Image Quality versus Vision Quality

I’ve been pointing a camera at stuff for more years than I can remember.  I’ve never really known why and until recently (maybe just the past few years), I’ve never really understood the technical side of photography.  Learning to see light, understanding how that effects aperture, shutter speed and depth of field were all things that didn’t come easy to me.  Thanks to digital photography, digital darkrooms and the instant gratification of the LCD, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years.

Since the coming of age of the digital era I got immediately on-board, and have never looked back.  But I, like so many others, got caught up in the rush for bigger, better and newer.  From 1960 to 1970 I had one camera.  From 1970 to 1999 I had two cameras (still have one of them).  From 2000 to now, I’ve had more cameras than I can actually remember.  I’ve bought and sold no less than a dozen.


Over the period of time that I’ve shot digital, I’ve made images that number in the high tens of thousands.  And over that same time what I spent my eye, my time and my thought process on was the quality of the images I was taking to insure, sharpness, dynamic range, color, and pixel peeped until I went cross eyed.  Did I get some good images; yes. However the capturing of stories, interesting photos and pictures that had my vision behind them got lost to the quality of the image that the camera could make.  That’s what this post is about; keeping in touch with my vision, and the story I want to tell in pictures.  I want to let go of the need to constantly upgrade to the next bigger, better and newer camera.  I would rather take one good picture of something that tells a story and has some interest rather than 10,000 really sharp, well detailed photo’s with great dynamic range; and perfect color reproduction but say nothing.

Image quality versus Vision quality is probably a touchy subject for most of us.   I’ve been struggling with it for years and I have to say without some technical understanding of the photographic equipment your using, it’s limitations as well as its capabilities and some understanding of the light you see; you will still not be able to achieve what you want in a photograph.  Having said that, without a clear understanding of your vision and what you are trying to say in your photograph; knowing the technical side of your equipment won’t help you get the image you want.  No matter how great your gear is and how well you know it, your camera can’t tell the story.

Since the late 1990’s when digital imaging came onto the scene, digital photography, specifically digital cameras have changed so much and so fast, that keeping up with the technology has become, for many, the main focus rather than photography as a creative art.

When shopping for a camera you hear terms like “Pro-Level”, “Pro-consumer-Level”, Consumer-Level” and “Point & Shoot” cameras.  How these cameras are defined changes so fast that you have to wonder if, by definition, they are what they say they are;  when Canon and Nikon first came out with their dSLR’s they were considered to be a “Pro-Level” digital camera.  Today some of the smallest, least expensive Point & Shoot cameras have way more technical power than the original Canon and Nikon dSLR’s dreamed of having.  I don’t remember exactly, but I think Nikon was quite proud of their dSLR being a 2 megapixel camera.  Whoa!  So by that standard does one of today’s Point & Shoot cameras become a professional camera.  I don’t think so.  But can you make an amazing, interesting and story telling photograph with it.  Yes.

Even cell phones with their built in cameras are capable of making pretty decent images.  Professional level super sharp, lots of dynamic range, no.  But can they tell a good story; capture an interesting moment; yes.  Todays digital media has us looking at cell phone video and images nearly everywhere you cast your gaze.

Many of todays photographers on the myriad of photo sharing web sites are more interested in the type of camera and which lens was used, how it was processed and what software was used; rather than enjoying the photograph for the interest that it holds, or the story that it tells.  Something like having an extraordinary meal and asking the chef for the types of cookware he used to create the dish.

My struggle is and always has been to take a good picture that captures a moment.  The shot that tells a little story, and has some interest for a viewer and most importantly; that means something to me.  Use your technical skill to master your camera but use your camera to master the moments.  When you take a family vacation, don’t pack the camera for when you get there; wear the camera while you’re packing.  Begin telling the story when the story begins and on a family vacation that’s when the packing starts.  Wear your camera everywhere, shopping, dinner out with friends, a walk; you’ll be surprised to find stories everywhere you and your camera go.

So the point I’ve been drilling home to myself is that bigger sensors and more megapixels don’t tell meaningful and interesting stories.  They do capture moments, they do have great dynamic range; however without a vision of your own, and an understanding of what that vision is,  it just doest seem necessary to keep chasing a bigger, newer, better camera.  And for me, smaller is better.  I like having my camera with me everywhere and one of the big dSLR’s just didn’t work for me anymore.

Instead of developing super huge, super sharp images; perhaps develop a vision and tell a story.  Maybe we don’t need the biggest and best; just an eye, some time and a desire to tell a story in a captured moment.

Thanks for reading.

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