Friday, June 20, 2014

Striving for Technical Perfection

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If there's one thing I've learned from shooting pretty girls for a lot of years, it's that the more time and effort I spend striving to achieve technical perfection in my photos, the overall worse my photos are likely to be.

Not only was Andreas Feininger perfectly correct when he observed that technically perfect photos can be the most boring photos, I think he understated his comment.  Personally, I think many technically perfect or near-perfect photos -- due to the time, effort, and attention to the tech stuff they often require, often at the expense of time, effort, and attention to the models -- can produce not only boring photos but worse: photos that suck. Photos that have little to no spark of life in them. Photos nearly void of human emotions. Decidedly unmemorable photos.

If I were, say, a landscape photographer, I would probably spend much more time paying attention to the technical aspects of my photography.  After all, while there's plenty of life depicted in many landscape images, the life we mostly see in them isn't about emotions and attitudes. It's simply about beauty and other elements that may appeal to viewers. The only emotions produced in most landscape photos are the emotions produced in the minds of their viewers. And landscape photographers don't ordinarily photograph their images' viewers as they're looking at the photos.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the tech stuff isn't important. It is. But for most portraiture, it's not *the* most important element. When it comes to the technical aspects of many, if not most portraits, good enough is, well good enough.  What is good enough? Sorry. I can't define it perfectly. But I know it when I see it. It's somewhere between generally good and perfect.

More than a few photo forums and it's members seem way too focused on the technical details of their images and the images of others. I'll take a stab at a ratio and guess that technical comments outpace comments aimed at the emotional content of any given portrait by about two or three to one.  Perhaps even more.

Photographers who are starting out or who haven't developed their technical skills to a "good enough" level, should be fairly focused on the tech stuff. That is, until they reach that "good enough" stage and then their focus should shift, mainly to the other stuff. The soft skills stuff. The emotional projection stuff.

I could, of course, be wrong about this. But I don't think I am. Regardless, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

"A beautiful thing is rarely perfect." ~Egyptian proverb.

The pretty girl at the top is Coco. The image isn't perfect. But from a technical standpoint, it's good enough.


Joel Altman said...

The captain of the first Soviet nuclear submarine kept this chalked on his blackboard: "Better is the enemy of good enough." In this spirit Soviet submarines had only one cooling loop for their reactors while the Americans used two (each adequate to cool the reactor). A leak in the K19's reactor doomed its crew to a lingering death. Our photography decisions do not have such import but some make or break a shoot. What is good enough M43, APS-C or FF? Speedlight or strobe? Shoot-through umbrella, softbox or beauty dish? These are my technical questions. I don't want to go too far down the path of not good enough.

jimmyd said...

Joel: Obviously, a balance or some point between "good enough" and technical perfection should be the goal. My article wasn't intended to infer that "good enough" is good enough if/when good enough really isn't good enough. My version of "good enough" may not be the same as other people's version of it. But when I spend too much time striving for technical perfection, it's often going to be at the expense of model interaction and, frankly, I've found it's often my level of good/positive model interaction that accounts for and yields more interesting and compelling photos than technically perfect photos do.