Week #34: Wabi Sabi

To be shot and submitted between Sunday, Aug 16 and Sunday, Aug 23 (noon, Eastern)

“Wabi-sabi is exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom from things.”
~ Leonard Koren

Wabi Sabi – the art of imperfection – is a combination of two Japanese aesthetic concepts:

Wabi refers to simplicity, modesty, asymmetry and can even rustic beauty. It can be anything – made nature or by man – that has some type of flaw or irregularity. The presence of this “flaw” gives a unique elegance to the whole, for example, a glaze pattern on a ceramic object that can never be exactly replicated, or the unfinished turning of a screw in an old piece of wood.

Sabi refers to the beautiful finish that comes from age and wear. It states that the use of an object, and the changes the objects undergo by that use, make the object more beautiful and valuable. This can be the fraying of a garment or the crack in a wall. This value extends to an appreciation of the value of the cycles of life – the younger as well as the older – and seeing a unique beauty in experience.

Your challenge this week is to show us the beauty in imperfection, the purity in flaw,  the elegance of age.

There is no need to overthink the assignment. We all have quirks in our home that make it feel more personal to us – uneven floorboards, a rickety doorknob – that are imperfect, but make the home feel even more perfect nonetheless. There are objects we’ve worn with so much love they become more beautiful as they fray. There are scars and dents and scratches and tears that prove how beauty comes with experience.

Life is ephemeral and fragile and beautiful. Let’s capture it.

Tips and Tuts for this week:

  • This week is a good opportunity to work on your shallow depth of field – capturing a small detail in focus while blurring out the rest of the scene. Here is a great primer on achieve shallow DoF and another tutorial to review. You may also want to revisit Macro Week (Week 17) to hone in on small, small details.
  • Wabi Sabi lends itself to soft, split-tone processing. Want to get a sense of how to achieve that look? We’ve got you covered and another guide here.
  • Having trouble finding a subject? Walk around your home, your building, your block, and your neighborhood. What are the irregularities you know so well you’ve stopped noticing them? This is a great week to open your eyes even wider and again appreciate the imperfections that make our lives our own.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out the “Imperfection” album (Week 19: 2013) or the “Old” album (Week 20: 2012). Here’s a gallery of Beauty in Imperfection, a selection of other imperfect beauties, and the Googles.

Extra Credit: HDR

HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range,” maximizing the ratio of light to dark in a photograph. When we look at a scene that contains extremes of shadows and highlights areas, our brains compensate and we don’t necessarily notice them. But our cameras, as sophisticated as they are, can’t handle both extremes in one exposure.

In post-processing, either one image or a series of images with different exposures are combined and then their contrast ratios are adjusted, so that the dark and light areas are each exposed appropriately. HDR can either be done in-camera (check your manual or look in your camera’s menu) or with a photo editor. Some cell phones even have an HDR setting.

HDR can easily look “overdone” but if you get it right, your photos can go waaaay beyond amazing. Don’t make it seem cartoonish and gaudy, but use the tool to replicate what we see “in real life.”  HDR offers a very specific look. If that look doesn’t work for the photo you are working on, simply skip this extra credit.

Here’s a very thorough tutorial to get you started, or a more basic primer. There’s plenty more information on the web as well. Jump on in!


Remember, it is not necessary to work in this Extra Credit piece. It’s extra credit!

Have a challenge idea for 2016?