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I have a confession to make: I used to be a pixel peeper. There was a time when I’d spent hours zooming in and inspecting photos at 1:1 or even 300 percent. I was looking for a technically perfect photo. Back then, most of the work I was shooting was aimed at micro stock outlets. At most of them, the inspectors and image editors were not easy to get around. Noise, camera shake, out of focus, chromatic aberration, white balance, basically any issues would end up in an image rejection. That actually helped me. I learned the technical side of photography, but I also became obsessed. I became a pixel peeper.
Luckily I don’t care about it anymore, and you shouldn’t either, unless you are shooting commercially. I mean sometimes, depending on the type of work you are doing, a thoughtful examination could be needed. However, like every obsession, pixel peeping can be a detrimental habit.
If you find yourself analyzing 100 percent crops, debating about pixel counts, hitting the forums too often and compulsively reading gear reviews, please stop. Especially if the majority of your work is about documenting travel, street photography, and whatnot. This is not what photography is about.
Yes, I get it, photography is part technology and science, but overall it’s art. Counting pixels or buying the latest camera is not going to help you to find your vision. Those are mere tools meant to aid you in expressing your voice, your art, in a wonderful medium.
I encourage you to leave the verbal flux behind and go shooting. Photography it about communicating emotions, a moment in time, the essence of a place, the soul of people.
If you’re still unconvinced, think about this. Let me start by asking you how much of your work is being shared online? Have you ever realized that the average monitor can only display 2 megapixels? And many of our photos are being seen only on tablets and phones. None of those are even close to being even viewed at 100 percent. Let’s throw in print as well; let’s say you want to enlarge your photos to 8×10, or you want to decorate a room and print a 16×24. Grab a photo that you think is not sharp or noisy and make a test. I think you’ll be delighted by how awesome it looks.
In the end, as photographers and storytellers, what we pursue is capturing a moving picture, perhaps communicating an emotion. Of course you can go after excellence and be meticulous, but always keep in mind that what you are trying to express with the craft is way beyond just a technically perfect photo. A great subject, an inspiring place or a story will always generate a reaction, an emotion in your viewer. Such an image will never be judged as too noisy, a bit shaky, and so on. In exchange, there are gazillions of perfectly technical photos floating around without any kind of content. Photos that, even though technically perfect, nobody cares about.
It is true that we have much better technology now than we had in the past. Sensors with low light capabilities, bodies and lenses with image stabilization, and software are all better than ever. But for some, it seems to never be enough; there will be always something new, something better, and we tend to get lost in the technical side instead of pressing the shutter. Many moons ago, I was always looking at these things, to the point where I didn’t even want to shoot beyond ISO 200. It was a big mistake. I lost a lot of moments and opportunities that I would’t get again. That will never happen now; I prefer to capture the instant, the character of a place, the spirit of humankind – without having to worry about pixel counts.
Forget about pixels, awaken the artist within. Go out and shoot something that moves you. You know you can.