Too Perfect to Matter?

Time for a serious post (long time coming, but moods and priorities change).

This morning I checked out my long time favourite blog, the Online Photographer ( as I used to do much more often*.

I have been following the usual enlightened and knowledgeable series of sharpness related article that have been running over the last few weeks as this is a subject that touches me both technically and philosophically.

Mike touched on the subject of technical trends and fashions and our response to them. He admits to, after the initial emotional penance has been paid, being distracted by the technical elements of the image, effectively being unable to “un-see” them once seen**.

I must admit, to my shame, I was drawn to the technical fist.

The first things that I noticed was the blue dress which was “perfect” in focus and clarity, which really jumped out and the balance of the image, in an almost studio manufactured way (true the image was tiny on my ipad mini in portrait orientation). It blurred the line between fine art and documentary. It was too Hollywood perfect.

This image would have moved me deeply in the past, taken on film or early digital with a real “grabbed with respect, not obsessed by image quality” feeling, but with modern cameras and processing, perfection is all too easily achieved.

The (first) question I have to ask myself is;

“If awareness of perfection is starting to invade all areas of life/photography, will we be in-tolerant of anything less, even if that is at the expense of the very subject we are viewing?”

This may seem a trite and shallow view, but as Mike eludes to, trends change, and expectations as well. If perfection is the yard stick used to split two images of equal human value, lets say both are up for a Pulitzer based on their story relevance, then I guess the expectation of quality has transcended content or at least become the dominant factor.

Mobile phones, ironically, are now the spontaneous lesser beings of the photographic world, although much of that is due to the user of the devices as they are really getting there, but that will not last either.

Perfect focus, perfect Bokeh (as understood by the actioner), perfect exposure, colour and contrast are not luck or skill based, but assumed more often than not.

Perfection is a noble goal to chase. Reaching it too easily makes it less precious, eventually to the point of mundanity.

In my own photographic world, the EM1, which I do not like using for street images because it is too big and the flip out screen annoys, does provide a more consistent experience than my trusty old Em5’s. This has created a tug of war between quality and reality. Do I chase more shots, technically better taken or less shots with better “taking”?

*I must admit to being AWOL from blog chasing (and writing) for a few months and really not keeping up with the current avalanche of the new except where it directly pertains to my work. This is possibly because of exactly the same reason as this article. Camera gear is all getting too perfect. I am bored and dis-interested by an industry that regularly spits out yet another monster super lens, more, near flawless cameras and processing answers for everything. The skill required for taking a good image is still relevant, but even more so is the ability to handle ever more complicated cameras to their full potential.

It all seems like a violin concerto rising to a frantic peak, with nowhere to go afterwards.

**This touches on a couple of other articles he has published on a book of Ansel Adam’s colour work and a beautiful tome of Kodachrome images taken by Nathan Benn, which were both over processed by “disrespectful modernisers”, one in a review and the other as a re-print. The whole point of these works being published is their place in time, not a direct same-way-processing comparison to current trends.