#899. What is the appeal of blurry photographs?

By pascaljappy | Art & Creativity

Sep 06

Last week, my wife, daughter and I went out for an evening walk in a nearby seaside village that hosts night markets during the summer months. Having recently tested the Hassy X1D on fast action shooting, I wondered how it would fare in low light. Badly, is the answer. But what stuck with me most is that my blurry photographs appealed to me far more than the sharp ones. Interesting …

 
 

The topic is interesting to me for 3 reasons:

  1. I’m short sighted and am used to seeing the world as a (slightly) blurry environment.
  2. I’m enjoying bokeh much more now that I have less of it. My previous system hinged around f/1.4 lenses, my current one maxes out at f/3.2. But I like the results better, as above (where I focused on the shadows on the ground).
  3. I’m deeply saddened to witness the dying of what should be a creative industry at the hands of a unilateral desire for sharpness. All those interesting cameras we’ve seen from adventurous manufacturers are disappearing because everyone seems so intent on capturing 20 sharp images per second of black cats on coal sacks in moonless nights. A tragic, and irreversible, cultural loss.
 
 

Ansel Adams famously said there’s nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a blurry concept. And I couldn’t agree more (hardly surprising a bias, considering his books mentored me through my early years).

But my question goes beyond this think before you focus advice by the grand daddy of modern photography. Is there anything specific to blurry photographs that appeal to (some of) us more deeply? Is there such a thing as a blurry image of a sharp concept, that nothing is better than, as a contrapositive proposition to St Ansel’s frustrated quote?

 
 

Take the portrait above and the one above it, for instance. So yeah, sure I can count hairs in the nostril of the Potter, but the girl is so much more interesting to me. Yes, she looks prettier ๐Ÿ˜‰ But there’s more to it than that.

A lot more is left to the imagination, for a start. Having (poorly) focused on the background, I panned to keep her motion-free but out of focus blurred. This superimposes two different types of blurs (and I’d have preferred the sailboats to be in perfect focus for this effect) which works so well to trigger questions in the viewer’s mind.

Making the viewer’s imagination work is one aspect of photography that captivates. Mysterious photographs are fascinating to many observers. Blur is one way of creating mystery.

 
 

But there’s more to it. The photograph above uses exposure to create a bit of mystery, hiding a lot of details to focus the gaze on the potter and his work. The background was a mess.

For an exhibition, I’d crop the top. But it’s a good photograph with one diagonal formed by the man’s gaze and tools, and the other by the right-to-left light.

Yet, I still prefer the one below. To me, it just feels more human (the focus blur here is totally unintentional, ahem ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

 
 

This may be due to the fact that the photographs I prefer and have acquired over the years are all analog and slightly blurry, even from large format cameras. To me, the pixel sharpness of digital simply hurts the aesthetics of many (not all) photographs. They often look thin and bodyless. Whereas film images feel full bodied, in comparison.

But that doesn’t explain it all and the psychology of vision is probably better suited to come to my rescue. Our eye has high resolution over a very small patch of the retina and the rest is set up for fast, low-resolution, pattern recognition. We were programmed the hard way to survive sabre-tooth tiger attacks by detecting movements in our peripheral vision very quickly. Had the resolution been high everywhere in our eyes, the brain would have been much slower to respond (like computers faced with large files). Instead, our peripheral vision has super low-res but is hard-wired to recongnise patterns such as traight lines, some curves … The brain does very little work to identify a line in the corner of a scene.

 
 

This fact was used by Monet and his art-kin to create very vibrant and dynamic images. Highly detailed classical paintings force you to explore a scene bit by bit because there is fine detail everywhere. A bit like Gursky today. Monet used very broad strokes (of generally low contrast flashy colour) in comparison, so that what the high-res part of the eye sees might appear less detailed, but the rest of the painting almost comes alive with actual movement, because of how the peripheral vision reads it. I’m very partial to that effect and that’s probably why blurry images (seen at the right distance) have that exciting impact on me.

