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Does Photography Even Matter?

does-photography-matter

I have a question for you. Do you think photography is actually important? Does it even matter?

Now, given that you’re on a website that’s all about photography, I’m going to assume you are a photographer. So you probably enjoy photography. And a question like that seems to have an easy answer. But maybe things aren’t quite so black and white…

Photography Doesn’t Matter

People are always saying that the camera is just a tool, and what matters are the photos you create with it.

But maybe we can take that a step further.

What if photography itself is just a tool? And what actually matters is the message you’re communicating.

It’s not the composition that really matters – it’s the moment that it captures. It’s not the depth of field, but the feeling that we should pay the most attention to.

What if photography is nothing more than a medium for the message. And in that sense, all photographic considerations should take a back seat to pure communication, in whatever form that takes.

Now, let’s look at it from the other side…

Photography Does Matter

The “rules” of photography, like good composition, proper exposure, a well chosen depth of field – those are all designed to help you effectively convey your message. They are there to allow you translate the moment you experience into a two-dimensional image. In that sense, photography itself is very important. Without a good understanding of the technical stuff, you’ll never be able to make your viewer feel what you want them to feel.

We could go even further here. The act of photographing can bring more importance to a moment. By bringing a camera up to your eye, you give that moment more value. When you capture it with a press of the shutter, you are saying “This is worth remembering”. Photography can define what matters.

Why Even Ask?

Maybe you’re wondering what the point of even thinking about all this is. Well, I find that a lot of photographers (ourselves included) tend to get caught up with the photography side of things. We worry about gear and technique; about the rules and when to break them; and about great light and creative composition. And those are all important things! But maybe we don’t spend enough time worrying about the message and the feeling.

Mom-Sharp

We’ve always been very concerned with the sharpness of our photos. We use all prime lenses because they produce crisp results. Soft images are quickly discarded when sorting.

And I think that it’s good to push yourself to create consistent, technically solid images!

But recently my opinion of the importance of sharpness has changed. And to reflect that I’ve coined a new term. It’s called “mom-sharp”. It came up when we were looking at some photos we took of our new son. I pointed out one I liked, and Rob lamented “Ugh, it’s not sharp though.” I replied “It’s sharp enough for me! It’s mom-sharp.”

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t perfectly in focus. I loved the photo because I loved the moment and the person it captured. The technical stuff didn’t matter nearly as much as the feeling.

What Do You Think?

There isn’t really any one answer to this question, and I suspect it will change from shoot to shoot and year to year, for every photographer. But what do YOU think? Should we spend more time meditating on the message? Or is the technical stuff so critical to communication that it needs to be a large part of our study? Does it all depend on the type of shoot? Does the answer change for a hobbyist compared to a professional?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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Discussion

18 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Yes! Mom-sharp is awesome – I totally relate. I am going to think about this more the next time I am behind my camera. Thanks for the post, Lauren. :)

    • Lauren Lim says:

      It’s interesting how much your perspective changes after kids, hey? Glad you enjoyed this idea, Jane, and let us know how it goes for you the next time you’re shooting!

  2. This is a fantastic post, Lauren. My business is split between advertising and portrait photography, and I’ll approach each separately:

    Advertising: Yes, photography still matters. Consumers have become incredibly attuned to visual media and they recognize an ad that has sucky photography versus one that stands out from the crowd. Additionally, creative photography can make a boring subject look interesting. Corporate events don’t have the same naturally-interesting look that kids do — a photographer needs to actively make them look fun rather than getting out of the way and letting a kid do their thing. There’s no such thing as “Mom-Sharp” in the advertising world.

    Portraits: I agree with you about “Mom-Sharp” and that the entire point of these is not the technical perfection or even artsyness of the image. When I shoot portraits, my attention is focused on my subject’s expression and putting them in the right state to forget they’re being photographed and open up to me. My lighting and composition process is running in the background, of course, but a beautiful photo is trash if the subject isn’t right. I do large wall art so the photo does have to look pretty and I won’t show crap no matter how good the expression (sorry, Tyler-Sharp overrides Mom-Sharp), but originality in artwork isn’t something I worry about. If my client loves it, then my job is done. If other photographers like it, that’s a bonus.

    Sure, I’m constantly trying to push myself to create unique art, break rules, and earn myself a name among photographers, but that’s solely a personal battle. It doesn’t matter to my clients whether the jumping group shot is a terrible cliché — they have fond memories of making that image and love the result, and who am I to rain on their parade?

    Looking forward to other discussion on this topic.

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here Tyler! You clearly think a lot about your work and it’s so awesome to hear your perspective!

      Very interesting points regarding advertising work. I think you’re right on all accounts. Consumers have seen a lot of photography over the years, and it’s becoming clear that great photos need to be technically strong! When it comes to commercial work, I imagine the concepts are more abstract at times too, so the image needs to communicate something a bit more difficult. In that sense, having strong technical skills can really help you!

      Also great points about portraits. Your goal of getting people to open up is fantastic. And I’m sure your clients really appreciate how much you value their happiness! I totally hear you about the necessity of sharp images, especially when it comes to large wall art. It’s like some strange law, that if you show a soft image, that’s the one the client will want to print huge!

