Ranting on Sharpness
Contributed by James Haney
Last Updated Friday, 08 June 2007
Why I think that the obsessive pursuit of sharpness is grossly over emphasized.
Submitted for debate: Sharpness is overrated.
Slavish pursuit of sharpness is the crutch of the visually weak.
The pursuit of sharpness is the essence of missing the forest for the trees.
I know that it is generally good and an obvious expectation for photographs to be in focus, but I guess I have just matured to the point that I think that pursuing sharpness gets in the way of more important elements of making evocative images.
I have found more great images that are technically imperfect than I have found in all of the technically perfect images I have seen.
I was like most budding photographers when I was younger. The struggle of achieving technical competence makes you a slave to the technology and frankly focuses one on all the wrong things. The greatest struggle in the art of photography is not achieving technical competency, it is getting beyond technical competency. True, the focus of my subject matter changed from trees and rocks to portraiture, but I really don't think that matters.
I liken it to the difference between a pianist and a composer. One can perform great music, the other creates great music by understanding the nature of the instrument and pushing it to its limits to make something new and original. Do this: look through a bunch of photo books and find some work that you really admire. Now, notice what percentage of them is sharp. I was stunned when I did this exercise. At least 75% of the portraits I consider to be the best would I identify as sharp.
Ask yourself some questions:
Does the lack of sharpness detract from the effectiveness of good images?
Does the lack of sharpness contribute to the effectiveness of good images?
What makes an image great to you?
Can you find common elements that you are responding to?
What are your images saying?
What do you want them to say?
Pursue perfect images, not perfect technique.
A perfectly exposed, contact printed 8x10 negative that carries focus from foreground to background, has great tonal range, beautifully printed on silver rich bromide paper, archivally processed and selenium toned may be hard to do, but that doesn't make it art!