Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sharp Is Good; Soft Is Sometimes Better

Winter Dock, Asheville, NC  -  2014
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Lens makers always tout the purity of their glass, the precision of their grinding, and the resultant sharpness of their lenses. The clarity and sharpness of modern lenses is amazing, but is sharp always better?

Sharpness is good. If it's not there to begin with, there is really nothing you can do to put sharpness back in to an image after exposure. The various sharpening tools and filters contained in image editing software merely modify the pixels already present. These tools can give the appearance of sharpness, but if it ain't there, it ain't there.

I'm glad for the quality built in to the Zuiko lenses on my Olympus cameras. However, I find myself often softening images in post production, especially in portraits. The "show every pore and wrinkle" clarity my lenses are capable of does not usually flatter adult subjects, especially women. Even with younger adults and teens, a lens that reveals every skin blemish is not the positive that the camera ads make it out to be. Softening, or outright obliteration in post production is often called for.

Landscapes and other nature shots are where I most appreciate the fruit of the lens makers craft, but even there I'm sometimes tempted to soften the image a bit. I like the look of many of the pictorialist photographers of the early 20th century. Sometimes I try to replicate that softer look as in the photo above. The sharpness of today's lenses actually makes it even harder to duplicate the look of soft focus lenses of a hundred years ago. Softening a sharp photo is not as easy as just clicking on a softening or blur filter. Still, getting the softer look right is easier than trying to make a soft photo sharp. My hat's off to you Mr. Zuiko!

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