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Sharpness is overrated


Completely Counter-dependent
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Dec 11, 2006
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Mid-Atlantic US
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snap of granddaughters

It looks great nice and soft like that, it gives it a movement and fun feel. :)

Your granddaughters are lovely, and are lucky to have a great photographer for a grandpa! :)
I used to think the opposite ... That unsharp images reflect poorly upon the skill of the photographer. I have never been impressed by Henri Cartier-Bresson and his work. His statement of sharpness is a bourgeois concept ... Well, I thought it was a stupid statement made to cover-up his lack of photographic skill. But lately, as I grow older ... I am rethinking my ideas of sharpness. I think it is much easier for a sharp photo to be successful than an unsharp photo. Sooooo ... If you have a successful unsharp photo, kudos to you.
Can't agree more. For me ... good pictures are well composed and tell a story. Or even better get the viewer to think about what the story is ...

Look at all those portraits by Avedon ... they're just head shots, but you get to really see those people, man. Best example of this ... Marilyn Monroe in that sequin dress. That was actually a test shot. Avedon was getting his lighting squared away, and farting around with calculations or loading a second back or something, and looked up & saw Marilyn staring off into space, and he reached over and hit the shutter. There isn't a time I look a that image and don't try to imagine what Marilyn was thinking about.

Or the kid with the cut-open snake. Or Helmut Newton and the woman with a cop outfit and no pants. Or the gritty peeing-in-the-gutter nasty erotica from Roy Stuart. Or the sailor and the nurse in Times Square. Or the marines at Iwo Jima.

I never look at those images and think "hmmm ... that image is really sharp"
I think that sharpness is a relatively easy goal and it becomes the end point for many people who find that actually making good pictures is very difficult.

Once someone learns a few tropes and a little bit about exposure then sharp, well focussed, reasonably exposed pictures that fit some of the criteria for composition are easy. They don't offend and they are sharp so they pass the test.

For a good example of someone who is past that kind of thing, look at mmaria's work.
Who cares about the sharpness?
Some images may not work as well as others but it's usually not a technical failure.
No one looks at her successes and "thinks 'hmmm ... that image is really sharp' "
MMaria photographs dreams. I record what I see, MMaria captures what isn't there. I wish I had her vision.

Quite perceptive, I think.

I like to think that I look at what is there and try to pick out something that explains how I think about what I see.
What a lovely shot, I am sure they will cherish it when they grow old.

As far as I understand, sharpness is not an ultimate goal but just one of the tools. All photos must be sharp enough. How enough is "enough"? It differs in each photo and depends in the genre and artistic idea. If you are a reporter, your photos are expected to be very sharp, street photography and even portraiture give us more space to imagination and artistic freedom and hence more varied degree of unsharpness. But in each and every picture there must be a clear idea behind it.

Lev's portrait is just sharp enough, it is a romantic ( provocative even) interpretation of two beautiful girls at the age of transition, and the shot reflects this mood beautifully. One could take another approach and document, not this unique and important period of adolescence, but a particular day or a moment worth remembering, and then we would need an immediacy i.e. a sharp picture.

I must add though that with street photography where documenting a moment (as with HCB) is a prevalent goal, unsharp images 99% of the time are just photographers' mistakes or a result of exposure limitation due to low light or fast moving scene, that are sometimes excused afterwards by "artistic vision".
At least I do not remember a single street shot that I have taken deliberately trying to make it unsharp to a certain degree, this is beyond my level.
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Wasn't it Ansel Adams who said 'There's nothing worse than a sharp photo of a fuzzy concept'.
Soft images can have a lovely dreamy feel, it can work well for portraits (as shown by the OP) & sometimes landscapes but it doesn't work for everything & needs to be top notch in composition etc to work.
I think Macro is one area where photos need to be sharp - shame mine usually don't quite make it.
sharpness aside, I would have liked a little more DOF and slightly wider framing.
good timing and expressions.
an adequate snapshot indeed.

Something no one has mentioned yet, and maybe it's just my eye, and brain out of whack, but that photo has a very distinct early 1900's quality about it. The girls expressions, hair etc. I couldn't quite put my finger on it when it was first posted. Would bet a good cup of coffee it would be a super B/W.
IMO, I think light it what separates greatness in photography. It is the hardest thing to get right.

IMO, in the OP photo, the pastel colors of the shirt & the girls are properly lighted from their upper left. The flood of sunlight in the background create a wonderful pastel green's. The eye contact (dead on upper right thirds) of the girl in pink tells one story, then the eyes of the other girl can tell one as well. You can't plan natural looks, it just happens. So the photo has many things contributing to it's success. Lighting, story, composition, and color.

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