Lessons Learned from a Photo Boss

Don’t Get Lost in Search of Perfection – Set Goals, Execute, and Share Useful Products

Casualties of Perfection – A Relatable Story
We live in a less than perfect world. When we try to shape it into something perfect, it often becomes more screwed up than it was to start. Take for example someone I know that has earned the snarky title of “Photo Boss”. She is a very loving mother, and her heart is in the right place. She wants to create photos of events, so that they can be looked back on later and a story can be told. However, her search for perfection has marred some happy moments. In the effort of making all six family members look the same direction and smile the perfect smile simultaneously while not doing anything out of the ordinary with their hands, body, clothing, toys, etc., with perfect lighting, focus, background, and the perfect camera angle, she often has one or more crying children at the end of any given “memory”. The older ones are becoming so skilled in “fake-real smiling” that as soon as the camera/phone is dropped, their faces turn somber and they breathe a sigh of relief. I’m sure many of you can relate.

Is Perfection in GIS Possible?
A distinct parallel can be drawn to attempting to create the perfect Geographic Information System (GIS). A GIS can be defined as a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data. While GIS data can be extremely accurate, it is not perfect. It is my opinion that there is no perfect data. There are too many variables to make that claim. Even using survey-grade equipment comes with a disclaimer, “plus or minus, more or less”.

Lesson 1: Set Realistic Goals
A better idea, in the GIS world and in life, is to begin your project (photo session) with realistic goals in mind.

  • What is the purpose of this data/photo?
  • Do we need it to be survey-grade or is it just to display a high-level reference map?
  • Do we need another formal shot of everyone stiffly smiling at the camera, or would several candid images portray the event more memorably?

Lesson 2: Execute Strategy
Once the goals are in place, it is much simpler to fill in the necessary elements to create useful output. When creating a map, start with best available data and only add error where it can be afforded. If you need to use something less accurate, can you make the layer invisible and, perhaps, just utilize the labels (TIGER line data) or find another source? If it’s yet another group photo that really needs to be just right, bring out the best camera you have, set up a tripod, make sure the kids are not distracted by a major event going on all around them (or by Grandpa throwing Dots at the kids to make them giggle). Otherwise, accept the fact that you won’t be able to use your data as the basis for a new, reliable dataset. Or, accept the fact that someone will have their hands in pockets/be looking at the floor/smile a cheesy smile.

Lesson 3: Useful is Better than Never Used
Leave your dreams of 100% perfection 100% of the time behind, they will only cause you heartache and undermine executing and sharing a useful map, application, analysis, or family photo. When you need data, maps or applications to be highly accurate and complete, go that extra mile, plan ahead, and possess the right tools for the job. Be relentless in your search for perfection while understanding that a useful map, application, or display is always better than a perfect map or application that never gets used.

“Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good.” – Vince Lombardi

Happy 2019 from all of us here at AE2S GIS! May your data be (almost) perfect and your smiles be oh-so-bright!