The art of taking poor-quality photos

Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.”
– Yousuf Karsh

It used to be that people would give me strange looks when I mentioned that I took pictures on my fourth-gen iPod. “Don’t you have a phone?” they would ask, slightly taken aback. “Does that work okay for you?”

While it’s true that many late millennials and generation Xers have easy access to the newest in technology, my family’s limited income has always necessitated a certain creativity in working with lower-quality imitations of “the real thing”. I have no phone and no desktop, no iPad and no tablet, just a beat-up laptop and a now-upgraded fifth-gen iPod touch. I only recently got a camera because I needed it for university, and the only reason that I upgraded my iPod is because it broke down on me.

Not that I’m complaining. In all seriousness, I really don’t mind. Having limited options when it comes to technology can force you to be inventive, and that’s something I pride myself on anyways.

Back to the subject of taking pictures – almost all the pictures I have on my blog have been taken with a fourth-gen iPod or, in the case of my fantasy world building post, have been created on GIMP. Sure, they can be grainy and poor-quality, but then again, I don’t pretend to be a professional photographer, and there are things I’ve learned that help to turn those blemishes into unique qualities instead:

Going With The Grain….

A grainy image can ruin a perfectly good shot. But you know what? I love grain. I really do. Take this shot from the post I IMG_1769Love You Dark. Would a clearer image make it more dramatic? Maybe. Would it give it more character? No. It wouldn’t.

Grain can give pictures a lovely old-time feel that sets them apart from the retina displays and HD images of the post-modern era. Grain can be added artificially by playing with many of the filters naturally available on your mobile device, or by shooting in low-light conditions which often adds this kind of “noise” to pictures. Using a greyscale filter can also be helpful because it can eliminate the visual confusion that occurs when you get grain in different colours.

In this picture’s case, the grain makes me feel nostalgic when looking at it. “I Love You Dark” is a melancholy sort of post, and so the sharp contrasts and grainy image really help create the mood for the poem.

Perspectives and Focal Points….

I’m sure you’ve heard of the rule of thirds. If you haven’t, Digital Photography School has a pretty good explanation of it.158_1213

The rule of thirds is simply a way of dividing your frame and positioning your subject, based on the golden ratio (technically the ratio is a little over a third). It is visually appealing, and yes, it really does work. Even a poor-quality photo can look decent if you get the perspective right. This isn’t limited to merely using the rule of thirds. Strange angles and perspectives can also add a lot of flavour to a shot.

In this picture, the lifeboat is all the more striking because of the ship behind it. It’s placed according to the golden ratio, as is the line between beach and water/sky. There’s also a nice visual pathway from the boat, which is the first focal point, to the ship, which is the second focal point, and then on to those two small rocks on the left, which are the third focal point(s). From there on your eye is immediately dragged back to the lifeboat.

By controlling your focal points you can dictate exactly where your audience looks when they set eyes on you picture. By placing your focal points deliberately, and by ensuring there’s a hierarchy, you can add movement to an otherwise static image.

It’s The Little Things….

I remember posting this picture online and having an acquaintance who practiced photography comment on it. He said it was real good.IMG_2139

That one comment was one of the little things that made me realize that having a bad camera doesn’t necessarily matter. I can still call it art. I can still have fun with it. Though the shot is grainy and perhaps over-saturated, the sun’s brightness, the colour of the sky, and the dark silhouettes of tree branches make it worth looking at.

Sometimes quality isn’t where it’s at. Sometimes it’s content, or colour, or meaning. Little details can turn a bad photo into an interesting one. They don’t magically make it better or erase the imperfections, but they allow the picture to make sense despite and because of the imperfections.

IMG_0575This particular picture would look pretty ridiculous out of context. The colour saturation is completely out of whack, and the grain is off the charts. However, I made the image look like this for a very particular reason: I was exploring themes of abuse, and the colours emulate bruises; they made me think of both the beauty and hurt than can come out of the pain we experience. In this way, certain editing styles can be used to achieve very specific effects that might normally not work out.

In Conclusion….

I hope that you do not judge when you see these pictures and pictures like them. Perhaps poor-quality photos are made to be judged, but perhaps they merely showcase different things. Above all, the reason I choose to use images like these on my blog is that it gives me a lot of creative freedom. I can photograph subjects that are meaningful to me, and I don’t have to worry about image ownership or anything like that.

Is there anything you like to do to spice up your poor-quality pics? Feel free to let me know in the comments below. I can always use the help.

PS – I wrote this post a while ago, but never published it. I therefore feel compelled to add that I have now upgraded to a phone that has a better camera on it. But I think the things I wrote about still apply to my photography – it isn’t always good, and it doesn’t have to be. That’s the beauty of it.

Aug 24/15

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