Are You Actually Into Photography? An Argument Against Pixel Peeping

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“I really like photography” is a statement that you probably hear from a lot of people. Depending on who the person is, what that statement means can vary greatly. It can be about “photography” which means literally just taking “pics” of stuff; which isn’t really what we’re talking about here. It can also be about looking at images as a whole and having a genuine appreciation for the moment or what the little slice of life actually represents.

Then there are the people who like to pixel peep every image that they see.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 18mm f2.8 review sample photos (14 of 37)ISO 1001-50 sec at f - 2.8

Let’s be honest here now: pixel peeping is a result of finding a way to evaluate a camera or photo based on science and something that can be put into numbers rather than art. It’s not photography in the artistic sense–it’s simply the joy that someone gets from the fact that they can look at an image, look at it at 100% (when the intent wasn’t’ necessarily that to begin with,

For years, when you looked at an image you observed it for what it is: not for what it looks like at a micro level.

Quite frankly, that isn’t photography: this is just a basis for evaluating the performance of a camera or a lens. Photography and the art of it itself isn’t necessarily about the camera, the lens, the lighting, etc. It’s about the whole image.

Let’s break this down even more:

Shot with the Sony A7r Mk II. A flash was placed towards the top of the scene to give the effect of window lighting.

  • You don’t sit there and look at Ansel Adams’ images or observe what he did on glass underneath a microscope, you look at the whole.
  • You don’t sit there and look at Bresson’s images under a microscope. You know going into it that they’re not necessarily going to be sharp. But instead you appreciate the moment and the geometry.
  • You don’t look at Mary Ellen Mark’s photographs at 100%. Instead what you do is look at the conditions and the stories she was trying to tell because she captured such shocking moments.
  • You don’t look at Steve McCurry’s images at 100%; instead you look at and value the innovative way that he uses color, and you study the heck out of it.
  • You don’t pixel peep Jeremy Cowart’s images, you look at the use of negative/positive space, color, lighting to tell the story he’s trying to and the moments he creates.
  • You don’t pixel peep Peter Hurley’s images, you appreciate the moments that he can capture and get out of people better than a heck of a lot of other people.
  • You don’t pixel peep Nathan Wirth’s images, you instead appreciate the moments he manages to create using long exposures, black and white, and contrast/shapes.
  • Zack Arias’s work isn’t what you pixel peep, it’s what you see from the moment
  • Martin Parr’s work is all about what he can bring out of people when you look at the image as a whole, you don’t have to pixel peep at all.
  • It’s completely stupid to pixel peep Annie Leibovitz’s work…let’s be honest.

Am I saying pixel peeping is wrong? Heck no. I’m just saying that it isn’t photography; it’s about scrutinizing an image on a scale that it probably wasn’t designed to be done with.