There’s a sort of spiral movement to the flower photograph above which somewhat makes it come alive but think how utterly forensic and boring this would be, if it was completely sharp. Yes, there’s a sharp flower for “anchoring” (ie a point of departure for exploring the image) but the spiral action and 3D happens in the blurry background. And nowhere is the photo completely sharp.

With modern cameras and lenses, bokeh is our only escape from the boring tirany of total frame sharpness. The various amounts (quantiy) and flavours (quality) of bokeh we, amateur photographers, often seek has given rise to a healthy cottage indsutry that seems to paradoxically thrive in a sharpness-driven market. To me, that’s proof that, although our “rational” brains are slaves to FOMO and have become addicted to resolution specs, our artistic side, is still very much in tune with the beauty of unsharp things.

 
(c) Sateen Prion
 

Many artists have explored blur. Gerhard Richter, for instance, has blurred many paintings. Philip barlow, below, does the same for different reasons. He explains “my depiction of the โ€˜seenโ€™ landscape is simply a vehicle through which I navigate territory of another nature. A landscape less ordinary; where the line between the physical and the spiritual realm has seemingly been removed”. I’m not entirely sure how spiritual those sexy bodies make me feel, but I love how the vibrant light, the shadows and the “specular” highlights on the sea look.

The bokeh imitation will feel gimmicky to some, I prefer to think of this image as a dream or memory, where people and nature almost turn into archetypes. The blur simplifies the scene and lets emotions overthrow the mental king inside our brain. We, viewers, can take control of this image and project names, faces and more onto the various persons and elements of this scene. In a way, the painting acts as an evocative canvas for us to create a personal story from. It would be completely trivial and uninsteresting as a sharp image, save for a depiction of holliday scenes a la Massimo Vitali.

 
(c) Philip Barlow
 

Even more interesting to me are Hiroshi Sugimoto’s blurred architectural photographs in which he depicts famous monuments as they might have appeared in the architect’s mind, before they existed. In the case of the photograph below, you could argue it’s also how we collectively remember the towers.

 
(c) Hiroshi Sugimoto
 

There’s probably no single best explanation for why so many photographers enjoy blur (the main resistance against this being found in the ranks of landscape togs). But it’s fact that global sharpness enforces a bit-by-bit analysis of the photograph (from close up, at least) that feels very static, ร  la Poussin. And there’s empirical evidence that most of us have a blur-oriented lens (or more) in our arsenal. And let’s not even get into long exposure, which I dislike but does constitute a category of blur.

Our global reluctance about blurry photographs probably has to do with the fact that they have to be intelligently composed to communicate that story core the viewer can then fill in whith personal detail. In many ways, they are far more unforgiving. It’s harder to create a compelling underlying structure than to impress (short term) by peppering oodles of sharp detail. But it’s so worth it to try.

So when the dwindling photographic powers that be have culturally propelled us togs back 400 years by relentlessly peddling sharpness-in-all-conditions crack, maybe some of us can remember that intimacy is an antidote to porn and that sharpness isn’t an artistic quality in itself ๐Ÿ™‚

 
 

All (my) photographs on this page were made with a Hassy X1D and XCD 90 lens, except for the flowers, for which an Otus 85 was used.

 

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  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Pascal,
    great article and interesting references!

    > “.. and that sharpness isnโ€™t an artistic quality in itself”
    Hear, hear!

    ( But occasionally it *can* be of importance – even towards the edges (also at larger apertures) – e.g. with sun on hoarfrost, snow and ice crystals.)

    I don’t (yet?) have any blurring lenses (except unsharpness wide open), but occasionally I experiment with defocusing.

    Only, I see one problem, with certain (low?) amounts of blurriness my eyes try to focus as if they expect sharpness and that is distracting and tiring. A sharp detail solves that but can draw too much attention.
    – – –

    > “.. (the main resistance against this being found in the ranks of landscape togs).”

    Not always,
    I once saw a thick small-coffee-table-sized book with colour photos from forests, but they were all very blurred, pine branches were just swathes of green. The photos lived by colour hues, light, shade and shadows, lovely photos!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Kristian, no we can’t generalize. Not all photographs need to be blurry and not all landscape photographers are adverse to blur. I just find it weird that we are very tolerant of very dark or very bright photographs but generally react negatively to blurry ones. Have we lost so much of our imagination that we need every detail of the story filled in for us? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Cheers

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Pascal, yess!
        You said that and I wasn’t trying to disagree, on the contrary.

