If you spend enough time on forums,
the criticism of blurry Leica pictures
will always come up. As the debate
goes, no one will publish an out of focus
picture. Is this really true?
This weekend, as I left the house, my eye caught a copy of the NY Times. Abandoned copies of the Times sit in our lobby like refugees. Its a strange blip of information to see on a daily basis. From a passing distance, I enjoy the very best and the colossal failures that grace the Times. This weekend was a picture of woman in front of a Burmese temple, or I guess I should say Myanmar (pro-nounced Mee-an-mar). I got my pronuciation from the 80′s film Top Gun, clearly a bad source for accurate information on South East Asia.
Either way, the woman in the picture was blurry. The obvious effect of a longer exposure, possibly caused by a photographer avoiding the high ISO if his camera. In the forum debates about Leica’s terrible high ISO performance Nikon and Canon users typically remind the Leica audience that professionals need high iso, Leica’s are over priced, and artistic blur is the realm of amateurs.
This is a half truth, as are many things that consume forums. For one, this picture indeed made the cover of the travel section in the NY Times. Not a bad credential that most photographers would love to have (myself included). What actually bothers me more is the fact that the photographer has an entire website filled with people shot from the back. Coincidentally I have an article coming out tomorrow about shooting people from the front. In most cases, pictures from the back do not work and give the preception that the photographer failed to anticipate the shot. The “back shot” often looks like an attempt to salvage a missed moment. But more on that later.
Fuzz, Blur, & Character
Why does a blurry shot work sometimes and not work others? Well usually for a blurry or soft picture to work, everything else needs to be exceptionally strong. The composition, the figure to ground, the subject, the colors ect. The second we loose focus, we loose information. Which means, what ever is left in the shot better work double time for the picture to be a success.
The other day, during a One-on-One session with a photographer, he said, “Yeah, you never do say anything about focus, why?” The reason I pay little attention to focus in critiques is that focus is one of the few aspects of photography that can be automated. If a camera can be programmed to get it right, its not a skill. Composition, however is a much bigger challenge. Sharp pictures spend more time masking poor photography than they do delivering good pictures.
In this case the picture was not bad. The woman, who is plunked in the middle of the frame reads against the background of the temples and water. I am bothered that he cut off her feet. We don’t need that much sky, but we would be in much better shape if we had her feet. In terms of communicating, it is successful. We “get it.” Even as I was quickly walking out the door the picture was clear enough to say “Look at me I am exotic Myanmar.” The most interesting thing to me was really that a picture, which seems like it could have been sharp was not. And it was published. The blur, in this case, hardly detracted from the shot. What do you think of the picture?
And tomorrow I will publish the article about photographing people from the front.