Perfection in photography: Do we overvalue technical perfection at the expense of artistic success?


posted Monday, October 30, 2017 at 11:50 AM EDT


Photographer Thomas Heaton has published a new video, seen below, about perfection. "We have this thing where everything has to be perfect," Heaton says, we are generally obsessed with tack sharp images, perfect exposures, no noise, sharp corners of the frame, perfect color balance, everything has to be perfect, whatever perfection actually entails. Is striving for perfection a detriment to our photography?

"In the past, I've discarded images because they were too soft or they weren't technically perfect," Heaton continues. He's gone in a different direction now, which is not to say that he doesn't continue to strive for technical perfection. Rather, he just prioritizes it differently than he used to, giving it much less weight in the overall photographic process.

It's certainly the case that technical perfection is not often possible, if it is at all possible in general, due to difficult conditions or time constraints. Of course, when you get right down to it, if you want an image with perfect sharpness from front to back and across the entire frame, then perfection is completely impossible. There's no such thing as a perfect sensor or a perfect lens. Fortunately, gear is so good that setting for "good enough" doesn't mean that you have to settle for bad.

If striving for perfection is getting in the way of your photography and limiting you as an artist, then it might be time to shift your priorities around and focus on something else, such as composition or emotion.

In the video above, Heaton goes through a series of images which are not "technically perfect" and discusses what he likes about them despite the various technical issues. I think that he totally hits the mark with this video and strikes on something very important.

In my own work, I can relate to what Heaton says near the beginning of the video about having discarded images because they were too soft. I've come back from trips disappointed with myself for not having captured more technically sound images, feeling as though I had "missed an opportunity." While sometimes it's true that an image just won't work because of technical issues and I always try my absolute best to nail every shot - which certainly doesn't happen - there are many times when an image probably is good enough and it still does what I wanted it to do on an emotional level.

Photography is about stories and making people feel something. A sharp image in and of itself does not make the viewer feel anything. In fact, most of the people who will view your work are likely not themselves photographers, so precise focus or a perfect exposure or excellent corner sharpness is unlikely to ever cross their minds at all. It's often been the case that technical imperfections that I know are in my images are very rarely picked up by others.

(Via Thomas Heaton