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Great images may be technically flawed

If you look at the great masters of photography and their images, many of which have become iconic, you see that there is a distinct gap between text book perfection and what they've produced.

Most great pictures that touch our hearts have technical flaws. The technically perfect advertising shots will never have this kind of power and impact on humanity. There are so many examples I don't know where to begin. Look at Robert Capa's shots of the Normandy landing. Grainy, blurred, scratched (the negatives were trodden on in the darkroom during development) and yet all of that somehow contributes to their impact.

Even top modern photographers like the legendary Annie Liebowitz get away with publishing pictures which would be severely criticised or ignored by the masses of photographers critiquing each other's work on the Internet. For example in Annie's book, Woman, there are a number of portraits which are not perfectly sharp (the greatest sin that can be committed according to the hoards in pursuit of textbook perfection).

In many of the most highly regarded photographers work you will see errors like fingers that are cropped, blown highlights, lack of shadow detail, slightly out of focus, heavy grain, a composition that's a bit tight on room in one or other quadrant, a skew horizon and the list goes on.

But it doesn't matter because there's so much emotion and power in their images. People with an uncritical eye, who look and see like a child, who open their heart and mind to understand the image and what the photographer is trying to communicate, for those people the image is pure joy and rewards them with the feeling, "I understand, I feel, I see."

So here's the moral of my story. When you take pictures, take them with your heart, soul and mind. Try your hardest to get all the technical things right but know that at the end of the day an image that is really meaningful, that will touch people need not be technically perfect. If you have images like this and you've discarded them because some pedantic prick has said it is no good due to some minor technical flaw, then it is time to retrieve that image and show it with pride.

And to the viewers of images my plea is: look beyond the mere technical aspects. Open your heart and mind to the essence of the image. You will enjoy looking at photographs far more.

But also please be aware that what I write here is not to be taken as an excuse for shoddy craftsmanship. The great images that have technical flaws are still great images because they are powerful and capture something special. There is nothing worse than a technically bad image which has nothing to say.

Cheers,
Paul
www.indigo2photography.co.uk

Comments

David Toyne said…
Great article Paul. 110% agree with it!
ade_mcfade said…
.....very spooky. I just wrote something very similar in my blkog before reading this!

Great minds

My view is that through using upload sites we get hooked on the technical and try to "wow" fellow photographers with our skill and forget about what we're trying to capture.

I've fallen foul of it before, but am trying to fight it now :-)

well said Paul

Ade
Paul, I couldn't agree more with the premise of your article. Capa's iconic image of the soldier wading in the ocean towards the shore is, in my view, one of the most effective photographs in conveying the sense of what it must have felt like to be involved in the Normandy invasion.

You have inspired me to write an article concerning this issue on my Photography and the Creative Process blog, www.wmgphotoblog.com.

That particular post which deals with "The Emotional Response" is located at www.wmgphotoblog.com/2007/11/01/
boys-at-play/

Bill Gatesman
www.wmgphoto.com
www.wmgphotoblog.com

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