Forget About Pixels – Awaken the Artist Within

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Daniel Korzeniewski is a Miami based, travel photographer. His work appeared in several publications and contributes to various stock photography outlets. He often leads photography travel tours, find more about his work, travel adventures, and upcoming tours at his website by clicking here. You can also follow his Instagram account.

  • pi

    Thank you alot for this article – i also tend(ed) to “pixel-peeping”, though now also trying out shooting at lower resolution, higher ISO etc… but i think, this info is worth for many people! thank you

  • While I do agree with your point here, and you have made the most convincing argument so far, I would like to present a different point of view.

    I do wonder how many people stop doing this, because most experienced photographers dislike it, when some of us may not have the experience to know what’s going to hold up to close scrutiny yet. On the beginner’s side of things it’s all close scrutiny. Why? Because those are the images most likely to be seen on a computer.

    Here’s I wrote about it on my website (http://dangerismymiddlename.com):

    Pixel peeping is when a person views their image at 100% zoom (1 pixel in the image takes up one pixel on the computer monitor) in order to get it as sharp as possible. Obsessing at this level might be unnecessary, and potentially counterproductive, because most images, even ones that are excellent as-is, have flaws at 100% zoom. It’s common to see this criticism on the interwebs: “You don’t need to be pixel peeping, because you aren’t printing the images that large.”

    That is incorrect. The minimum size photo that you should be (pun ahead) shooting-for is 21″ x 12″ at 12″ away. Why? That’s close to the dimensions of a 23 inch monitor. Those monitors are now common, and using computers to enjoy photos is now the preferred way: at least for non-photographers. Your customers will judge you by how sharp your photos are at this size or larger, and in many cases, depending on your monitor’s resolution, your images will be close to [highly] zoomed at this size. Pixel peeping is a virtue.

  • Paul, technically speaking, print and screen resolution are totally different. A typical 23 inch monitor, with a resolution of 1920×1200 and a pixel density of 98ppi is only capable of maximum resolution of 2.2MP. So you’ll need to zoom in in order to see more and bigger detail.

    I am not against technically perfect photos whatsoever. I am just pointing out that sometimes we are so obsessed with the technical stuff that we easily forget why we make photos.

    While I can appreciate your point the article was intended to encourage other photographers to shoot more, to care about the content or the emotion an image can portray instead of stay immersed in the technical details. At the end of the day travel, street, news or documentary photography is about storytelling, transmitting an emotion and not about pixel counts.

  • Yes. (Thumbs up.)

  • I completely agree. The power of any image resides primarily in its “heart”, that is, the general impact it creates in the viewer through its story, balance and composition. Sharpness may or may not enhance those qualities but, all on its own, it has no value whatsoever if the image doesn’t work at the other levels.

    I just reviewed a new lens that I bought and I confess that I was careful with my technique to obtain images as sharp as possible (optimum aperture, ISO and SS to maximize the strengths of the lens and avoid shakiness or noise whenever possible), but I always considered these exercises to be shooting discipline rather than obsession with pixel-peeping sharpness, so the subject and framing were always the most important thing I considered every time I pressed the shutter.

    You can see the results here: http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2014/08/new-lens-old-grounds-review-of.html

  • Khaz

    Nooooooo! STUCK pixel….. 400%.. MUST…. desTROY it! AAAAHHHH!

  • Tim

    Yes and no. There’s a time to be interested in what’s attainable, and there’s a time to go with the flow.

    The more time passes, the more I regret not taking more data pixels at the source.

  • Phoenix SpiritDiva

    Danny, as a long time fan of your photography, I totally agree. Capturing the moment trumps perfection, in life and art. Although, it always makes a difference to know your equipment, the principles of photography and develop one’s composition eye to be fully present to capture the best in the moment.

  • I wouldn’t necessarily shoot at a lower resolution because you could run into trouble there if you want to print later and don’t have enough data. I think what he’s suggesting is just not to focus so much on those aspects and think about the art of photography more.

  • Thank you for the comments Phoenix.

