Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Problem with Perfection

The Problem with Perfection, tOP article
Or consider technique. Why can a flaw like flare or color cast or motion blur improve a photograph? How can blocked up shadows sometimes say more than deep shadow detail? When do the "rules" of composition become an impediment to a great shot?

Like six years ago I bought a Nikon D2x and that humongous zoom lens you saw recently. Together they were like 3 kilos! (And by the way, the D2x had more noise at 800 ISO than the Fuji X10 has at 1600, even with its much smaller size and sensor.) 
That kind of equipment is ridiculous unless one is a pro and every mili-gain counts. 

The only people who notice technical flaws in pictures are other photographers. The actual audience looks at the pictures, what's in them, and how they make them feel. And this is done equally well with an "adequate" camera as with a "great" camera. 

Look at this, for instance, famous photo from a famous photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Very, very far from technically perfect, big grain, unsharp, blocked shadows, you name it. But it speaks. 

I write about this more than once, because I'm still only learning it slowly, it's a surprisingly hard lesson to really learn, after years of struggling to Perfect one's craft. 


Russ said...

"The only people who notice technical flaws in pictures are other photographers. The actual audience looks at the pictures, what's in them, and how they make them feel."

I totally agree. In fact whenever I want to know whether "the public" would like one of my images, I never show it to another photographer because they usually are too focused on the technical details (sharpness, blown highlights, etc.) and not the emotional impact of the image.

Consider the current rage that is HDR (high dynamic range) photography. Photographers, for the most part, hate HDR because they feel it doesn't reflect reality. However, general public loves HDR and if you look closely you'll find HDR appearing in advertising media.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I love HDR as a solution to contrasty subjects. But I loathe the cake-box pictures HDR is often being used to make. That The Public loves those makes me hate the Public too. :-)

Will Duquette said...

Got a new Fuji X10 (thanks for the review, BTW), and one of the neat features is the Dynamic Range control. I don't know how the camera does it, but setting it to 400% really does make contrasty scenes look better: you can expose for the shadows and still get the highlights--without giving it that weird HDR look.

Beautiful camera, just beautiful. Makes me look good.

christian said...

You are on the right track there Eolake. This blog post speaks to some of the same issues:


I think it was the same blog as the above, but I can't find the entry. Anyhow, somebody made up this hilarious series of pretend photo advice about the images of famous photographers. In the process pointing out that most of the famous photos we adore are full of technical flaws.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Yes, that was on the same site, tOP, a couple of years ago, and pretty much put the site on the map.

Will, you're right about that camera. I think it does it by using half the pixel sensors to only get a half exposure, and those data are used to get higher reach into the highlights.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Other cameras, if they do it at all, do it by combining three exposures. This can work well, but only if the subject and camera are very still.

Geoff Belfer said...

This post reminds me of an exhibition I saw about 10 years ago of the best press photographs of that particular year. These were printed quite large (about A0 size-84x112cm) and the digital ones were very pixelated etc. But you know what, it did not matter because the actual "images" were so impressive; I only saw great photographs not the "technical imperfections" of these early digital photos.