Friday, December 30, 2011

Magic: Technical Imperfection

Perfect Imperfection. Holly. Nikon D3/50mm f/1.8D. 1/200th, f/4.0, ISO200.

I'm going to deviate from the script and write about Magic from the perspective of the mindset behind the following image. Yeah that's a mouthful.

There are a lot of things technically wrong about this image. I'm going to reveal every significant detail I can find.

- Composition is off. Too much foreground (or just ground) and not enough headroom for balance. Also it's skewed left.
- The background is completely exposed. Yes it's seamless paper. But usually you're not supposed to reveal the background stands.
- There's a light artifact on the upper right hand corner. No I didn't Photoshop that in. It's an artifact from using my cheap 50mm f/1.8D Nikkor within an ABR800. What you're seeing is some light leakage from the ABR into the lens from inside the ring. I can't explain it any more since I'm not really sure how or why it exists. It's a hundred-dollar lens made in the 90's, what do you expect?
- There's significant vignetting. A perfect lens doesn't vignette. A technically perfect image corrects for vignetting.
- Overexposure in the center. A byproduct of the ABR800. It's a ringflash. I shoot from about the waist-level. So the mid-section is going to come in hotter than the rest of the image because it's closer to the light.
- Motion blur in the hair. No that's not Photoshop either. It's motion blur caused by a slow flash duration (strobe set to lowest power)
- Grain, dust, speckling, scratches? Check, check, check, and check.
- Discoloration in the image. Yup, traditional cross-processed look reminiscent of the faded old-school film.

Other than that, it's a technically perfect picture :)

So why post it without correcting all the "imperfections"? Because it's perfect just the way it is.

The way I see it. If I remove the imperfections, what am I left with? Really, just another model test shot.

But with all these imperfections, this image tells a story beyond the obvious model test shot. A story with greater depth and content. A glimpse into something that was once real and tangible. It has so much more "character" with the flawed composition, visible background stands, and motion blur. In the world of perfectly flawless Photoshopped images (and I know a thing or two about perfectly Photoshopped images) this one makes no apologies for being the way that it is.

And I think that's how Magic works. Sometimes it's in a specific look. Sometimes it's a frozen frame of motion. Other times it's a combination of mistakes that captures all the subtleties. But whatever the case may be, you recognize magic when you see it. It makes you stop and stare. There's an intrinsic beauty that is magical.

Because the truth is, the way this frame was captured was a series of mistakes. Usually I shoot a crop that hides the background paper so it doesn't reveal the paper reel. And I certainly don't mean to reveal so much of the background stands because I usually Photoshop out the stands. The artifacting, motion blur, vignetting, imperfect exposure are all "mistakes". But it's exactly why mistakes are so crucial to my growth as a photographer. They allow me to see things differently because these accidents are so often the source of the magic. It's in the motion blur that's captures the model's hair toss. It's in the focus blur/depth-of-field blur/ISO grain that reveals the low-light available during dark ambient shot. It's in the problematic crop that reveals the reality of where we are and what we're doing.

There's a simple beauty that lies within the imperfections of what we do. Rather than crucify all imperfections, as photographers we should recognize that these mistakes are necessary for growth and that imperfections are sometimes the very reason that an image is perfect just the way it is.


  1. Nice article, reading this helps to alleviate some of the pressure I often put upon myself

  2. Replies
    1. Brittni, You reading Charles also? Never thought I'd find u here :D

  3. well said... this exactly captures how I feel about what I do sometimes. I'm afraid that often though it is only me (as the photographer/retoucher) who recognizes that type of magic in my photos whereas the model or MUA or anyone else may not appreciate such flaws.

  4. How did you add those scratches and dust? Just an overlay highres image? Looking for such an overlay a long time!

  5. Personally I love the original image, I think today we can get a bit photoshop happy! x