What is a photograph?
I suppose the answer to this question will get depend on the person reading it. Your background in the arts, your level of skill as a photographer and a myriad of other factors will drive you to answer this question differently.
For me a photograph is the ultimate in personal expression… at least for those who carry a camera.
Over the years I’ve found an interesting trend in every photography community I’ve been involved with online or otherwise and that is an obsession with the perfect image. This obsession is incredibly helpful if you’re looking to improve your technical skills. Yet this obsession can also be a stagnating force to the development of a photographers creative vision. All too often the distraction of “photo distractions” ends up holding photographers back.
Does your photo need to be perfect?
The brain of a photographer is a mysterious ball of jelly. On one hand we can see an amazing scene, amazing light and take the steps necessary to capture it digitally or on film. When in the field we see the bigger picture and our brain very easily ignores smaller details. Yet when we look at the net result after capture our observational skills are reversed, we lose track of the bigger picture and dwell on the smaller details. The bulk of post-production is spent addressing smaller details that are interpreted as visual distractions.
Here in lies the ugly side of every photographer. Our obsessive focus on the minutia of each photograph is where we lose our perspective and waste time. Do a few irregularities in a water reflection require we clone them out to improve a photo? Did those irregularities stop the photographer from capturing an otherwise beautiful scene? Should those irregularities stop viewers from enjoying the scene that has been photographed?
More times than not we hear about the evils of touching up photos in the world of fashion photography distorting the perception of reality in relation to body image, but every genre of photography is subject to a very similar trend. Over the years I’ve seen this trend take a foothold in the world of landscape and nature photography. I don’t take issue with people editing their photos, although I do take in what I see with more of a grain of salt than I used to. The increasingly distorted perception by photographers that imperfect reality, must be perfect in their photographs puts them in an increasingly contentious position. Photographers at this point then delve into the question of how much of post-processing editing is acceptable and how much pushes a photograph into the realm of photo art? Such a question is an endless debate that is pointless to get into. The more important question to ask is does all this editing effort truly impact your viewer? Not photographers who view your photo, but non-photographers who might want to purchase or license your photography.
What fuels a photo viewers reaction?
This is the $64,000 question. Photography viewers (i.e. non-photographers) react to the subject as a whole and any memory or association they have to it. The deeper the emotional association to what they see the stronger they’ll be attracted to it. Sometimes the emotional reaction is of pure awe with no other association to the subject; sometimes an emotional association will be tied to a person (girlfriend, boyfriend, family member, etc.), a phase of life (college summers, family vacation, etc.), an empowering feeling (a sense of peace, strength, pride, etc.) and the list goes on. Photographers could benefit from thinking in terms of how they react to photos they see (not just their own) and asking themselves why they have a reaction to that photograph.
The benefits of embracing the imperfect image
One of the most puzzling aspects of photography is why one photograph becomes popular while another does not. Many times technically strong photos fall by the wayside to less impressive photos leaving photographers to scratch their head in bewilderment. It’s at this moment that photographers need to do their best to see the forest through the trees. Taking a step back to think in another mindset (for example emotional association vs technical) is a critical skill and one that just might help you reach new audiences or expand existing audiences. This new way of thinking might also allow you to not just save a little time on unnecessary editing, but take that next step in becoming a stronger photographer with a more well defined creative vision. Consider this your wake up call, imperfect images are in fact the “new” perfect image.
Related Blog Posts:
Philosophy of Photography: Photograph versus a Snapshot
Endless entertainment at Photoshop Disasters
[tags]Photography, Philosophy, Art, Fine Art[/tags]