        > “.. generally react negatively to blurry ones.”
        Perhaps because of the eyes trying to focus, as I have experienced?
        But possibly because of tradition – photography began as a tool to capture reality and was always [for no real reason] (not) a little controversial as art.”

        [ An old (i.e. before cameras were common) Swedish comic drawing shows a couple watching a street painter doing quick-and-cheap portraits:
        “When this business grows we won’t have to rely on photographers any more!”]

        And also, to some degree, because of lens makers heavily marketing ever sharper lenses…
        [ The only non-sharpness photo tradition I remember is that of slightly unsharp portrait lenses with a somewhat deeper almost-sharp DOF and smoother transition to unsharp. Photo magazines seem to have stopped discussing them (and soft filters) around the 1960s.]

        ( My first camera (Ikonta) had a 3 element 75mm/3.5 Zeiss Novar lens with a softness just right for many motifs, but my interest in winter photos made me enjoy the next with a Tessar 75mm/3.5 more. That tree photo book made me try to experiment, but with no good results yet. Switching to manual lenses possibly inspires..)
        – – –

        I’d love to see another post of yours with intentional blurr!
        ๐Ÿ™‚

        • pascaljappy says:

          Very interesting, Kristian.

          The thing with old lenses such as the one you describe is that they had few elements so were less corrected but also far more full of life. Today’s production is sharp and dull at the same time.

          The equation of photography with truth is one of the most infuriating aspects of our hobby. Even the defects from surveillance cameras are departures from reality. Put a human behind the lens, and framing, focusing choices, aperture choices, speed choices, exposure choices, PP choices are all lies. It wouldn’t be art if it was a mere depiction of reality.

          Ah well, I’ll go and take my pills to calm down, I guess ๐Ÿ˜€

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            Yes, Pascal, I stand corrected, ๐Ÿ™‚ .

            I should have said “..tool for photo journalism” instead of “…capture reality” (except that the pioneers originally probably thought of it as that?).
            ( I ought to be more careful with words…)

            Sorry if I made you long for that kind of pill, perhaps 3 (or 10 ?) deep breaths…

            Cheers! ๐Ÿ™‚

            Btw., I think it was a systematic use of controlled spherical abberation (at least according to some article I partly remember).

            • pascaljappy says:

              Oh, it wasn’t you, don’t worry ๐Ÿ˜€

              Yes, variable spherical aberration was how they made those soft focus lenses. I think that’s what I like so much in the “marco” shots made with the Otus 85. Ther’s just that bit of haze around everything shiny ๐Ÿ™‚

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          In the first half of last century, long before the development of lenses landed where it has today, standard practice was to smear vaseline over a lens to be used for taking portrait photographs, to give that “soft appearance”. That practice proved remarkably popular for portraits of more mature ladies – wrinkles and spots and facial fur vanished! – LONG before the invention of PhotoShop and other similar programs!
          I never did find out how they cleaned the vaseline off the lens. I seem to remember that some lenses weren’t coated in those days, so perhaps all it took was some detergent. Yikes! – doesn’t bear thinking about, with the cost of modern lenses!

          • pascaljappy says:

            Ha ha, you’re right. Can you imagine smearing our Otus lenses with lard? ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰ The advantage over vaseline is we could lick it off! We’d be the phoodies.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Bam! Spot on 100%….
    I remember our conversation about just this and you gave it a “title”…. evocative vs descriptive. My (less elegant :D) way to say was “letting space for the imagination”… couldn’t agree more with you.
    On many books on photography I have, quite a few have “famous”… blurry photos.
    I think that the “sharp” trend (I am guilty too, often) is so engraved in us these days that imagination takes a bad hit…
    Thanks for bringing this… much much needed topic!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Pascal. We are all guilty of it at times. This is what th eindustry wants and it’s all our enlightened media repeat for crumbs: sharpness, AF speed, giga pixels … It’s a bit nauseating and, frankly, an insult to the masters of the past. Imagine a book where all the details of every scene was described in high-res: “and Aragorn lifted his sword, and it was 28.3ยฐC with a 12 knot souteasterly wind and the tree next to him was 73.2 feet tall”. We’d shoot ourselves at page 10 ๐Ÿ˜‰ You are quite right, it’s all about space for the imagination.

