Not every image needs to be sharp: Stop deleting every soft image you capture


posted Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 5:59 AM EDT


Portrait and commercial photographer Robert K. Baggs urges you to stop placing so much value on sharpness in photography. You can ruin a good image by sharpening it too much. Don't throw away an image solely because it isn't perfectly sharp.

If you're doing macro or product photography, then yes, you really need to capture very sharp images. The sharpness is a fundamental part of the image. But that might not be the case with portraiture, wedding photography or even landscape photos. I've certainly tossed out otherwise fine landscape images because they didn't meet my (arbitrary) standard for sharpness. That was probably a mistake. It was at least a mistake to not at least consider the possibility that "softness doesn't necessarily matter" in every single image.

Filmic processing is when you process your digital photos to look more like film photographs, which may include digitally recreating the inherent qualities of certain films. However, what might reasonably be considered a "flaw" could be just the bandage you need for your soft image. As Baggs points out, SLR Lounge recently did a video about filmic processing in Lightroom, which you can see below.

This isn't a fix-all method of processing, nor will it always turn a soft image into a good image, but it's a potential tool that you can use to save those shots that make you say, "Well, it's good…but it's not sharp enough." Maybe it IS sharp enough. Read Robert K. Baggs' full article about this topic here.

I know that it's frustrating to look at images on your monitor when you get back home and see that your shutter speed was perhaps just a tad too slow for the situation or that your focus was off by a small margin, but Baggs is right that this doesn't always mean your images should go straight into the digital purgatory that is the Trash or Recycle Bin. If your photo tells a good story and is well-composed, sharpness can be a secondary consideration. Besides, I've printed images that weren't up to my own sharpness standards on numerous occasions, and do you know how many non-photographers ever noticed that the focus was off or the image had a bit of blur? Zero.

I captured this image this summer and while you can't tell at this size, the original file is quite soft. I had intended to capture an image with the loon chick sharp, but low light and some long lens camera shake led to a soft image. It's the only image I was able to capture with this composition so I processed the file, printed it and enjoy the story it tells.

With all of that said, I'm going to continue to do my best to capture sharp images. I just hope to become better at dealing with soft images rather than quickly discarding them.

(Seen via Fstoppers)