The Aesthetics of Imperfection
Nikon introduced the latest iteration of their flagship SLR recently and is touting an amazing lack of noise at ISOs up to 204,800. Even if you do let a little noise creep in, you’re still able to tweak a couple of sliders in programs like Adobe Lightroom to try to clean up that noise. The latest upgrade to Lightroom 4 even allows you to paint noise reduction as a local adjustment.
The big question is, why?
I shoot for a variety of reasons, both personally and professionally, and lately I’ve been questioning my attitudes towards tweaking every photo into electronic perfection. Sure, I want a nice clean and crisp image for an actor’s headshot or a commercial photo, but more and more I find myself limiting the amount of post-processing work to a few simple changes to overcome the relative blandness of a digital sensor.
A digital camera sensor is just that when shooting RAW files; it is a pale representation of the scene you were trying to capture. Back in the old days, you had to make a decision about which film stock to choose before you shot your first frame, and there was something to be said for being happy with the end result with limited opportunities to change it. Now we have to create that look and feel after the fact, and it’s something akin to standing in front of a buffet table; there’s a lot to choose from, and you’re probably going to feel bloated and awkward when you’re done.
The other night I spent a few hours working on some new presets that give a faded, grainy, somewhat softer look and feel to my images. It doesn’t pull the detail out of every shadow, or reel in every blown highlight, but there’s a nostalgic quality to it that I just love. Going forward, I’ll likely be applying more film inspired presets to most of my personal images because memory is often warm, slightly faded, and something less than perfect. Before you go to town trying to eek out every bit of detail from your next image, think about what that image represents to you, and how to best evoke that feeling in the viewer. You might be surprised at how perfect an imperfect image can be.