on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Sharp but not Sharper

Matching Intent & Objective

Rafael Rojas

Following a career as an engineer, researcher and university lecturer he made a dramatic change of career as a nature and landscape photographer, his true passion and vocation. Today, he travels extensively in search of those fleeting moments when light and land combine to create something very special. His work has been awarded in many international photography competitions, including the prestigious Master Hasselblad Award, several First Prizes in the International Photography Awards (USA), Px3 Prix de la Photographie de Paris and Px3 People's Choice (France), Nature’s Best (USA), International Conservation Awards (USA),

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As I write this, I investigate the options to update some of my lenses in order to squeeze all the detail that my new Nikon D850 seems to be able to resolve. And yet, I am not at all convinced I need any more sharpness or perfection in my images... In fact, rather the contrary, as I feel my work has been evolving into a more pictorialist realm these last few years.

That being said, this thought reminded me that these concerns about quality being systematically associated to sharpness are frequent within the community of landscape photographers. Why is it that we are so easily sucked into the need of making always sharper and sharper images?

It cannot be denied that we can always soften sharp images, but more difficultly sharpen fuzzy ones. Seen from this side, obtaining sharp images with good lenses and cameras gives us the luxury of flexibility. Indeed, when starting out with sharp images, we can decide later on how to print and present our images without being limited by a lack of definition. We can also make bigger extrapolations (resampling) and print larger before the artifacts and lack of sharpness start to make our images fall apart.

With this article, I do not intend to embark on technical discussions about the physics behind the concept of sharpness, visual acuity and resolution. Instead, I would like to consider the well established idea that sharper is always better and whether we could adopt an alternative qualitative measurement system instead.



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  • Thomas Rink

    This obsession with sharpness is something that I’ve never quite understood. “Normal” people (i.e. non-photographers) like a picture if they like what’s in the picture, or if they are in some way or other emotionally moved by it. I could imagine that colours and tonal values play an important role in the latter, but for sure not sharpness. Another thing whose importance is, in my opinion, similarly overestimated by photographers is composition, by the way.

    Best, Thomas

    • You’re putting up a bold proposition saying that composition is overrated (although in some genres it is sadly lacking)

      • Thomas Rink

        Re composition, yes, Tim, this is my opinion. I believe that the stuff in the frame should form a conceptual whole such that a response is elicited in the viewer. As I said, I consider colours and tonal values as important in this regard. But I hold that it is not possible to explain why certain pictures work and others not, and also how viewers respond to a given picture. The well-known rules of composition are attempts at a formal explanation why certain pictures work, and are probably inspired by the emergence of a scientific-materialistic view of the world in the 18th and 19th century.

        Best, Thomas

        • Ah – I think there’s a difference between the so called ‘rules of composition’, which is either bunkum or of minimal use, and the use of formal devices (compositional balance, flow, use of colour) that every artist has done quite explicitly. Even the great paintings/photos that don’t look like they have been overtly composed have probably consciously eschewed some of the obvious tropes of composition in order to create something that looks ‘glimpsed’. i.e. The act of trying to use compositional rules mostly fails, the act of overtly organising things in a picture is fundamental

  • Isabel Curdes

    I really like the article and very much agree with the points made except maybe for ‘Beauty’ which I feel is a very subjective term. What I find beautiful might not be what others find beautiful and that would include the levels of sharpness. For me, beautiful can actually be anything from complete loss of sharpness to rich and full of “sharp” details. Oh and I love the photo with the waves :-)

  • Steve Williams

    A very timely article for me as I have finally got my hands on a Minolta Varisoft lens after many attempts, with the idea of exploiting it for landscape work. The Varisoft is a fairly strange lens as it has an extra manual ring to control the introduction of spherical aberation to the image, in addition to the usual aperture and focus rings. The result is a controllable amount of haze “blooming” from highlights within the image. Still learning its strengths and weaknesses but early results show promise – though not up to exhibition standard!

    Article on it here: https://www.cameraquest.com/minsoft.htm

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