Sharpness is overrated

Why I like unfocused photos

So much in photography is about sharpness, how many pixels the camera has and how fast the shutter speed is, what the aperture is and so on. Of course, it’s important but in my opinion that’s not what photography is about. Photography is about seeing. And you can share what you see with a photograph, sometimes what you see is better passed on with an unfocused photo. Like this one below.

Dawn at a chai shop in Karnataka where we made a stop for something to drink on our way to the Shiva Temple that I mentioned in a previous blog post.

Nothing in this photo is sharp, but you can still see that the man is looking at me, maybe he sees a potential customer in me or I interrupted him, he might not even be looking at me, you can see that the colour of the sky is not as dark as it is in the middle of the night and there’s a full moon in the sky above. I like it a lot. No need to go into further analysis of the photo, which I’m not capable of, but it brings me back to that moment when we had a day off from our yoga practice because it was a moon day. Ironically, we were supposed to take rest on moon days but I don’t really consider getting up in the middle of the night, driving for hours, to climb a mountain at sunrise to be “taking rest”.

Anyways. “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” said Ansel Adams. That quote has been annoying me for years because I don’t agree, you see the photograph and sometimes you don’t even see it the moment you’re taking it, you might see it when you’re editing it or even discover there’s something in it years later. To some extent you can “make it”, or create it, with lights and how you’re placing your subjects, but still, first you have to see the photo in your head.

But I was going to write about sharp and focused images, so moving on to some of the most inspiring photos I’ve seen. The ones Saul Leiter saw and took.

My, sort of, sharp photo of one of Saul Leiters blurry photos from the book “Retrospektive Saul Leiter” published by Kehrer Verlag

As you can see, that photo is not what is considered to be a focused photo. If it was a review of a camera lens, the lens would get no stars. But, it makes me curious because it leaves something to my imagination. The woman looks happy, why? Is she smiling at the photographer or did something happen on the street? Or maybe she remembers something that made her happy. The photograph is open for interpretations, like a book or a movie with an open ending where you as a viewer make up the ending and the meaning together with the filmmaker or writer. In the photo you can decide for yourself what’s happening the moment it was taken. And for me, that’s so much easier to do if everything is not super sharp.


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