  • Lani says:

    Fantastic article, Pascal!
    I’m so glad you have put my feelings/thoughts about blurry photographs into understandable text. Thank you!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Hate me for this, if you wish. I find this kind of discussion over analytical. I have a severe problem with articles that tell the young fry how to take a good photograph – because that results in a flood of photographs turning up in places like Instagram, all contributing nothing to the advancement of photography, because they are all following the advice they’ve been reading in articles written by learned photographers who are trying to be helpful.
    Following the herd becomes pastiche. Pastiche is terminally boring. Creativity comes from people with untamed minds, doing their own thing.
    Artists go to art schools. They learn the history of the stuff. How to handle the various materials. Basics like colour wheels, tonality, textures, patterns. Imitate the old masters. Have “togetherness” sessions where everyone sits around and paints – or draws – or throws paper clips.
    But it’s only AFTER that, when they KNOW all that, and do whatever they like, that any of them become “artists”.
    And the same goes for us. Rule of thirds? – crap – it’s just a helpful hint, and it works a lot of the time, so everyone worships it. And the same goes for focus, shutter speed, focal length, format, ISO and everything else.
    Bokeh? – last week I was reading an article by someone who finds bokeh done to death, is bored s***less by it, and has given it up.
    I’m glad to see you’re preaching “aesthetics” – it’s a welcome change from a lot of articles appearing in other places – and comes as no surprise in a forum like DS, where the main thrust is “better”, rather than “more of the same”.
    Do I personally have a problem with blur? – no – I am intrigued – show me more – BTW, for what it’s worth, I adore two of the photos in your post, Pascal – the first one in your ‘reason 3 – Iโ€™m deeply saddened” – and Philip Barlow’s seaside scene. Oh dear – they’re both blurry! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ah, well, if they imitate, and then move on to something more personal, what’s the harm? Instagram isn’t the best arean for personal thinking, granted, but that shouldn’t stop us ranting phogies from pointing them in a direction we think is valid ;^) Cheers

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    PS – having sent that – I am sitting here laughing my head off – and I’ll laugh all over again if it survives “moderation”, unaltered! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I so agree with you, Pascal! Being short-sighted too, I am very tolerant to blur in photos. In fact, itโ€™s the blur or non-sharp quality that often produces an image with a painterly feel – something that I seem to strive for….or at least thatโ€™s my excuse! When told that a particular image isnโ€™t sharp from front to back, Iโ€™ve been known to say โ€œthatโ€™s exactly what I was going forโ€ – even in landscapes.

  • Alan says:

    I’m adding ‘bokeh’ to my list of annoyingly popular words such as ‘fraught,’ ‘curated’ and such. The idea of soft backgrounds goes back a long while (Nikon’s 105/2.5 was the 35 mm classic) but the word for it seems to have recently appeared and become all the rage. I first heard it about two years ago. Maybe I’d just missed it. IMHO, artistic intentions aside, interesting content beats sharpness every time.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Alan,

      “interesting content beats sharpness every time”

      I have nothing to add and would like everyone to live by those words. Thanks, Pascal

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        You can of course have both – but missing “sharpness” is not a cardinal sin when you have “interesting content” – while the opposite is quite pointless.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    I just shifted from my 3″ (*very* pocketable) to my 7″ (now recharged) to get a better look at your photos.

    Apart from your very apt illustrative photos, I especially love that girl photo (#2) and the flower spiral.
    – – –

    Rereading your text, this quote
    > ‘ “… through which I navigate territory of another nature. A landscape less ordinary; where the line between the physical and the spiritual realm has seemingly been removedโ€.’
    caught my attention again.

    ( Perhaps Alan’s true ending words (“..interesting content beats sharpness every time.”) made me pause there.)