  • Correct, resolution should be always the maximum you can get, and I always recommend shooting in RAW.

  • Excellent article and message. I agree with you Danny and it is one of the reasons I have started shooting film again. I want to enjoy the art of photography with all of its surprises, imperfections, and qualities. I want to see and capture the interplay of light on forms and textures and not worry so much about whether the 24 MP camera is making the chromatic aberration of my older lenses much more noticeable.

  • Thanks George.

  • pi

    @darlenehildebrandt:disqus absolutely correct – perhaps i wrote it missleadingly. My point was, that shooting in a lower-than-full resolution gives – at least on my camera – a more smooth image; i made some tests with the resolutions and of course, there is some more information in the top resolution (20mp), but to be usable, i need to scale it down a bit anyway – in 10mp the picture is smoother AND crisper

    @danielkorzeniewski:disqus i always shoot in RAW and Jpeg Superfine mode combined

    I have a Samsung NX1000 – so this is not a pro camera, and shooting in 20mp doesn’t result in a crips image, that’s why i mentioned it – it’s the same reason though – always looking for the best and – in my case – be disappointed of the quality

    i hope i was able to explain my point of view =)

    under the line, i was just thankful for your post

  • Richard Keeling

    Obsession with the technical aspects of photography is, as you point out, only helpful up to a point. I went through my pixel peeping phase too, spending far too much time fretting about, for example, image sharpness when I should have been looking, quite literally, at the big picture. My solution – and it has worked beyond my wildest dreams – was to pick up a second-hand film body for my collection of Canon lenses, all originally acquired with digital photography in mind. Shooting film has returned the joy of actually taking photographs and has, as a significant by-product, greatly improved my digital photography too.

  • blackripleydog

    I made the steady progression from a D995 (3 mpx) to a D70s (6 mpx) to a D200 (10 mpx) to now a D600 (24mpx). Regardless of the equipment, my style, technique and eye was what really evolved. I am not using pro glass but mid-level AF glass and continue to get spectacular results. I have to admit that the D600 helped bring my game up some and I get spectacular results from trying new things that my earlier cameras were limited at due to noise and ISO. But along the way, I did not allow the camera to dictate what I could or should attempt.

  • robertach

    Bang on! Thanks for a great point of view Dan.

  • Very good advice. Something I also try to practice and promote. It’s in the manufacturers best financial interest to “hold back” on their best tech so they can release a new camera within 6 months of their last new procuct. It’s their job to keep you spending. They get you to spend by making you think the model you currently have is outdated and not good enough. Let’s be practical, some of the greatest pictures in history have been made on film on manual advance cameras and developed in darkrooms. How much gear do YOU really need to make great images?

  • Francis Trinidad

    100% Agree!!

  • I totally agree with you @anthonyrampersad:disqus

  • @richardkeeling:disqus looks like I´ll have to pick up a film camera as well. My good friend @qnetx:disqus is doing the same and looks like he is loving it too. I think I will start looking for an old range finder style camera… and load some film.

  • Keith

    I came to much the same conclusion some time ago. What microstock reviewers fail to realise that if a photo is printed in a very large format it is also viewed from a distance and that faults only visible when pixel peeping are not visible

  • Hey @blackripleydog:disqus thanks for commenting. The D600 its a great camera. Lenses are important too, but most of the gear we have at our disposal today can perform really well for non commercial applications. I am glad to hear that you are letting your creatives juices flow without worrying on possible equipment limitation.

  • Hi Keith, thanks for chiming in…, well don’t get me started with stock reviewers/editors…. I really think I’ve benefited by massive rejections at the beginning… It helped my understand more technical stuff and eventually got better.

  • SHIVJI JOSHI

    Forget pixel peeping and enjoy the magic of low light

  • blackripleydog

    The upside to denser sensors is that I can go big in my prints. I am working on a 2ft x 6ft panoramic of the Cribworks on the Penobscot River I shot with the D200 2 years ago. Looks great on the monitor at 100% but having trouble finding a local lab to print it and then there is the mounting. My wife keeps telling me that we need to expand the house to accommodate all my work.

