Photographic Aesthetics - Be Careful What You Ask For

2002_919_06.jpgWhat do I mean " be careful what you ask for"? Well it maybe exactly opposite of what you want. I teach this concept at my workshops in a variety of different ways but decided that today I would be very direct about it instead taking the long way around it. I have thought about this a lot because I have found that the words and concepts that are sought after by countless photographers in many many cases are exactly opposite of what they are trying to achieve aesthetically. Obviously experience will eventually reconcile these things but still a lot of words persist and continue to be the holy grails of photography even once that experience and reconciliation takes place.

Let me explain that a little bit more with some photographic holy grail goodness. With almost no exceptions photographers in general - especially enthusiastic newbies (anyone that isn't dead yet for the most part) what more better photographic holy grail stuff like more better sharper lenses. More better resolution. More better tonal differentiation. More better acutance. More better contrast. More better detail. When was the last time you "upgraded" anything seeking "less worse" rather than "more better"?

Hey I am all for "more better". In a lot of my personal aesthetic goals I happen to like "more better" of some of the "more better" stuff that I mentioned. Here is the rub - the collective subconscious union of "more" with "better" - especially with some of those things that I mentioned. Sharpness, tonal differentiation/separation, resolution, acutance, detail, etc. The list goes on and on. The problem is better is an aesthetic choice, more is a factual objective measurement. In many ways they can be at completely opposite ends of the spectrum for your particular  aesthetic goals for a given subject, project, phase of the moon, mood, or stage of life.

In many many cases less is more suited to a particular aesthetic set of goals. Really keep this in mind when making adjustments to your technique, material choices, process, equipment, etc. Heck even the choice of lens aperture can have a fairly large if subtle impact on you achieving an aesthetic goal. Even if the macro effect on depth of field is minor or non-existant keep in mind that there is no such thing as depth of field - just degrees of "acceptable" out of exact focus.

I guess my point is that sometimes when you are not achieving a particular aesthetic that you are looking for the automatic more=better is not the direction you want. More may actually be taking you in the opposite direction of where you want to go. Half of the issue is a lack of visual association with commonly used terminology. The other half is marketing.

How many people want a really really "hard" light source for a beauty shot? You would probably rather a really big "soft" "beauty dish". Talking about either of these without talking about lighting ratio is meaningless to achieving any particular aesthetic goal. I have attached a very specific example - we won't even need to look at these at any magnification just web size. The image at the top of the post is more better everything. It is a 2 foot diameter extremely expensive beauty dish at an optimum distance from the subject with no fill at all except some light bouncing off of very dark skin. I used a lens of fantastic resolution, sharpness, contrast, etc. The film was process in a developer that is capable of extreme acutance/sharpness and above all differentiates subtle tonal differences like nothing else. It was no surprise that it looks like it was carved out of metal. In a lot of cases I like that penetrating aesthetic and find that level of detail extremely interesting and "beautiful".

Our second image was shot was with an extremely hard light source about 6" in diameterDSC_4020.jpg from way way further away with 1:1 lighting ratio at an axis exactly in line with the lens axis. The lens was not particularly spectacular but fine. The medium it was shot on cannot differentiate tonal variations very well, it has 10 times worse resolution. No ability to differentiate subtle tonal differences from a relative point of view. Virtually no detail. Heck there is not one single objective parameter that was "better" but is not at all what you would expect based on the original question about what light source do you want? However it may have been exactly what you were trying to do aesthetically.

Okay enough already - I hope someone finds this useful at all.


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