    A favourite of mine who did that – but with totally different (and to me almost magical) techniques was van Gogh,
    as e.g. in
    https://c8.alamy.com/compfr/d34df0/vincent-van-gogh-pechers-en-fleurs-1888-huile-sur-toile-van-gogh-museum-amsterdam-pays-bas-le-postimpressionnisme-d34df0.jpg

    and, perhaps, even more in
    https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ce/c4/1c/cec41c3fd6b637de69b1f1fd7e788007.jpg

    • pascaljappy says:

      Well that’s the thing, Kristian. Painters are allowed artistic licence whereas photographers are always held to the truth. Musicians too.

      Can you imagine a reviewer of musical instruments writing something like “this guitar amp suffers from non-linearity in the mid range”. He’d be laughed out of the room. But that’s *all* our photography reviewers have to say about anything. Maybe we should collectively laught them out of the room ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Glad you like the girl and flowers. The photo of the girl has such an impact on me too, that it got me to write this post.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Pascal,
        yes, I can easily believe that that girl photo inspired you, it *does* have an impact!
        – – –

        Your reviewer parallell is most probably right!

        Music review is another thing, when a music critic hasn’t (not uncommon) “got” the music (or the interpretation), the result can be hilarious if he has tried to write as if he had… (and, sadly, nobody laughs him out).
        – * –

        Laugh them out?
        Yeah , Good idea !!
        But, well, they are a majority, at least now.
        Unless we are (now) a silent one – but we are probably too busy photographing…

        Then, maybe, we shouldn’t – they help create a market that keeps the prices lower, also of used gear with fewer “pickles” (thanks, seriously, Coasting!) and simpler lenses.
        ๐Ÿ™‚ .

        [ Btw., (while a large view of few pixels looks pixellated) a good view of too many often looks “picklelated”.. (because of the noise).]

        ( Perhaps – optimistic thought – they’ll die out when 100mpx at 100fps with eye C-AF and 8K video at 120 is the standard – wouldn’t the computer industry love that – and makes their comparisons even more meaningless. But possibly the quantum dot sensor or even only-diffraction optics will come first and give them new food?)

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          The guy who invented the sensor has invented a “better” one that apparently captures individual photons. Unfortunately he predicts it won’t reach us in our lifetimes – too expensive. Too expensive is usually the outcome from a limited production run – if there was no such thing as a car, and someone tried to make one, the cost would be prohibitive. Maybe some company will eventually put it into production and that as they say, will be that. No more arguments or discussions about pixels!
          I rather like pixels – they produce images that remind me of analogue film and its “grain”. I think the photon sensor would produce images that look too plastic & “picture postcard”.

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            Jean Pierre,,
            I certainly agree with your description of “too expensive”!

            > “No more arguments or discussions about pixels!”

            Oh yes, there’ll still be pixels with similar problems somewhere in the chain to final output. Unless the screen or print has the same dot distribution as the sensor and all the electronics can handle single dots – which I doubt will ever happen.
            ( But that’s what we had in the darkroom!)

            > “… produce images that look too plastic & โ€œpicture postcardโ€.”

            Well, I’m more hopeful, but time will tell, and it would – or will – take quite some time…

            It would depend on the wavelength selection by the sensor dots (i.e. their chemistry), both the chosen values and the precision would probably be (rather) sub-optimal in the first generations.
            ( Similar to the problem of finding the right
            colours and density for a Bayer filter.)

            Once (and if) that gets better the final look will depend more on the readout to digital conversion, the RAW converter and on the subsequent DAC in PPing + printing (just like today).

            ( Both sensor and readout noise might have a different character but already some of today’s PP programs can transforn noise character.)

            If the result *then* looks “too plastic & โ€œpicture postcardโ€.”, I think it would be more because of marketing and fashion – like with some of today’s (or perhaps yesterday’s) beginner’s digicam’s SOOC Jpegs.

            And if the read-out circuitry can be adapted that way, those Qdots may offer a more random “pixel” distribution instead of a regular one and so bring back some of *that* film look. Provided printers & screens follow suit… probably not in my time!
            – * –

            And in the end, whether we use film or a Bayer, Trans, Foveon or some future sensor, so long as it’s good enough for our motifs and output medium, it’s only and totally up to us what we do with it, and how!

