There’s this quote I think of from time to time by Ansel Adams, which goes “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” To my mind, it’s the perfect summation of the way some photographers put the cart before the horse, so to speak. You could call it proof of how the pursuit of technical perfection can prove kind of fruitless—counterproductive, even.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of a variety of images that encompass this quote one way or another. Have you ever seen technically perfect photographs printed on the worst possible mediums? Just think of journalistic photography. Imagine a photographer spending hours mulling over composition, spending all kinds of time setting people up just perfectly, spending all kinds of time trying to make their portrait subject’s hair as smooth as possible, their makeup perfect, their clothes settling in just the right way. Imagine all the time after the creation of this image wherein the photographer spends even more time in front of the computer, pouring over every pixel.
And then this photograph ends up printed at almost thumbnail sizes on newsprint in a newspaper. Small enough that you’d never notice clothing slightly askew, with colors printed oddly enough that you’d never know the photographer paid close attention to reproducing the richest hues possible, blurry enough that you’d never see flyaway hairs if they were present.
There are times when technical perfection just doesn’t matter all that much. In fact, I would argue that technical perfection should probably never be the top priority—not unless you’re creating some sort of scientific macro images where absolute clarity on microscopic details is a must. But even those fine art prints made large enough to take center stage above a fireplace probably don’t need the exacting attention to detail that we give them. Most viewers simply won’t notice focus that is ever so slightly off, or a stray hair, or whatever other tiny detail we might agonize over.
So what is the highest priority? In all things, across all mediums, it is the content. This is true of fine art photography, journalism, and all other genres you could think of.
And the proof of that? You’ll find it in journalism, where some of the most powerful photographs in the history of photography have made their debuts on rough, imprecise newsprint. That lowliest of printing mediums, and yet these images still had an impact felt around the world and throughout history.
You’ll find proof that content matters throughout history, too. Every generation’s photographers have created to the highest quality standard possible—and with technology constantly improving, this means that every generation has had access to better and better equipment, capable of creating sharper, clearer, more accurate images than ever before. And yet, we can still look at a photograph taken a century ago, and feel transported by whatever it is that the image says to us. It might not be tack-sharp by today’s standards, and the colors might not be just right, but it still sweeps us up with emotion. Something in it speaks to us—and it’s not the technical perfection or the lack thereof, but the vision of the artist who created it.
Now go and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation through your lens.