Every Pixel Counts

Every Pixel Counts

There’s so much that is out of our control. Weather, animals, the people that we photograph. But in the digital darkroom, we can control every single pixel.

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Photography is an odd artistic pursuit in that we face a strange contradiction. We know that when we’re creating photographs, we are in complete control of their creation. At the same time, there’s often a sense of helplessness in the act of creation.

It happens all the time. We might throw up our hands on a day when the weather wasn’t what we wanted, and later we’ll say, “Well, I just couldn’t help that it was raining.” Or you’ve set up the perfect shot, everything is exactly as you want it, and just as you press the shutter button, a cat wanders into the frame. Or a person walks into the shot, or a car drives by. You’re trying to photograph leaves using a macro lens, but the wind just won’t quit, which plays havoc with trying to get the focus just where you want it.

These are the things that I’m referring to. There are just lots of these factors that are completely outside our control. It’s part of the challenge that comes with being a photographer. Painters don’t face these kinds of things. If the day is rainy and they want sunshine, all they need to do is paint sunshine, or if a cat wanders into the frame, that doesn’t mean they have to paint it.

What’s interesting about this is that it’s a kind of mindset that can permeate the rest of our photography, in a way. We sometimes get into the habit of thinking that we can’t control the environment in which we photograph—and then when we get around to processing prints, that attitude carries over. “I can’t fix this or that thing about this image,” you might find yourself thinking. That’s just the way things happened; it was out of your control when you created the image.

It’s easy to fall into that mindset, and when you find yourself thinking along these lines, it’s time to take a step back and remember something: This is the age of digital image manipulation. These days, every single pixel counts. If you have the knowledge and patience, you can do absolutely anything imaginable with your digital negatives. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking some of your images are truly unfixable because there is almost certainly a way to do something with them!

At the same time, this is also something of a value proposition. Sure, you can fix absolutely anything wrong with an image. But is it worthwhile? This idea of having complete control over every pixel—it veers into pixel peeping territory, which is when we obsess over every last little detail, things so small that no one will notice unless they’re standing nose-to-nose with a print, magnifying glass in hand.

There’s a balance to strike. Sure, you can fix anything wrong with a digital negative. But is it worth the time and effort to do so? That’s a choice only you can make. Just don’t let yourself be hampered by the idea that an image is unfixable, especially if it’s one that you truly love all except for one small problem.