What about the technical quality of a photo? How important is that? Do you have to have the sharpest lens, the best micro-contrast or the shortest depth of field? The internet is full of reviews and tips & tricks to achieve this. Often it gets down to money; more money equals better technical quality. My own experience over the years is that this often is true – but is it important, and in that case – why?
My philosophy in this subject is from an amateurs point of view – let go that I consider my self as a fairly advanced amateur. That said, not necessary the most talented amateur. I base my findings on years of own experience, but also from reading and watching other photographers and what they think. There are some classic quotes out there; “The best camera is the one you have with you” and “It is the photographer that make the picture and not the camera”. In some ways – actually many ways – they are true. But it all comes down to how you look at your own photography. Why do you take photos and what are you going to do with them?
If you are a professional photographer I suppose that the technical quality is one of the ways you can compete with other photographers. You must stand out in a crowd. You must be able to get the shot in every situation in the best possible way. The moment often is very important. Either it is something that happens as you watch – let’s say a sports event or a wedding, or it is a photo shoot with models, lights and rented studios. You just have one chance to get the shot – and it has to be the best possible – or you won’t get the result you want. In the long term you won’t get the good reputation and so on. At least this is how I look at it – but again, I am not a professional.
As amateurs we don’t need to feel that high pressure, since we don’t depend on our photography to make a living. It doesn’t matter if we have the highest technical quality in a picture, because we won’t sell it to a newspaper, print it at large formats to fit on a side of a building or use it in a magazine. Or…can there be different reasons to aim for perfection? Let’s make a comparison. I play golf in my spare time. I am not that good, but I like it. Do I try to get better in my skills as I play golf? Well…yes, of course. How do I do it? Well I might attend a training course, I might watch videos to perfect my swing or I try and buy clubs that suit my way of hitting the ball. Of course none of those things matter – I still hardly get any better – but I have a lot of fun doing it.
What if I now use this thinking to look at my photography? I have been taking pictures for more than 30 years. I have tried to improve my skills over the years, but not always. Sometimes it has just been about documenting life as it was at that specific moment. In those cases the technical quality didn’t matter that much. Then the quote “The best camera is the one you have with you” applies. As I have tried to improve my photography skills there are different ways of doing that. One obvious thing is composition. This is where the next quote applies; “It is the photographer that make the picture and not the camera”. The thing is that I have found that I doesn’t get that much better in composing. Not that I am mastering composition now – it’s just that my improvement is getting slower and slower. It is like golf. I just don’t seem to get that much better.
I still want to improve as a photographer, so what can I do. Another way is to improve the technical quality of the picture, in a way that I find appealing. To be able to do this I find that I have more and more demands on the picture file that I use. If I have a bad lens (it often comes down to the lens) I am limited in what I can do in terms of improving the picture in post, and getting the result I want. Now we are getting to why I have found my self shooting with Leicas. It is not all about the feeling of using a rangefinder and a red dot. It is also about the quality of the pictures. I have gone from Practica to Nikon to Fujifilm (still there…) and finally to Leica with Zeiss lenses. If I had stayed with Nikon or stopped at Fuji, I would probably spent just as much money – or more – to get to the same result. The problem is if I want to go all the way to Leica lenses. This is where it gets expensive. I am not sure if it is worth it for me to take that step. It is a lot of money for an amateur…even for an “advanced” amateur …
An interesting thing is when I add the analogue Leica M4 to this equation. When I use the M4 I notice that I start to focus more in reading light and thinking about composition. I have somehow given up on the technical quality, due to the fact that I know it can never be as good as the digital picture. And I have no problem with that. Of course there is a technical factor in an analogue picture as well – but I feel that it is not nearly as important as with a digital picture. The lens is important here as well, while the camera in it self plays a less important role. It all comes down to the film used and how it is developed. I see the pictures of the M4 more as works of art, than a digital picture. It feels more alive and has a soul. The next level for me is to go back to the dark room again – but at the moment I can’t fit that in to my life. I would like to try it again sometime, though. I did like the feeling of making a picture all the way from composing, pressing the shutter, developing the film and then watching the picture coming to life on the paper in the red light. That said I cant see my self going all analogue again – it would just be a fun thing to do…