A Technically Perfect Photo is Meaningless

A Technically Perfect Photo is Meaningless

As a viewer, you rarely look at a photo and say “wow, that shutter speed and ISO really moved me,” right? The most memorable and moving photos may not be technically perfect at all. Adrian McDonald is the quintessential photographer, with photos that resonate with the viewers because of the way it makes them feel. That’s how you remember a photo.

McDonald’s mantra on his creative process is to “forget about the artist and the sphere in which that photo exists, and focus on only just the photo and emotions it evoke, everything else will follow.” Everything else is important of course and cannot be forgotten, but McDonald doesn’t let the technicalities dictate his creation, and instead he believes that error is not error at all.

“As photographers, we sometimes feel the need to be in control of every little element of our setup; from lighting, lens, accessories to even the model, after all -- it is a part of our job to somewhat be in control, but is that control …always good for our art?”

His photos hit an array of sensations and feelings. Vulnerability, ego, growth, childhood, loneliness, self-esteem, addiction, suicide and more. McDonald’s advice to letting go of control is to remember it’s a reflection of your own insecurity and to let the natural flow of inspiration settle in.

“There is one key factor I focus on, and that's the emotions my photographs exude.” He says, “If I can't feel anything then I know I have failed. It's my belief that my work must have soul, one which resonates and stirs people inside out, whether it makes you feel angry, resentful, afraid, ashamed, guilty, worried or sad it's imperative that something is relayed and not just with mere subtlety but strong vibrations.”

His photos are proof that sometimes technicality should be secondary to emotion in order to create something memorable, introspective and breathtaking.

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32 Comments

Greg Koch's picture

Damned straight. Nice one, Dani! (And Adrian is a great example for your article.) Being a technically good photographer is almost worthless, in my opinion, given that there are a LOT of people who are technically good. As was said above, an image excels on its emotional component, and a successful business model depends less on your ability to precisely focus an image than on your ability to target the viewer's emotions.

E Port's picture

I believe this article was more about knowing when to break the rules and not completely disregarding them. Otherwise every pro would just say, "f' it, I'm only doing cat pictures from here on out."

Greg Koch's picture

I've often thought of building an entire business model around shooting cats' butts exclusively. :-)

Excellent

Kalpesh Modi's picture

Don't let perfection be the enemy of good. Nice article Dani. Thanks for throwing lights on the other side of creativity.

Dani Diamond's picture

Thanks bud, i like that line.

Amen to this

Chet Meyerson's picture

I agree absolutely with the headline. But of course these are all also technically perfect as well :)

Dani Diamond's picture

Thanks!
Btw no one ever said a photo shouldn't be technically perfect :)

Michael Kormos's picture

Yet ironically, all photos in this article are technically perfect :-) I agree with you Dani, but this approach applies only to portraiture/photo-reportage. Landscape, architectural, still-life, most of fine-art, and a dozen other genres of photography are 90% technical.

Dani Diamond's picture

Absolutely, this is pretty much only applies to portraiture.

James Allen Stewart's picture

...and what about beauty shots? Editorials? Business portraits?

I don't know about this, it seems awefully biased and more just one man's view on things than an actual "I'll teach you something because I know better than you" article, but it's not really portrayed that way. The headline itself is quite meaningless, as if a picture with failed technicality is worth anything, if the shutterspeed makes the face blurry, or the picture is overexposed.

Don't know. Not one of the better articles. But nice pictures.

michael andrew's picture

Great work! Some of these examples seem to be photo-illustrations though. I still like to know if something is a photograph or a graphical rendition of a photograph. It is not a knock on someones amazing talents at all, I just feel like when something looks so real that it could have been so, its nice to know if it actually was.

Dani Diamond's picture

Not sure but who cares how the results were achieved. It's all about how the images make you feel and I feel damn good inside looking at these.

They make me feel like, how does he achieve that sweet dream state type of look??!! Awesome! You should do an article on that. But your not too shabby yourself Dani

Dani Diamond's picture

Thanks Rob.Check out Kevin Cook, he has a few actions for Photoshop that will help you achieve that look.

Yeah. It made me feel that I really need some new primes! :D

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

A Technically Perfect Photo is Meaningless... if it's meaningless ;) These pictures are technically perfect and have some meaning, I guess...

Jason Woods's picture

Click-bait title. I understand the general message here, but it's ironic because all of his examples shown are technically perfect (focus, exposure, etc.). A technically perfect image not meaningless, but simply one of the variables to a successful and engaging one.

Adrian McDonald's picture

Ahh I see your point but once you read the article you should quickly realize it's not about abandoning technicality itself, Dani even reiterated that point that other factors must not be forgotten, but expressed this article from two perspectives, the Viewer and the Photographer. As you mentioned it's a variable but sometimes and for many it seems to be the only variable. That's where I take a C cut. As photographers we go through a process of learning.... Technicality was not anyone's strength starting out, our focus was just on capturing a moment. We were all amateurs and what that means is that the only strength we had was the vision to create or capture and that starts in our minds. This article is suggestive of such...hence the line 'everything else will follow'. Starting out, our need to bring a vision to life requires us to learn the technical aspect but many photographers stay stuck in that sphere and the problem with that is anyone can be technically good. What I do now is shift my focus to the soul/emotion I'm trying to convey and that becomes my basis of shooting, the technicality becomes a peripheral/assistive tool in the process. Point is in most cases it's the other way around and alot of people end up unhappy with their work, they have a technically solid image but they are unhappy with its evocation. My images uses that reverse application. One can then deduce that by saying a Technical Photo is Meaningless, it is a reference to a photo not having a soul/emotion or any form of resonance. Such makes it flat, banal and one dimensional.

Dani Diamond's picture

Well said Adrian. Jason, the point of this article is not to tell you that throw technical stuff out the door. If you're familiar with my work you can clearly see the technical side of things play a large role.

Donald Raider's picture

No one said it doesn't or shouldn't be technically perfect. Think before you open your mouth next time.

Jason Woods's picture

No reason to be hostile about it. I'm just saying that I think the examples shown are sort of a poor example of the article because they're so good from a technical standpoint (and emotional one). I agree that technical rules can and should be broken when appropriate. My favorite photographs usually evoke some sort of emotion and I'm not wondering what f/stop they used or what camera/lens setup they were working with.

That's my friend. Adrian is one of the most solidly creative photographer I've had the pleasure of knowing. Happy to see his work getting the recognition it deserves.

Adrian McDonald's picture

Thank you Damian. I really appreciate that coming from you.

Adrian McDonald's picture

In no way does this article encourage poor craftsmanship . I saw a comment recently that says there's nothing worse than a sharp photo of a blurry concept. This article seems to resonate with a lot of folks not because of me or Dani but because of how he articulated the words and it's something folks wanted to hear. So Dani is right in saying, A Technically Perfect Photo is Meaningless... if it doesn't resonate; which the article concludes.

Dani Diamond's picture

"encouraging poor craftsmanship"
Where do you see this from the article. No one said technical stuff isn't important. It's very important and encouraged BUT don't get hung up on your ISO and aperture.... that's merely the purpose of this article.

Jessi Raymond's picture

Solid article, we need more like this

Love this article. Its what you shoot, not how... Well how is important too. But too many people concentrate on the technical stuff and forget to capture something people will connect with.

Donald Raider's picture

Great work here, love the bokeh.