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Thread: How important is sharpness to you

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    How important is sharpness to you

    I have been wrestling with this question ever since I've been shooting and even more so since moving up to MF. When shooting models, landscapes, etc. I invariably zoom in to count the eyelashes, see the ant on the flower, count the leaves... whatever. I don't always nail the focus (I know, hard to believe) and when doing my selections find myself torn between the sharper image and the one that might have a better overall look. I'm starting to think that this obsession with sharpness on my part is a limitation in my thinking, a carryover from 35mm perhaps or that I'm stuck on the WOW factor of mega resolution backs. When I see some of the low contrast, less than razor sharp images posted here (which I like quite a bit) I get the feeling that those shooters have come to grips with this and made their choice. I'm probably just rambling but I gotta believe I'm not the only one who's dealing with this.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    David,

    I too am a pixel peeper and want to have everything sharp. However, I did reconcile with myself that sharpness is really relative to final print size. Some of my 39MP Hassy files have slight motion and therefore are not critically sharp either. But they print, as if they were perfect at 13" x 19". So in that case, I'm happy.

    I guess I would say, it really depends on the specific subject AND final output intent/size. For some images, I have to go with critically sharp and for others I much prefer the better composition/emotion/etc....

    Just my $.02.

    Ray

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    Ray, I don't print all that many 13x19 (when I do I love pictorico) so it's good to know that some of these images will still print sharper than they look on screen.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    While I try to get the image as sharp as possible (unless there is a reason not to), I would definitely go for the better image/expression/composition than the one that was sharper. There is, of course, a spectrum of acceptable sharpness that will change for different people and in different situations.

    For example, I took these shots:




    Both of those shots are ok on the web, but when in prints over 8x10, they show a lot of softness. I would have preferred that they were sharper, but I would rather have a soft image than no image at all.

    Mostly, it is about judgement. Some images are fine (or even better) soft, others really suffer. I don't see this as a license to just make a bunch of blurry, soft images out of laziness or sloppy technique, however.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    David, I think that you have described an element of personal taste in regards to photography and the art there of. For my material, I require a certain level of sharpness to be satisfied before considering the image a "keeper". If I miss the focus, or there is noticeable camera shake shown, I toss it. However, not being one who felt it financially practical to pursue the best glass (such as Zeiss or Leica) on my Canon gear I have had to accept certain limits. In other words, if I missed the shot I chastise myself and toss it, if I did my part and the gear doesn't allow for printing (without a ton of post) to larger than 12x18 or 16x24 then I feel I did my part.

    This is a big reason why I am giving MF a spin. You said sharpness, but for me I consider both sharpness and detail. I like 16x24 (for FF DSLR) as my "standard" print size and that requires a sharp file in order to look well executed in most cases. Of course there are images that actually look much better without the sharpness, but I don't like that softness to be due to my incompetence at the time of the shot.

    But to clarify, if I take a street portrait and the subject's eyes are not sharp, but the tip of the nose is or the ear, etc., it's a flub and goes in the bin.

    Edit to add: Stuart and I simul-posted and I was making no reference to his street shot when I mentioned a "street portrait" in my post. It was not there when I began my post.
    Last edited by Dale Allyn; 28th June 2008 at 10:15. Reason: typo

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    David,

    It sounds like you are in need of some clients....

    If you are shooting to please yourself, then only you can answer the questions about what you like and don't like, and what is sharp enough.

    If you are looking for others to judge your work, then it can range all over the board, and it will drive you crazy, since you can never make anything objective from a collection of subjective judgements (unless it is truly unanimous).

    So, if the images are for a purpose other than for yourself, then you simply have to do what it takes to satisfy the client, regardless of what you may think is "better"...if you need their business of course.

    If it is for yourself, and you know what you like, then nothing else matters.
    (And if it is for yourself, and you don't know what you like and you are lost in your own ability to judge, then you may have some genuine issues.)

    David

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    Quote Originally Posted by Dale Allyn View Post
    Edit to add: Stuart and I simul-posted and I was making no reference to his street shot when I mentioned a "street portrait" in my post. It was not there when I began my post.
    HOW DARE YOU SIR?!?



    I am totally kidding. I took no offense. Had it been more of a straight-on portrait, I would have discarded it as well, but for me this photo is more about the totality of the city in the rain than about the cop alone...a little soft is ok for me in this particular case.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    If sharpness were the absolute criteria ... then I'd shoot everything at f/8 on a sandbagged tripod with a remote release.

    But I don't, so it isn't the absolute.

    Personally, I think Pixel Peeping and it's evil twin, an unhealthy obsession with sharpness, has stifled more than one potentially good or great photographer. Sometimes I think it can often be a refuge from emotional connections and ideas ... peopled by those in fear of criticism for deviating from the norm or expectations of those similarly afflicted.

