Technically Perfect vs. Artistic Photos

When I picked up photography, I had no clue what I was doing. I’d never taken a class so I simply aimed and fired my camera, hoping that I was capturing the shot I had in my head.

Milford Sound on New Zealand's South Island

Back in my film days & before I learned how to work my camera, I pointed my lens and clicked the shutter, hoping the image would turn out OK. (I took this photo in Milford Sound on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a scan of a 4×6″ print, but it looks decent.)

Sometimes this “spray and pray” method worked out okay for me. But more often than not, I’d be checking out my images later (since it was film) and wonder what the hell I was trying to capture. It was disappointing and definitely not a good way to go.

When you’re first diving into photography, don’t do what I did and just hope for the best. It’s better to start with the basics and it’s crucial to know how all the camera’s components work together to create what would be considered a technically perfect image.

So, what exactly is a technically perfect image?

Technically Perfect Images

In the most basic sense, a technically perfect image is one that has the proper exposure.

Dog photo with "correct" exposure & composition

This photo has what I’d consider to be “correct” exposure & composition (no blown-out highlights or shadows). It’s decent but there’s nothing special about it.

The problem is I think some photographers put far too much effort into creating a technically-perfect image that they completely neglect the art of the image. I’d consider these photographers to be more scientist than artist. And that’s ok, but I think it’s important to push yourself beyond the “technically perfect.”

From Taking to Making Images

As I researched how to “properly” compose and expose an image, I came across a lot of photographs that were considered “technically perfect” but had zero appeal. Who really cares if an image is “technically” perfect if it’s just plain boring?

I understand that it’s easy to get hung up on camera settings and gear options because there’s seemingly an infinite amount of possibilities. But after you understand the basics, I think it’s far more important to start shooting what is appealing to you, regardless of whether it would be considered “technically” right. If you want to overexpose the background, do it. If you want intentional blur, go for it.

Eventually, you’ll be making images as opposed to simply taking images (and yes, there is a difference).

A more artistic photo of dogs with blown-out highlights and lens flare.

This photo has lens flare and some blown-out highlights, but I find the image more interesting than the other more “technically perfect” image. Of course, it’s a matter of preference and taste as to which is “better.”

Art is Personal & Unique

I really believe it’s the art behind the image that makes each photographer unique, not their ability to shoot a perfectly-exposed image. Anyone can do that if they read all the manuals and follow the formulas (loosely speaking, of course. There are not precise formulas for photography since the same exposure can be achieved using different settings). But in the end, it’s your style that will set you apart faster than your ability to capture the most theoretically-ideal image.

So yes, absolutely take the time you need to study the essentials of photography. You need to know what the shutter and aperture affect and how ISO comes into play. But don’t get so bogged down into thinking you need a technically perfect image every time.

Instead, spend time honing your style. Push your creative limits and discover how it is you like to shoot.

The most important thing to you as a photographer is knowing how to capture the shot you want. Sometimes it’ll be technically perfect, sometimes it won’t. When you don’t have a lot of gear to work with, there will be times when you’re not able to capture a well-exposed image without having more gear or without sacrificing something, but that’s just part of learning to work with what you have.

So learn the essentials of photography, practice practice practice, and then do what you like and forget the rest.

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