I had already contacted (on different posts, and always with a personal note about their post before any mention of TasteStopping), for which I immediately apologized via a private email.  When I took a look around her site, I noticed a nice section on the Basics of Photography, wherein she lays bare some of the essentials that most new photographers (or cooks-turned-photographer) lack.  It was a write-up aimed at me and mah skillz (or lack thereof).

fresh raspberries

fresh raspberries

In her “article” she speaks of using natural light (got it), white balance (starting to lose me), exposure compensation (she states that every camera probably has this.  I have no idea.), iso settings, macro settings, and from there I dissolve into a puddle.  My eyes gloss over, my brain seizes up and I want to throw my camera into the bushes.

Why?

It stayed with me, my reaction to her advice (and that of others I’ve read).  While so simply put, I just could not imagine placing most of her techiniques into play in my own photography.  And I had to dig a little deeper to find out why.

Turns out there are very few things in life in which I am interested in gaining mastery of the skill set.  Three that I can name today: parenting, baking and music.  Writing used to be on that list, back when I was pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing and furiously trying to sell a screenplay.  Alas, the children knocked that one to the curb.  And I’m more than okay with that.  I wouldn’t enjoy the smog in LA.  Or the endless supply of fresh, local fruits and vegetables.

The rest of the endless list of interests, hobbies, and passions will have to settle for an average-at-best effort on my part.  There simply isn’t enough time or fascination for me to achieve success at so many things: tennis, sewing, housecleaning, rock-climbing, sailing, calligraphy, dancing, technology (yes, the whole of technology), acupuncture, yoga…to continue listing the things I will never master is leaving me somewhat breathless, so I will trust you get the picture and move on.  To be fair, even my parenting, baking and musical skills have to share the spotlight with one another.  I will never know everything there is to know about music because I am not interested in studying that hard (been there, done that, and yes, for me it would take further intense study, as I am no prodigy).  Although I pursue baking with a fervor (you can thank me later, hips), there are some dishes I may never get around to making (Baked Alaska, I’m looking at you).  And anyone who has children knows from the beginning that there is no such thing as mastering the parenting “thing.”  Sometimes it masters you, sometimes you cry.

Considering that the BIG THREE pursuits in my life are tenuously juggled on a daily basis, it’s easy to see how something as complex as food photography will have to take a back seat–a rumble seat, actually.  As a food blogger, I will quite possibly never master photography of my finished product, nor of the process itself.  I simply balk at the pressure. 

Instead, I will wallow in mediocrity, I will embrace it, even, and free myself from the notion that I have to be good at something to justify doing it.  Because that’s just silly.  

brussel sprouts, after a visit with Mr. Weber

brussel sprouts, after a visit with Mr. Weber

I have visited hundreds of food blogs over the past few weeks, reading the entries attached to the photos that led me there.   Not all of the posts I’ve read have been grammatically perfect, syntactically perfect or even that interesting.  Some have been fascinating, some have had very little to do with the food photographed (relating instead a personal history or an emotional connection that a certain food can trigger).   Though none were perfect, these posts still had merit and deserved a look.  Some photos link to product pages or advertorials, which, I now see, can be something of a disappointment to the reader. 

It all boils down to the way we experience life.  Some of my friends (blogs/photos) are smarter than me, some are not.  Some are prettier than me, some are not.  It is a bit subjective, sure, but connecting with these people (blogs) is what makes my life full.  It offers a variety and richness that life itself, to be worth the effort, requires and demands.

romaine lettuce, growing happily in the garden

romaine lettuce, growing happily in the garden

So, I am writing to suggest that not everyone who writes about food needs to become a polished food stylist.  Mediocre is just fine.  And if you want to achieve more with your food photography, and can find the exposure compensation function on your point-and-shoot, I will enjoy drooling over your work in between chasing the babies, baking a lemon meringue pie and learning Taylor Swift’s latest single so that my daughter can sing along.

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