    I understand commercial expectations for stuff like product photography, and go to great lengths to acquire tack sharp images front to back ... if it's called for and expected. Or if hyper-realism is your bag, then it better be sharp.

    I tend to think of it as similar to painting just as the Impressionist were emerging. A bunch of overly structured technicians grousing about the "fuzzy" images of the new wave artists.

    Then there are truly great photographers that make an emotionally evocative point of un-sharpness ... like one of my personal favorites: Sarah Moon.

    http://www.r-g-m.net/sarah_moon

    Or another personal favorite: Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

    http://www.stephendaitergallery.com/...rtworkID=1359#

    Even with those who do shoot so called "sharp" images, it's not the thing you take note of at all. It just is. I doubt it is at the forefront of their photographic journey.

    LOL!

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    I think that a few of us are saying essentially the same thing. I like Marc's additional qualifier as the topic pertains to commercial work. Delivering soft images, if not part of the campaign's design, is not good form. But some photographic images actually benefit (artistically, if you will) by not being tack-sharp. Pixel peeping has its place, but it can stifle creativity as well. One could add noise or grain to the discussion as well, for that matter.

    If the image is one in which much of the appreciation for it is fueled by the sharp details, then of course it must be presented in this way. But if an image has substance that it conveys such as emotion, absolute timing of a captured situation, or other non-technical element, then sharpness may be of the least concern.

    Too often, in my opinion, composition is not given the same attention (in terms of desire to improve, etc.) as is the pursuit of better optics, sharper images, etc.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Richardson View Post
    HOW DARE YOU SIR?!?



    I am totally kidding. I took no offense. Had it been more of a straight-on portrait, I would have discarded it as well, but for me this photo is more about the totality of the city in the rain than about the cop alone...a little soft is ok for me in this particular case.
    HAHA! It's all good, Stuart. I like your shot, and I agree that it works with the sort of misty look which goes with the rainy scene.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    I guess it is all what you shoot. For many macro or landscape images, the sharpness does count. I do admit I kind of get obsessed too at times. It is more of a quantitative measure vs an artistic one so I guess many people use this because it is a more objective (vs subjective) parameter.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    Quote Originally Posted by Dale Allyn View Post
    Too often, in my opinion, composition is not given the same attention (in terms of desire to improve, etc.) as is the pursuit of better optics, sharper images, etc.
    Oh, definitely! Pixel peeping a crappy photo isn't really going to get you anywhere. So often (in my own photos as well), the photo will be so literal and straightforward as to be totally boring. This is why landscape photography in particular can be so difficult. You set up everything perfectly, you are shooting 6x7, 4x5 or 39mp, optimum aperture, you can count the blades of grass a mile away and still it can elicit a big "so what?". It is not usually enough to just be there. There has to be something you have to say....if you have nothing to say, the image will be boring.

    I find that Iceland is difficult for this, because when I live there I am always out taking landscape photos since the location is so breathtaking, but 99% are just ho hum. They may look interesting to someone who has never been there, but to a local or someone who is familiar with it, it will be just like, "oh yeah, that's ______ alright!", when you are really looking for, "Wow, I never noticed _______ that way!"

    Sorry for the convoluted post, but this idea of sharpness is intimately tied to growth as a photographer...just engaging the issue demonstrates that you (in general, not anyone specifically) are confronting photography in a more artistically mature way.


    P.S. Marc, thank you for those links. I love those photos! One of Sarah Moon's looks like it was taken on the naberezhnaya in Vladivostok...I wonder if she went there...And Meatyard...wow, amazing photos, but I can't get over his name!

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Richardson View Post
    Oh, definitely! Pixel peeping a crappy photo isn't really going to get you anywhere. So often (in my own photos as well), the photo will be so literal and straightforward as to be totally boring. This is why landscape photography in particular can be so difficult. You set up everything perfectly, you are shooting 6x7, 4x5 or 39mp, optimum aperture, you can count the blades of grass a mile away and still it can elicit a big "so what?". It is not usually enough to just be there. There has to be something you have to say....if you have nothing to say, the image will be boring.

    I find that Iceland is difficult for this, because when I live there I am always out taking landscape photos since the location is so breathtaking, but 99% are just ho hum. They may look interesting to someone who has never been there, but to a local or someone who is familiar with it, it will be just like, "oh yeah, that's ______ alright!", when you are really looking for, "Wow, I never noticed _______ that way!"

    Sorry for the convoluted post, but this idea of sharpness is intimately tied to growth as a photographer...just engaging the issue demonstrates that you (in general, not anyone specifically) are confronting photography in a more artistically mature way.


    P.S. Marc, thank you for those links. I love those photos! One of Sarah Moon's looks like it was taken on the naberezhnaya in Vladivostok...I wonder if she went there...And Meatyard...wow, amazing photos, but I can't get over his name!
    Yeah Stuart, "Meatyard" isn't a name easily forgotten : -) I have 2 of his books.

