What does perfect mean? Basically something that is as good as it could possible be. Something perfect is flawless. But does perfection in street photography create a perfect image? I think that a street photograph should have imperfections and that they help you creating good compelling images.
During last week here in China I felt the pressure to take as many images as possible before I would leave to go back home. So, I spend all my free time on roaming the streets of Changsha and exploring unknown areas. The huge output in those last few days obviously got me many different kinds of images. While editing and skimming through them, I’ve noticed that the images with obvious mistakes and imperfections were the ones that drew most of my attention. But why can certain imperfections improve an image, even though this sounds contradictory.
A sense of reality
The first thing that plays into it is that street photography is about different elements of reality coming together inside of a frame. With perfection being a rather abstract term that stands for an unreachable ideal, how can a true street photograph be perfect. Imperfection is a part of the genre.
It often is very tempting to correct small mistakes in post that we wish we hadn’t made when taking the image. But by removing them you’re taking away the aspect of reality in the photograph. Unless it’s something hugely distracting, try leaving imperfections in your work. And if they destroy the image then maybe the image itself isn’t good enough.
While “nobody’s perfect” is just a saying, it reminds us of one of the most crucial human elements when it comes to creating.
Have you ever heard a classical song played by a computer? It’s awful. Despite being played as precisely and perfect as possible, there’s nothing that gives it any beauty whatsoever. Art needs human imperfection to be both beautiful and meaningful.
Especially as a beginner, I paid so much attention to everything being perfectly straight, lines meeting corners, having symmetry and such. Over time I realized though that a good photograph isn’t necessarily a technically perfect photograph. The imperfect one might even be the better image as every detail plays into the story about the short relationship between photographer, subject and location.
Imperfections support the story
As just said before, certain mistakes give the viewer information about the situation the image was taken in. It makes him or her understand and puts them into the scene. Sure, a perfectly level image is nice but what if something happened so quickly that the result is everything but straight. Wouldn’t a leveled out image seem weird and be unfitting for the scene? A blurred subject can make an image more dynamic, the wrong exposure can add to the atmosphere, missed focus can bring out qualities of a scene you didn’t even see. Things we might consider a mistake at first might actually be beneficial to the end result.
So, should we stop worrying about making mistakes and having imperfections in our images? Of course not! Focus on getting the most out of a scene and use everything in your arsenal to do so. But when a mistake happens (which it certainly will) why not work with it instead of just kicking it out. If you notice an imperfection when editing, leave it in and again: work with it. Don’t take away the human element that makes the image compelling and interesting to look at.
Learn noticing them!
The biggest problem with imperfections in our photographs is that we write them off as something that negatively affects the image. What we often forget to do however, is to look at out work objectively and realize that what we thought was a mistake might actually make the image better. We have to learn to spot and embrace the imperfections of our work. The best way to do that is putting your work out there. Whether it’s a friend, family or on social media, get other people’s honest opinions and learn which imperfections help your images and which don’t. It will help you to grow as a photographer.
In the end I think that what we have to strive for is not having an image without imperfections. It’s an image where every imperfection has happened intentionally that we have to have as your goal.