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adamhanlon

Are Technical Elements of an Image Important?

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I'm as technical a photographer as you will come across and see any flaws in images quiet readily. but I've learnt over the years most non-photographers don't see these flaws or are not worried by them - there are limits of course but unsharp corners are not high up on the list - it has to be reasonably sharp and the subject needs to stand out.   People respond to images with some level of impact - good pose of the subject and clarity. 

That's not to say you shouldn't try to maximise the technical quality of an image if that's what brings you joy, just don't let it get in the way of capturing images with a level of impact, charisma etc. 

I've been exposed to both extremes, some years back I printed some large format prints (I have an A2 size printer)  for an artist, they were grainy not all that sharp and started with rather low resolution originals that broke all the rules.  BUt I preserved the colour, did a little basic processing on them and he loved them.   I've mellowed a bit on quality recently, I still try to get all the important bits sharp and not include distractions and I'll fuss over processing stacked macro images getting all the details just right - but I certainly don't go for absolutely smooth backgrounds and find myself leaning more towards getting the pose and lighting better.

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If you are prepared to do so, you can delve back in time and into the photographic press of the mid-1850s. Here you will discover that photographers have been obsessing about technical quality from at theast the point when it started being recorded in publications such as these (aurally alomst certainly before). Old B&W images which were created back then are view for their content today and no doubt this is how our contemporary images will be viewed in the future.  It was Ansel Adams who said that 'there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept" and IMO this applies as much to underwater images as above.

Personally I shoot for content and technical imperfections, provided they don't impinge on the fundamentals of the image, are of little consequence.

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20 hours ago, ChrisRoss said:

most non-photographers don't see these flaws or are not worried by them

This is correct, but if you are planning to sell your work to publications, plan to publish your own work in print,  or build/enhance your reputation via competitions, I think that technical issues are still important.

So I guess we should factor in the concept of our goals as photographers?

I completely agree that if your plan is simply to post pictures online, then an image's "popularity" is based mostly on subject and then composition. But are we only shooting to share images via social media? 

I think Ansel Adams fuzzy concept quote is being somewhat misquoted. If you plan an image with blur, then the technical judgements must revolve around how well you create that blur (technically.) If you plan an image that is sharp, then it should be sharp?  This is a creative decision, and both involve the application of technical skills. We do not all share the same creative visions, so there is no "universal" truth.

Adams is simply saying that he feels that if (in his opinion) the image should be soft, we should not shoot it as a sharp image. This is actually an appeal for creators to choose specific technical skills, to enhance their creative vision. 

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13 minutes ago, adamhanlon said:

I think Ansel Adams fuzzy concept quote is being somewhat misquoted.

No, I think that Adams was saying that technical perfection does not, in itself, make a 'good' image. This will apply just as well to a photograph shot wide open on a fast lens with lots of 'bokeh' as it will to an image taken stopped down and sharp throughout. If its not well thought out then no amount of technical precision can compensate for this.

In my book there are three elements to a photograph. Primary is subject. Of equal standing are the next two: lighting and composition. The rest is technical and that is up to the photographer to deal with. Personally I am less worried about corner unsharpness than many see to be because, provided the three primary elements are strong enough, then minor 'flaws' will be overlooked, or at least they will be by all except the technically obsessed photographers who view the image. I say this from personal experience.

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I think a technically perfect but otherwise simple or dull image will always be beaten by one that may be a little soft or skew but is more captivating in composition/light/emotional connection or any of the other criteria mentioned in the thread. The technical side of an image only really becomes important if the content of it is interesting enough, you can't have an amazing picture with good exposure or corner sharpness alone, but these additional details will obviously make any image that much better, but there has to be some meat to it first.

In an ideal world you would obviously have the best possible gear to limit any imperfections but for me at least that would cost far too much. For instance the Nauticam wet optics mentioned cost more than my entire system, which is where underwater photography becomes very different from surface stuff, where whacky optical artifacts and iffy sharpness can be left behind at a relatively low price point. 

Within reason, I reckon imperfections can be forgiven if the image is otherwise good!

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20 hours ago, adamhanlon said:

This is correct, but if you are planning to sell your work to publications, plan to publish your own work in print,  or build/enhance your reputation via competitions, I think that technical issues are still important.

So I guess we should factor in the concept of our goals as photographers?
 

Perhaps, but at least for competitions photos win with obvious technical flaws for example photo 1/25 in the link below - the overall winner:

https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2018/08/2018-ag-nature-photographer-of-the-year-winners/

Not to detract from the photo in anyway , but shooting a 16mm lens - I'm guessing a fisheye at f4.5 is not going to give sharp corners. and you can certainly see it in this image, but it didn't seem to worry the judges.  If you look through some more past winners you'll see images with other technical flaws, some reasonably obvious others a little more subtle, there are plenty of technically perfect images as well of course!  I think in Photo competitions there is certainly an element of art involved which tends to overlook technical aspects, degree of difficulty etc and just goes with the appeal of the image to to the judges.

 

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On 7/27/2022 at 11:19 AM, Paul Kay said:

In my book there are three elements to a photograph. Primary is subject. Of equal standing are the next two: lighting and composition. The rest is technical and that is up to the photographer to deal with. Personally I am less worried about corner unsharpness than many see to be because, provided the three primary elements are strong enough, then minor 'flaws' will be overlooked, or at least they will be by all except the technically obsessed photographers who view the image. I say this from personal experience.

To add to Paul's thoughts, editors generally like to overlay text, captions, insets and such in corners. No one actually sees some of the corners, and again as Paul notes, readers look at the subject, not at the corners.

I find it amusing that on 50% of photographs (wide angle), photographers obsess about the sharpness of corners. On the other 50% (macro) they obsess about Bokeh and a nice softness to everything other than the subject.

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