  • Mike Yeats says:

    I have long held the view that photos these days are too sharp and sometimes have too much detail and I think that some photos with blur are lovely, for example the beach scene above and the flower, it works really well for both of them.
    It certainly has its place, I have taken photos at the dancing after a wedding where it works well giving a sense of movement and vitality. Robert Capa’s D-day landing photos gain something by being blurred though I am sure he did not do it for artistic merit. However, I would not be happy if my holiday or wedding photos were blurred. Mike

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Mike, I think when you want to document something like holidays, you want sharp images. But of you’re going to something more evocative, blur can have its use. To me, that’s one of the problems today. We are taught and equiped to document, not interpret. Sony send out newsletter where they specifically talk about content creation, not photography. Which is fine, but maybe it would be nice to leave a little space for those with more artistic intentions.

  • Michael Fleischer says:

    These selectively blurred images reminds me of childhood days – just before surrendering content
    and in trust to sleep…blurry images flowing by as a last sunset glow!
    Like butterflies; present, detailed and yet evasively irregular – unpredictable in their flight – and then, suddenly gone!

    The flower picture to me is stunningly haunting…seen/unseen!

    Cheers
    Michael.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Michael, thanks for the message. Glad you like the flower shot. I just love the look of that lens taken out of its design zone !

  • John Wilson says:

    Prophetic article Pascal.

    I was looking through some recent images this morning in prep. for the beginning of the print group season and really didn’t like what I saw … too punchy, too sharp, too hard edged. Desaturate and decontrast … WOW! Not exactly “blur” (which I have been known to dabble in) but a whole new universe of soft etherial effect.

    The camera now sees far more detail than the human eye and portrays the world as far sharper than the softer less saturated nature of reality. Maybe part of the attraction of the blurred images is that it pushes our vision back towards the way we actually see, not the way technology sees.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks John, that’s exactly my hunch. Or maybe we were raised with less sharpness and now appreciate a photograph that’s not so etched. Hope we can get to see some of your new photographs ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I think one cannot generalize. Sometimes blurry expressions make for the most beautiful images. Sometimes not. On a different note, I am happy to have found your blog. Lots of interesting read. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Otto, thank you for your message. I’m very happy you find the blog useful ๐Ÿ™‚
      You’re right of course. I’m not advocating for systematic blur. Only saying that we should systematically consider that blurry photographs are inferior. And I’d like to analyse when a photograph works blurred and when it doesn’t ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Sean says:

    Pascal: Yes, an image does not have to be sharply focussed, in a technical sense, to deliver. A sharper image is not better if it fails on its delivery – it simply becomes a featureless time and resource waste. An image can be sharp in its intent, without requiring the imposition of the latest and greatest ‘smarts’ marketed in an avalanche of optical knowhow.

    It’s the ‘quintessence’ of what an author sees, and how that is revealed in a finished image, that matters – a sensitively revealed aesthetic delivered via a less sharp, but more organic image.

    I’m sure there are many instances in the history of photography where an authors ability to distill and reveal the essential ‘quintessence’ through an insightful practiced vision, not through procurement of the latest whiz-bang gear. A look back, for me at least, sees some notable mentions: Evans, Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, Lorraine and Weston – and they certainly delivered fine work on ‘quintessence’, whilst a look forward references some contemporary authors, in your articulate and clarifying writing above.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Yes, these guys must have used what was considered the best gear of the time. But, at that time, “best” was usually in a qualitative sense, not quantitative. Today, everything is qunatitative, because that’s easier to flog. Resolution, fps and ISO being at the top of the list.

  • Patrick says:

    Interesting conversations to read and learn. I confess that often I use Lightroom to “post-blur” in order to bring about the desired blur effect afterwards.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Patrick, that sounds like a good idea because it’s easier to find the right dose in PP than when you shoot. Plus you can probably apply the blur selectively. Enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I recently told Adrian I love one of his photos, and he’s been very reticent about it, since. The ONLY thing I would have done to it, if it was my shot, is a bit of sharpness or clarity – to make the boat in the bottom right corner of the shot show up more. It’s a tiny fraction of the whole picture, and for me at least, that would absolutely make the photo – I’d love a copy 3 feet wide, to hang on the wall. That said, the rest of the image is soft and absolutely enchanting because of it. Any attempt to punch it up would destroy its almost ethereal quality.