      Again, thanks for taking the time to contribute to the discussion. You have some awesome ideas, and I really enjoyed hearing them!

  3. I love this discussion! I personally try my best to be technically correct but the photos I tend to love the most are the ones that evoke an emotional reaction – a look from a wife to husband, the huge smile someone gets when their dog does a trick, a happiness from deep within when a baby sees their mum…Love it!

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Great point Jessy! Those emotional reactions are such a big part of what photography can do. Striving to be technically proficient is important, indeed! But capturing those kinds of moments is so powerful. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I think you make an excellent point! I’m a photographer (and I can say that thanks to your philosophy, not any professional training/status) and while sometimes it bothers me when the focus is off, I still cherish images for the moments they capture. Totally agree here!

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Thanks, Kylie! I think you hit on a good point. We can be frustrated when we “miss” the focus, and keep working to be better with our technique. But we shouldn’t trash an image we love just because it’s not technically perfect. In fact, I’ve seen many images taken by the greatest photographers in history that aren’t perfectly sharp. No one is perfect all the time, right?

  5. Mom-Sharp…I totally agree!
    When I was married back in 2001 my photographer had a real problem with ‘allowing’ us to choose a photo to put in our album that wasn’t sharp. In fact, one day she called me up and made me drive across town to see the enlarged print that was to be added to the album that day just to check that I really, really didn’t mind the extra noise that was in the shot once it was enlarged. What she didn’t get was that I loved the shot, it just makes me feel good to look at it, extra noise and all.

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Hey Felicity! Thanks so much for sharing what a “client” would think about this discussion! Very valuable insight! And I love how you said “It just makes me feel good to look at it”. It’s amazing how photography can make us feel something, regardless of the technical aspects of the photo. So cool :)

  6. I personally like the message that is shown in a photo. I am doing a photography project where I am capturing 10,000 Smiles. Sometimes I have only one shot to get a smile. The moment passes quickly and sometimes those photos that show so much happiness are blurry but I can’t help but smile because of the feelings depicted in the picture. I like your “mom sharp” idea, it’s encourages me to keep some of the blurry photos if the photo screams a message.

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Wow, April! That sounds like an AMAZING project! It makes me feel happy just thinking about it. If a photo makes us smile, isn’t that so much more valuable than whether it’s perfectly in focus or not? I think most people would rather say “Wow, that photo makes me so happy!” than “Wow, that photo is perfectly in focus!”. Good luck with your project, I’m sure it will be wonderful!

  7. I would never try to argue anyone out of including a “message” or “meaning” in their art, but for me the art is its’ own meaning – the medium is the message. (what is the “meaning” of
    Bach’s “toccata and fugue in D minor”?) All I want to produce is beauty, which comes in many forms, including things that aren’t tack sharp. (blow up a picture of an old master’s oil painting and you discover that the eyes aren’t in absolute focus….)

    the meaning question is a bit of a bugbear for me, I guess I would prefer art that offered questions rather than answers.

  8. Isn’t life sometimes a blur? And if it’s life we’re trying to capture (which for me it is most of the time) inevitably that may mean there is blur in my images! Small children move fast ~ I want to show that. They don’t live life in a freeze frame! Sometimes my head is a fuzz of noise and muddle – on those days I think it shows in the images I create. When I look back over years of photographs they are not always perfect, but they do tell my story ~ my imperfect story – and they also tell the story of my photography journey! :D I strive for sharp (mostly, although not always), but if I miss it I sometimes fall in love with the images none-the-less. They may not make it to print (lets be honest about this, in reality how many of us print tonnes of pictures these days?), but they will make to my HD and my heart.

    For clients I am more picky, but I would definitely still show an image that really captured them, even if it was not tack sharp. I just might advise them to print it in an album, rather than huge on a wall!

  9. Um, mom-sharp?! I have a million of my daughter before I began jumping into photography and I cherish every bit of those mom-sharp, poorly composed images! Love. And yes, this is all a message worth meditating on for a good long time.

  10. I agree. I’ve seen so many soft, blurry photos that speak louder than sharper ones. Mom sharp, or best-friend sharp, or lover sharp. hehe

  11. Awesome post and great resources on this site!

    S

  12. Glenn Adrian says:

    There are photographers whose entire career consisted a smearing Vaseline over the lens to soften the look of their art.

    For me the best photograph I have taken was waiting in between games/photo shoots. I zoomed in to capture some candid shots. I caught a girl, head shot profile talking to her friend, with her mouth open as if she was laughing. Turned out really well. Turns out she had a hair in her mouth, so she didn’t like the photo.
    I take hundreds of photos each day of each convention I go to. But the odd ones I really love are the few that capture a friend in a moment, or the odd one that zooms in to just capture them in the convention. Noise and all it still tells me something about what they were doing. Most shots I take are limited to rushed poses of costumers, which is why I go to cons. Perhaps this is why I prefer taking videos. Often they are just of little moments of no particular significance, often they are not the best technically with the odd camera bump, background noise, etc. But they are usually crisp, and remind people of the good times. Oh and the time we rickrolled almost the entire convention space.

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