I never went to photography school. I’ve taken a couple of classes in the last few years, but most of what I have learned has been overheard, information presented during the monthly critique meetings at the local photography gallery, or gleaned from random on-line sources. I do have two photography reference books, but find the language difficult to understand so basically I just keep moving forward making pictures and sometimes, out of the clear blue, something will happen and a concept that has been hard for me to grasp will suddenly make sense. “Tack sharp” is one of these epiphanies.
“Tack sharp” first came across my radar three years ago when a female friend used the phrase, then I heard another woman use the phrase last night at the monthly critique. The third woman who used a similar term was my mom who pointed out a person’s brainy nature by referring to them as “sharp as a tack.” The fact that I have never heard a man use the words sharp and tack in the same sentence is inconsequential and, like noticing a particular car on the road after you have purchased one, I’ll probably soon be bombarded with those words in a husky voice.
I was interested in finding out about image sharpness in a photograph because mine never seem sharp enough. At the conclusion of my typical research (talking to folks and reading), the focus problem seems to boil down to one of three issues: 1) a poor quality lens, 2) not holding the camera steady, or 3) a moving target. Solutions were to use a higher quality lens, a tri-pod, and shoot non-moving subjects.
On a recent road trip, I tested renting a higher quality lens and the results were slightly better. I have a tri-pod in the trunk, but like my father’s hearing aid which he kept in his dresser drawer, it’s never taken out. On the topic of shooting stationary objects, as a street photographer, that just doesn’t seem to be in my nature.
I have resigned myself to the fact that the charm of my photos is due to the weather, lighting and activity of wherever I happen to be when I have camera in hand and snap the photo. That said, I am finally happy to be “sharp as a tack” in understanding how to make “tack sharp” images so that now I can knowingly continue down my favored path of shooting images without stopping to set-up equipment and running the risk of missing the unexpected moment. It’s simple recognition of the moment trumping the technique.