  • blackripleydog

    It definitely depends on your target market. I concentrate on producing fine art landscapes and I have been fairly successful with sales, exhibits and some commissions.
    If you shoot commercially or for the stock marketplace, then absolute clarity and sharpness will be your main focus. Unfortunately, what was acceptable just a couple of years ago and shot on a D300s or D700 has been supplanted by the work produced on a D800, D4 or a mega megapixel medium format body now. The signal processing in the new cameras is the game-changer. Also, if you can afford those bodies you most likely are using high-end glass as well.

  • Bill Motley

    Daniel, thank you for writing this. This is the first article I’ve ever responded to. You’ve addressed something that, being relatively new to photography, I found overwhelming and intimidating. As I would read photography forums it seemed most folks were more interested in all the technical aspects of a photograph rather than the beauty of the image itself. I wondered if I was missing something. Was this what photography was really about? I just try to make the best photographs I can and hopefully connect with anyone who sees them (including myself). I strive to continually improve as a photographer with my focus (no pun intended) on composition and not pixel peeping. You made my day!

  • Thanks Bill, I appreciate the comments.

  • Azael del Rosario

    This is my first time posting here too, and I am as well new to photography. Thank you SO much for posting this! I also saw myself going through forums trying to find the “perfect” tips for “perfect” pictures, and even though some gears such as a good tripod and lenses are supposedly important (supposedly because I just have a body and two lenses and a cheap, almost functional tripod, so I don’t have experience with top notch gear), I now get that focusing on the “heart” and the message of the shot is way better than focusing on the technical side of it. THANK YOU DANIEL!

  • Jason N photography

    This is how I started with my photography hobby, I purchased an Olympus E Volt 500 from eBay with two lenses for $187. Less out of pocket and takes great pics. There are a couple of features I wish I had, like bracketing more than +/- 1 EV and having more vertical control over a focus point, however, the 8mp is fine. I have done a couple 16 x 20 prints and they look great.

  • Herb Haley

    Photography it about communicating emotions, a moment in time, the essence of a place, the soul of people.

    Should read “Photography is about communicating…” IJS

  • Nice photo.

  • Jason N photography

    Thank you!

  • Tunji

    Thanks Daniel

  • Donna J

    Thank you Daniel, this article just got me excited again about photography!
    I was getting bogged down in all the technical stuff- post processing being the biggest road block. For me it sucks the joy right out of just going out to shoot. There is so much information out there and so little time to figure it all out.
    Thanks to your article I’m going to just start shooting the way I did when I first became obsessed with this craft and stop worrying about filters and masks and merging my photos and all the other technical stuff that clogs my brain!

  • Jason N photography

    Thank you!

  • That’s great Donna, I am glad.

  • “Awaken the artist within” is so much more inspirational than “training or honing your photography eye”, which is what it takes to produce great photos (regardless of technical). It is also, the challenge for my photography – bathrooms and the stories they tell. There are not exactly moments to capture, rather elements.

    Such great advice to not let the technical, fear or perfection of it, stand in the way of awakening your artist within.

    Do you mind if I quote you in an upcoming workshop I am giving?

    Thanks!
    Neneh
    http://www.pottymouthtours.com/

  • Claire Kireta Baughn

    What you have said here was just proven to me with a picture I posted on Facebook. I wasn’t going to post it because it wasn’t as clear and crisp as I would have liked but decided to share the moment anyway. After reading the comments and seeing the “likes” I realized it was more about sharing the moment and not worrying about the quality. It touched the emotion of the viewers. Next time, I won’t hesitate to share that imperfect shot.

  • Guest

    I love this shot I took in Cambodia, it isn’t technically brilliant or even good some might say, but it stirs emotion and that was my aim.

  • Trevsmith00

    I love this shot I took in Cambodia, it isn’t technically brilliant or even good some might say, but it stirs emotion and that was my aim.

  • Very well said.

  • Nice photo, I like how you have used the wide angle lens.

  • Jason N photography

    Thank you!

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