Saturday, 12 June 2010

Raising the bar

Manila, June 2010

Some photos I've seen recently and some things I've read had me musing about the nature of the qualities and quality of a photograph.

What is a good photograph? And is a good one today, going to be a good one tomorrow? The thing that set me off have been some observations (mine and others') relating to digital making photography easy. For sure, compared the the days of film, more people can produce photos that are properly focussed, colour balanced and exposed. Objective measures of good. But is that good enough. I think not. now that we expect more from our cameras and sensors, so we (should) expect more from the final product. Not quite right isn't going to be acceptable.

But technical results aren't everything. Photography can be as much about content as execution. Not always but sometimes. Deliberately out of focus, or alternative exposures or grabbed shots without perfect composition can all pass muster. Maybe not as much as before - digital offering the opportunity to take many more exposures means many more chances to get things right. But there is still room for the artistically casual style.

The biggest benefit that I think digital is offering to the masses is a greater ability to precisely execute intent, which is an excellent measure of quality (but by no means the only one). And good photographers are, by inference, those who consistently achieve their intent in the final photographs. Intent is a broad church, and I think digital opens up a wider range of possible outcomes for intent than ever before. That can also make digital more demanding, the auto-everything approach won't cut it, and the ever increasingly complex devices that cameras are becoming can make it harder to find a way through the maze of controls.

Therein is the dilemma of quality photography. While auto cameras make it easier to achieve objectively measurable higher quality, that has placed higher demands, requiring a deeper understanding of the machine and the process to achieve good results on a relative scale - good may no longer be good enough.

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