    Sarah Moon has been a consistent favorite of mine since my early days in advertising. As a young art director I was taken by her fashion images for Celanese. She was a model who trekked to the other side of the camera ... and the first woman to shoot a Pirelli Calendar (1972). She's older than me, and I'm as old as dirt ... so to see her still stroking with images that stun and delight the eye gives one hope : -)

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    These responses are great guys... all of them, and they are appreciated. Stuart, the image of the policeman in the rain is right on point. It's a great image and any softness doesn't detract from that. Dale, your point about emotional content and composition is well taken. Marc, your comment about pixel peeping stifling one's development is exactly what I'm feeling. To the other David K... clients would be nice but until they materialize then I'm primarily shooting for myself. I know what I like (and from the stuff I post, you know what I like too ). Mark, I suspect you and I share a bit of a compulsion for perfection. Getting over it is what I'm working on and why I posed the question.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    Marc, wasn't aware of Sarah Moon's images... thanks for pointing them out, they are inspiring.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    Quote Originally Posted by fotografz View Post
    If sharpness were the absolute criteria ... then I'd shoot everything at f/8 on a sandbagged tripod with a remote release.

    But I don't, so it isn't the absolute.

    Personally, I think Pixel Peeping and it's evil twin, an unhealthy obsession with sharpness, has stifled more than one potentially good or great photographer. Sometimes I think it can often be a refuge from emotional connections and ideas ... peopled by those in fear of criticism for deviating from the norm or expectations of those similarly afflicted.




    I tend to think of it as similar to painting just as the Impressionist were emerging. A bunch of overly structured technicians grousing about the "fuzzy" images of the new wave artists.

    Then there are truly great photographers that make an emotionally evocative point of un-sharpness ... like one of my personal favorites: Sarah Moon.

    http://www.r-g-m.net/sarah_moon

    Or another personal favorite: Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

    http://www.stephendaitergallery.com/...rtworkID=1359#

    Even with those who do shoot so called "sharp" images, it's not the thing you take note of at all. It just is. I doubt it is at the forefront of their photographic journey.

    LOL!
    BRILLIANT FOTOGRAFZ....... SO WELL SAID....BRAVO

    Thanx for turning me on to some FAB photographers /Moon & Eugene
    Best-H

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    Quote Originally Posted by David K View Post
    These responses are great guys... all of them, and they are appreciated. Stuart, the image of the policeman in the rain is right on point. It's a great image and any softness doesn't detract from that. Dale, your point about emotional content and composition is well taken. Marc, your comment about pixel peeping stifling one's development is exactly what I'm feeling. To the other David K... clients would be nice but until they materialize then I'm primarily shooting for myself. I know what I like (and from the stuff I post, you know what I like too ). Mark, I suspect you and I share a bit of a compulsion for perfection. Getting over it is what I'm working on and why I posed the question.
    David, for portraits or any form of artistic expression, sharpness is generally not a primary concern. On the other hand, sharpness can be absolutely critical in the more technical forms of photography such as aerial, scientific documentation, astronomy, forensics, authentication, reproduction, military, industrial, etc. So, again, it depends on what you shoot and who is the judge. (When NASA contracted Hasselblad for their lens needs, you can bet that lens sharpness was a primary concern, among other very important things of course).

    I also think you should not give up on your quest for "perfection". It is just this quest that will push your abilities to new levels. Sometimes, the rate of information (such as pixel peeping data) can be overwhelming, and your mind will "bottleneck" in its own attempt to stifle the influx of data that it cannot process. In this case, you should consider taking a break instead....but don't give up on your quest, just refine it.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    David, I'd agree that sharpness is not essential to a good portrait, and artistic expression is exactly that, so there's no clear cut right or wrong in that regard. Irakly's posts seem to me a good example of artistic expression and it would certainly appear that critical sharpness does not factor in highly for him. One of the things that I've noticed with shooting MF is that the difference between a critically sharp capture (let's say a model shot because I do a bunch of those) and one that's just off a touch, can be huge, i.e. the shot with the nailed focus just jumps off the screen (for lack of a better way of saying this) while the one that's off a tad can be very good but doesn't have near the pop. I don't find that to be the case with 35mm. Our friend, Son, suggests that this is a function of the size of the images (which magnifies both good and bad) and that may well be true, and, as pointed out above, they may both print sharply. I'm not planning on lowering my standards... just redefining them.

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    Re: How important is sharpness to you

    David, the focus can be just as critical in 35mm, and is roughly proportional to the dof of the shot. In fact, Son and I were testing several Contax 85/1.2 lenses for wide open sharpness variation, and found that just the slightest movement of the focusing ring could make a huge difference. I think that in general the focusing in medium format appears to be more critical since the dof is in general shallower then the equivalent 35mm format fov.

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