Alan's Blog




High Quality Images
Do People Really Care?

During the more than half a century that I've been passionate about photography, I've always striven to obtain the best quality images by using the highest quality cameras and lenses that I can either afford of to buy or, in more recent times, justify buying. Spending as much as I've been able; sometimes thousands of pounds on cameras and lenses has been quite normal for me – a single lens can cost more than £1000, for example. I've also spent many years learning about image composition and lighting. But does it make any difference? Do people really care about image quality?

Let's consider what we mean by image quality. Firstly, there is the 'technical' quality which is what the equipment, particularly lenses, is all about. If you take a photograph using a piece of glass from the bottom of a bottle you aren't going to get a beautifully sharp image with no chromatic aberration, for example. The other aspect is ensuring correct exposure, but I'm not going there as most people wouldn't even know what I was writing about in these days of modern fully automatic cameras. Ask people to use a fully manual SLR (film) camera and most of them wouldn't have a clue where to start. Perhaps that's always been the case but in days gone by far fewer people took photographs than is the case now when almost everyone has some sort of digital camera. When I started photography, few people had adjustable cameras and the cost of photography was prohibitive for most people.

The second factor that affects what we perceive to be a 'good' photograph is the composition itself. This may well be the main factor these days where most photographic equipment is capable of producing a decently sharp image without any significant aberrations visible unless you enlarge it to a huge extent – and certainly good enough to put online on Facebook.

It still seems to me that using the camera correctly is still something of a mystery to so many people in terms of obtaining a pleasing composition as well as sharpness and, in the case of video, steadiness of the image so that the resulting movie isn't jolting all over the screen or panning so fast that the object in the moving frame is so blurred as to be so indistinct that it can't even be recognised for what it is – and I really have seen videos like this. I was always taught that in movie-making it's the subject that moves; not the camera – and I started shooting movies on Super-8 film in about 1970 or 1971.

The basics of composition can be learned very easily and quickly. For instance, how many times do you see a photograph from a family member or friend (or one of your own!) that has the horizon tilted – a seascape, for example, where the water appears to be 'flowing out of the photograph' as the horizon is so tilted? How many times do you receive a photograph from someone that shows a tree apparently 'growing' out of someone's head? Fundamental rules of composition that even after 200 years of photography, people still fail to observe – or even understand. Are people really so unobservant?

So, do people really care about image quality? The answer I've had to accept, rather sadly, is "no". People in these modern times share the photographs they take using the camera in their telephone. Many of the photographs are rubbish and the videos they take using the same camera are even worse to look at. It seems that people really don't care if they are poor quality, technically, or even if the are composed in a pleasing manner. People still live in the world of what we used to call "snapshots".

Most people who use their telephone as a video camera even fail to rotate their camera through ninety degrees to get the format that we've all been used to and find pleasant to look at. Instead we have to constantly watch videos taken in 'portrait' format rather than 'landscape' format. How unpleasant these videos are to watch too – and never mind the camera shake and high-speed panning! Despite generations of high-quality TV broadcasts where the format is 'landscape'; where the cameras are mounted (usually) on rock-steady tripods or other supports, people still persist in making a complete mess of their videos, as well as their photographs.

I despair!

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