Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sharpness Is Overrated - Don't Pursue Perfection - or, My Visit To Ikea

entrance - Draper, Utah
"There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept." --Ansel Adams

"Sharpness is a bourgeois concept." --Henri Cartier-Bresson

"Sharpness is overrated." --Keith Carter

In today's digital "pixel-peeping" world it is common to agonize over sharpness. We'll pay twice as much for a lens just because it scored a point higher on some chart sharpness test. We'll spend extra to not have an anti-aliasing filter, so that our photographs will be just a tad crisper (although nobody can tell without comparing massive crops side-by-side). 

We want maximum sharpness. We want the lens to nail focus at a precise point in our image and we're disappointed when it's a millimeter off. If an image is even slightly fuzzy it's deleted.

But what if sharpness is overrated? What if perfection is something we shouldn't pursue? What if technical flaws--such as soft focus images--are actually better?
One Bold Step - Draper, Utah
In his quote at the top, Ansel Adams didn't mean that an image should or shouldn't be sharp. He simply meant that given the choice between a fuzzy image with a sharp concept and a sharp image with a fuzzy concept, he'd pick the fuzzy image every time. The concept of an image is much more important than the technical qualities.

Worry more about the concepts of your photographs, and worry less about the technical qualities. It's photographic vision that matters most, not image quality.

Something that I find interesting when studying many of the great photographers of the past is that there were plenty of technical flaws in their pictures. There are tons of examples of "fuzzy" images and other imperfections. But the photographs are great because of what they speak to the viewers.

Photography is ultimately a form of communication. There are millions of examples of photographs that might be technically perfect, but are boring and don't really speak anything. You want photographs that say something meaningful to those viewing it. That's what makes a photograph great!
Forget a Diaper? - Draper, Utah
It might be that a soft image is what best communicates your message. Consider impressionist painters. They weren't interested in including every detail. Instead they purposefully left out fine details to convey certain feelings. If a soft and flawed image is what best speaks your message, then it would actually be counterproductive to pursue perfection. A soft focused picture convey's a different feeling than an ultra-crisp picture.

What about the photographs in this article? This last week my wife tells me that she wanted to go to Ikea (an extremely large retail store) to buy some things. I don't really like shopping. I prefer to get in and get out quickly (something that's not possible at Ikea). I don't like looking around at everything. Just get what's on the list. Even better, shop online. My wife is the opposite.

The message of these images is how I feel about shopping. I reluctantly do it. Ikea is a great place to get trendy-looking items at a reasonable price, so it's good to go. But in my brain I really don't want to. I'd rather be someplace else. So I wanted to communicate that somehow. I didn't want bright and happy pictures, but photographs that somehow seem a bit off. I wanted the images to be imperfect.

I used a Fujifilm X-E1 camera with a Rokinon f/2 12mm lens attached. I purposefully "missed" focus just a little to make them a little soft. I post-processed the photographs using Nik Analog Efex to make it look more film-like, perhaps like expired color film shot with a Diana camera. I wanted the pictures to look cohesive so I gave them all a similar treatment. 
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