Content Over Sharpness

Above: In some contexts sharpness is overrated and hand-holding underrated. But we have to try our best. If your camera’s focussing technology is limited, it’s possible to get acceptably sharp results by manually pre-focussing and waiting until your subject reaches the right spot. In this case I probably focussed on the twig and fired off the single shot when my daughter reached it.

To a certain extent it depends on the subject, but sometimes we sweat too much about sharpness and noise. I don’t know about you but there are times when I fail to nail the focus. In my opinion and experience, beating camera shake isn’t such a big deal, although there are times when it can be used creatively. But I’ve never been too good at getting sharp results with anything close by that moves – especially when I’m trying to get very soft background blur. Yes, I should be firing at x frames a second on continuous focus, but it’s just not my thing. I should practice more.

What’s particularly frustrating is missing focus in images with content that really matters to me personally. The fact is there are times when the content – what’s happening in the shot, who or what it is, how the elements are placed and composed in the frame – trumps focussing errors and camera-shake. I came on the image below while looking online for inspiration and motivation. Apologies for not giving credit to the photographer (and also with the other black and white images further down this page). I don’t know who took it. I wish I had the details, but I’m sharing it here just to make a point. I think it’s a fantastic shot.

After looking at this image for a while I noticed the carved bed board was in focus but the girl wasn’t. Does it detract from the shot in any way? I’m pretty sure it’s not an advertisement shot. Maybe the photographer was the carpenter and she’s miffed because he’s more taken with his woodwork than her. As well as being off-the-plumb, did you notice the misplaced point-of-focus before I mentioned it? Image content often eclipses technical achievements, or the lack of them.

Although it may not be clearly visible at this resolution, the images shared below also have focussing/camera shake issues, but only if we want them to. In my opinion they are all carried by the content. Each is engaging, inspirational and stands as a successful photograph. What more could we ask?

If you’ve taken shots that miss the key point-of-focus maybe there’s something you can do in software to make the blur less obvious at typical viewing distances. The fact of typical viewing distances is a key concept. It’s photographers who often miss the point and glue their bloodshot eyes to prints and screens.

In the examples I’m sharing below, all unavoidably taken at higher ISO settings, I’ve tried to use software to bluff my way mainly by targeting eyes. It’s just a photographic fact that sharp eyes (or the eye closest to the camera) help to carry the image. If the content really matters it would be a shame to bin it before at least trying to give the impression of sharpness where it’s needed most. Think content over sharpness.

Along with the first image I’ve combined a few screen shots to show how I’ve fiddled about with various filters and tools in an attempt to tone down multiple problems with the shot – mixed lighting sources, high ISO, out-of-focus eyes. It’s a great expression and an important subject. Bear in mind I’m not an expert, but what I’m sharing here might help someone or suggest a new approach.

With the other examples I’ve also tried to enhance contrast and the illusion of sharpness. Incidentally, the shot of my mother is a JPEG. There is no RAW version. It’s interesting that I was able to draw out more highlight detail. I’ve experienced that before with JPEGs. They are more flexible than many think and it’s often possible to edit them successfully.

With the image of my dog waiting patiently for his treat, despite several attempts I lost focus on his nearest eye. So I’ve tried to compensate in software as best I can. I like this shot a lot, and after processing it I’m confident it would look well printed and framed.

The original image.

The effects of processing.
My one and only “wee mate”, as someone once called him.

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