Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There's Something Sterile about Technical Perfection

You've heard it before but I will attempt to explain it.

Digital cameras produce "sterile" images.

When you say sterile. I think impotence. Not in the ED sort of way but more like spaying or neutering for animals.

Advances in technology make engineers feel like gods. And in their search for new technology they push for more and more perfection. That's why digital sensors are amazing at greater resolution at reduced noise levels. Gone are the days of hot pixels, vignetting (lens issue more than anything else), and grain.

Yet we find ways to put grain back into the images (Lr).

Hell, we find ways to put light leaks and heavy vignetting back into the images so we can make them more "analog".

Because there's something human, soulful, familiar and endearing about "flaws". It probably explain why the Dianas, Holgas, etc. are making a huge comeback. It explains why Hipstamatic is a top iPhone camera app.

Technical perfection pushes the boundaries of becoming godlike, yet it removes all the familiar attributes of what it is to be human.

That's the point. Images aren't about perfection. They're not about perfect ratios and lighting and composition. They're about life. They're about soul. They're about the human spirit.

It explains exactly why I love this image below so much.

Admittedly it was blurry. The focus was off. Angie was moving. I was moving. It was shot with natural light at a low shutter, high iso, shallow DoF so you can imagine everything was working against capture. Hell, her arm is sharper than her face which means my focusing was really off.

Who cares?

Armchair quarterbacks and pixel peepers that's who. But you'll never see those guys create great images.

But in order to break the rules you should know what the rules are. I'm only here because I've spent thousands of hours trying to refine and understand "perfection". But now that I have accumulated an entire portfolio of "soulless" images. I'm trying to create life.

So screw technical perfection :)


  1. Howdy Charles,

    I've always been partial to images that are slightly two degrees from perfect. Like the picture you posted, what is important is not the technical achievement of the pixel, focus, etc., but the general mood of the image. What story or atmosphere does this image transmit to the viewer? Being that this is a fashion shot, there isn't much of a story here, rather it's the mood that that the image evokes in the viewers that's important. The angle of the shot, the movement of her body, the seeming abandonment of inhibitions, the faded, semi-nostalgic worn colors...

    I agree that these "imperfections" make it a superior image over the technically "perfect" image.

  2. Hey, you can always smear Vaseline on your lens like the photogs back in the day ;)

  3. I love the perspective here, what lens is this?

  4. Ah Lucima...we're looking for the same things... you, at least, are finding them... but I'll get there too eventually. It takes the right models to bring this elusive quality to life... You're showing me the way... :)

  5. I recently did an exercise; over the years I have accumulated thousands upon thousands of images I liked off the net. I recently went through and rated each of these images as 3, 4 or 5. anything below 3 I deleted.
    What I found astounded me. Most images at 3 and some at 4 stars were technically perfect 'nice' images, but as you said, lacked soul. Only images with seemingly technical imperfections and movement seemed to rate at 5. And yet previously I felt obliged (from lighting tutorials or retouching tutorials) to aim for that 'sterile' approach. So thank you for confirming this for me.