Story Content vs. Bokeh + Corner Sharpness

Since the first photograph in 1839, photographers have been asking the question, “What should I photograph?” The best answer is, “What can you photograph?” Meaning, what do you have access to?

The first photograph–a street scene at the Boulevard du Temple in Paris in 1838 by Louis Daguerre.

Can you photograph the Hollywood premiere from inside the ropes? You’ll get better photos than from out in the bleachers with the crowd.

Can you get a field pass to photograph the New York Giants game from the sideline? You’ll get better photos than from the stands.

Do you know someone who owns a restaurant at the top of a skyscraper? The city official who inspects the sewer system’s underground or the NY subway system who can get you into places no one else gets to see? A collector who has hundreds of classic cars (like Jay Leno)?

A restoration team who’s working on William Penn’s statue at the top of Philadelphia’s City Hall? (I got to photograph that, and saw the buttons of Penn’s coat are incredibly detailed despite never seen from the street, a wonderful find.)

An engineer who can get you inside a giant turbine in a power generating plant? That’s what this series of photos is (and more at the link):

Here’s a photo of a boy with his Dad waiting for a haircut.

Would this story be better with crazy bokeh? Or a more expensive lens that has killer corner sharpness? Of course not. It was made with a wide-angle 20mm Nikon manual focus lens, nothing crazy expensive. The story is what matters, the moment.

The story is always what matters most. That’s not true for everyone, but it is for me.

We use photographs to share stories. As I see it, if ever the mechanics of the image are in the way of the story, then that’s a problem.

If Nick Ut’s Napalm Girl was blurry, it might not get across its point as powerfully.

If Robert Capa’s photographs of D-Day had been sharper, would they have been as good at conveying the confusion of the soldiers in the water?

If Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl NatGEO cover wasn’t sharp, would her eyes be as penetrating? Certainly not. Was he using a $10,000 lens/camera combination to get that portrait, something out of reach of most photographers? Nope, a Nikon 105mm f2.5 that you can buy today for $150 on a simple Nikon FM2 camera.

I’ve considered the difference I see between photographers who like photographs and hobbyists who enjoy gear.

  • The photographers working today are concerned with stories.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are concerned with bokeh and sharpness.

  • The photographers making stories are concerned with the middle of the picture.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are concerned with the edges of the frame.

  • The photographers are telling compelling stories.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are measuring softness, background blur transitions and pixel-peeping detail.

  • The photographers know that viewers take in the photograph as a whole.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are all about the various individual parts of the image.

  • The photographers are making work that will move viewers.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are measuring cameras and lenses for the level of their image-making abilities.

  • The photographers are buying what they need to do their job.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are buying everything and keeping the camera industry alive.

  • The photographers are posting projects and compelling stories.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are posting reviews and sample images.

  • The photographers are artists.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are scientists.

  • The photographers are working with their right brain creative side.
  • The hobbyists who enjoy gear are working with their left brain analytical side.

Both are worthwhile pursuits. One makes photographs that will last. The other has a lot of fun collecting and trying out new gear.

What CAN you photograph?

And if you have access to something unique, what WILL you photograph? Will you go and make the storytelling photograph? Or are you more about the bokeh and corner sharpness?

The time is now–there will never be another today to make today’s photograph.

Want to support my shows? You can, just visit this link at Paypal, or go to to add your monthly contribution to keep the lights on!

Check out my YouTube Channel of Photography Talks: my 6×6 Portraits Blog (you’re here) and my Daily Photography Podcast. Thanks!

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