  • Coasting says:

    I have to agree the philosophy of camera makers seems aimed at megapickles and sharp sterile lenses.Being a Nikon fan boy of the old school the 2nd hand market has been a blessing.Pairing something like a D700 with a handful of old manual focus hell even D series or DC lens is my idea of heaven.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Megapickles ๐Ÿ˜€

      Yes, big, forgiving pixels and less corrected lenses often result in a very relaxed and alive look. But since you can only print miserly A2 with that combo, it is often scorned. Their loss, your win ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Jaap Veldman says:

    Pascal, you exactly hit the nail. And the result of the current trend is also that lenses are big, big, big these days.

  • Paul Perton says:

    Great post Pascal.

    Agreed 100%.

    While looking for a pic of my own to post in response, it occurred to me that there are innumerable kinds of blurred image; bokeh, sharp pic and blurry movement, all blur and any permutation in between. Where the criticality lives is in whether it has appeal, or is just a bad photograph being passed off as some kind of art.

    As my father once told me; Imagine a jazz musician playing avant garde music and missing a note. “Just wince and make it look like you meant it.”

    Good blur? Bad blur? I’ve got my serious face on like I mean it ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • pascaljappy says:

      Let’s survey blurs and their effects ๐Ÿ™‚ That would make a great dossier! Love the motion blur above, btw ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Leonard Norwitz says:

        To blur . . . or not to blur? This may not be the question, so much as the result. I suspect it takes considerable practice to arrive at a satisfying, artistic, intentional blur. A fascinating subject for dialogue and critique.

        Paul, I like the blurred girl as she leaves the frame, but the sharpness of the stairs takes the eye away from the subject. There’s a deliberateness to the image that belies the apparent wistful intent.

        As for Philip Barlow’s beach scene, I think it’s brilliant, wonderfully suggestive of heat. I would have been inclined to remove the two figures in the center background to set off the girls from the boys. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s towers strike me as pointless, absent context – which could be the subject of another conversation.

        Here are a few personal examples: The lack of clarity for the bus was merely the result of carelessness; the intent was otherwise, so I processed the image with a noirish touch. The composition is much too tight, though. The person walking across the sex shop appears to be both in motion and standing still, as if not being able to make up his mind (my afterthought); the shutter speed was not a deliberate choice. The dog was shot at waist level; he was moving too quickly for me to get the camera up to my eye; in any case, being closer to the ground makes for a smarter perspective; the blur, added to the lack of most of the dog, makes for a some curious mystery that would have not been evident if the shot was sharp. The landscape was taken from a moving train in good light; the background is the result of the reflections of the cabin interior; the exposure is f/8 @ shutter speed is 1/320; I have no idea why.

        I so rarely arrive at a keeper blur, that I can count the number on one hand – all accidents of one sort or another. (Note the qualifying word “keeper!”) Yet, as Pascal points out, such photos can be seductive beyond what sharpness achieves.




        • pascaljappy says:

          Intentional is the tough word in your comment, Leonard. Knowing how to use it, what amount … prior to clicking is probably very difficult.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Imagine a jazz musician playing avant garde music and missing a note. โ€œJust wince and make it look like you meant it.โ€
      Hmm – perhaps – depends on the calibre of the muso.
      One of the great pianists of the 20th century once told an interviewer, when the ‘great’ was in his 80s & still playing – “Including recordings and recitals, I practice or play over 90 hours a week. If I miss an hour a day, I notice it. If I miss two, my wife notices it. If I miss 3, the whole world notices it.” He then smiled, and said to the interviewer – “But when I make a mistake, I do it so beautifully that nobody cares!”
      And that’s the difference! Nobody’s perfect all of the time – but nobody sneers at the greats, either! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I opened this page today out of curiosity. Who, I wonder, will get to post #900 on Dear Susan? And what will it be about?

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