“When you walked out you did me a favour
you made me see reality
that love is a bourgeois construct
It’s a blatant fallacy”
Pet Shop Boys ‘Love is a Bourgeois Construct’

Does a photograph have to be pin sharp and technically perfect to have merit?

I’ve seen debates on photography forums and comments from judges in photographic competitions such as “good effort, but it’s not sharp,” as they peer at every pixel. I’ll admit that I’ve done it myself. When sorting through batches of RAW files I have often dismissed an image just because it isn’t absolutely sharp, only to return to it later and think, “I actually quite like something about this…”

The photograph of Sky with cigar below is an example. I originally discarded it because her fingers holding the cigar aren’t sharp, for whatever reason (despite shooting at 1/125 of a second at f/6.3 with studio lighting). When I went back to the image and converted it to black and white I found myself liking it.

Treasured photographs

Many classic photographs of historical importance suffer from technical quality issues, yet the content is what makes them. Robert Capa’s D-Day images for example. As I get older I look at old photographs of my children growing up and family members no longer with us, and it’s more about the subject matter and the memories they bring than the technical quality of the image. A remembrance of things past. Do we delete photographic memories purely because they aren’t sharp to our eye? Yes, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that.

And so to the famous quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”

Vanity Fair asked Henri Cartier-Bresson to shoot a portrait of Helmut Newton for a portfolio by photographers older than 80… Since HCB’s hand wasn’t as steady as it used to be, some of the pictures were a bit fuzzy. “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept,” he told Newton. Newton laughed, “I thought that was just divine.”

Click the image to see it bigger and feel free to post comments and questions below. Thank you for reading.

'Sky with cigar' by Paul Jones

Categories: photographers, photography

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