Which Do You Prefer: Soft or Sharp? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Which Do You Prefer: Soft or Sharp?

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This image, “Sandhill Crane, Family of Four” was created this morning with the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 50. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/8 sec. at f/10 in Tv Mode.

Which Do You Prefer: Soft or Sharp?

Let me know with a short comment which image you like best, the crane blur or the sharp wigeon. And do let us know why. As always, if you’d like to learn to create pleasing blurs, check out: “A Guide to Pleasing Blurs” by Denise Ippolito and yours truly.

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This image, “American Wigeon Landing” was also created this morning. I used the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens with the 2X II TC (hand held at 400mm) and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering -1/3 stop: 1600 sec. at f/8.

Shopper’s Guide

Here is a list of the gear that I used to create the images above.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens
Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens
Canon EF Teleconverter 2X II
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Gitzo 3530 LS Tripod
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head

If you are considering the purchase of a major piece of photographic gear be it a new camera, a long lens, a tripod or a head, or some accessories be sure to check out our complete Shopper’s Guide.

27 comments to Which Do You Prefer: Soft or Sharp?

  • Chris

    I like them both..

  • Rollin E. Drew

    If the blurred image of the Sandhill Cranes was 4’X 6′ hanging in MOMA I think it would receive favorable attention, by me at least. However, as a photograph of Sandhill Cranes, I think it fails. Candidly, the image of the American Wigeon seems to fail either as a sharp photographic study of a landing American Wigeon or a surrealistic blurred photographic image, though I assume the former was intended as a contrast to the Sandhill Cranes image.

  • Monte Brown


    Prefer the blur, the color is sweet, extreme energy, fabulous composition. The darker banding at the top and bottom frame the birds, the white bands add interesting contrast and complement the touch of white in the necks.

    The widgeon is a great image, good detail, proper framing and perfect exposure.

  • Loukie Viljoen

    Artie, I think we are looking at 2 different categories of photography, the blur=artistic, pleasing, just, we were always [65 yrs ago] told something in the blur must be sharp, even just one head or beak for eye to focus on it will look great on a wall, whereas the sharpy not so great for a wall hanging, the Wigeon is a birders preference, you can ID the bird to the e nth degree, my cents worth regards Loukie

  • Apples and oranges . . . would perhaps put the blur on my wall as art. But being a nature lover/conservationist, I prefer the Wigeon. The pleasing blur conveys a sentiment, but the wigeon with that deep, liquid eye has a soul.

  • That’s like comparing apples and oranges on technical points. The perfect apple and the perfect orange are both, well, perfect. However, some like apples, some like oranges and some like both.

    Both types of image have different merits and I like both types. That said, if forced to choose, I would go with the blur in this case simply because the tip of the bill gets lost against the dark wing in the sharp photo.

  • Actually I like both. The blur to me has lovely morning light color and if I saw the same image sharp, my guess is that I might prefer the blur. But the sharp widgeon has my vote. I love sharp fine lines and the fact that it is close and sharp gives me a feeling of connection to the bird where I don’t feel any connection to the cranes.

  • Is this one of those “left brain – right brain” questions? I’m an engineer by training, but I’m also a musician – I like them both. Both offer the opposite ends of the optical spectrum for me. One is blurred, which leaves it to the imagination to try to figure out what other images can be imagined (like looking at clouds in the sky) and the other is sharp, which doesn’t really let your imagination wander. But, all in all, I like the sharp image better.

  • I spend a huge amount of time and money trying to create some pin sharp BIF images. You (Artie) create some of the best BIF I have ever seen. While I studied the blur image for longer, my feelings remain the same as some others who have commented. Create something my eyes cannot see. “The detail in your pin sharp images”. Freeze that moment with wings spread wide and feathers straining to hold the bird against gravity…
    The pin sharp image will always win – for me.

  • Jonathan Michael Ashton

    I suppose I am just awkward, I don’t think they are really comparable, they are very different images and I find both visually pleasing. I like the colours and the sense of ghostly apparitions in the crane shot but I also like the frozen action and the exquisite detail in the shot of the widgeon. If there was a straight crane shot I suspect I would prefer a sharp one if there was a blurred widgeon shot I suspect I would prefer a sharp one. Why – possibly becasue I think the camera could capture something that my eye didn’t i.e. a moment frozen in time. Having said that I do like some blurred or action shots – trouble is I think I can soon see too many of them whereas the sharp images, well I can’t get enough.

  • Marvin Falk

    I prefer the sharp. It allows me to study the bird itself. I can see the point of an impression or interpretation of birds, but the sharp contains more of the visual information that I seek

  • Beverly Kune

    I prefer the blur … much more evocative. It stirs the soul!

  • I have to agree with John. The naturalist in me likes the great widgeon photo, but in a gallery it is the blur I would linger over and maybe come back to for a second look, so the blur wins for me. I am starting to prefer photographs that I react to on a gut level, before I’ve intellectualized the why of it.

  • C G Gustavsson

    I prefer the wigeon. But there is another type of blurr – e.g. the blurred wings in a hovering kestrel. Head and especially the eye sharp, wings blurred. We call it a picture of the bird “as you see it” or “catch your impression”. As opposed to the razorsharp picture e.g. with flash light at 1/20000. The latter may be the perfect illustration as well as a lovely picture but it is not the bird as you experience it in the field. Sometimes the two varieties meet – e.g. in Eric Hoskins pictures of crowded waders where he used a 9×12 cm technical camera with tilted back to make it all sharp.

  • Keith Reeder

    I like this blur very much, for much the same reasons as Jay, and I appreciate the sense of speed and motion it captures: of the two images, it’s the image I’d want my name on.

    Interestingly(?) I was going to pick the Wigeon, but the blur has grown on me in the time it took to write this…

  • Gayle Clement

    I prefer the sharp, Artie. I lover nature and have always admired your skill at creating sharp, clear images with beautiful light.

  • Definitely sharp. Sharpness has been touted to us photographers during workshops, seminars, equipment sales pitches. Almost all my photographic life I’ve attempted to achieve perfect sharpness (except for deliberate softening…but not blurring…e.g. in attempting to create a “romantic” air), and now I just can’t let go! Sharp is king!

  • It is a difficult choice. On one hand the Nature photographer would much prefer the sharp image, but the photographic artist would like the artistry of the blur. Having to choose one of these two images the artist in me wins and goes for the blur.

  • joan chasan

    generally don’t like blurs but it is a pleasant one, since can tell what it is and like the colors.

    the widgeon, initially my eye goes to the back of the bird. took a while to find they eye. maybe need more room in front and less in back. also just the way the head is placed -doens’t initially draw your attention to it.

  • Bill Coatney

    The blur has an interesting blend of colors and I can appreciate the abstract, almost oriental watercolor painting like image but without a ‘sharp’ portion,the eye has no anchor. As a result there is a tendency to be drawn to the lighter parts of the image.
    Those parts conflict and fight for my attention.
    It is like a busy a background–distracting in my humble and oft disputed opinion.

    The wigeon leaves no doubt as to what the center of interest is due to its size in the frame and sharpness.It seems more balanced and in harmony with its different parts.,

  • Esther Corley

    I much prefer the sharp images. I am getting tired of blurred water, blurs in the sky that don’t look like much of anything, blurred flowers, etc, just for the sake of being different.

  • Like Carl I’m not a fan of the blur. Too many of mine look that way unintentionally. On the other hand I liked the sharp Widgeon very much.

  • Jay Gould

    Hi, glad that Bosque is over the top. Since the game is to “choose and explain why” while I like them both, I choose the blur for a few reasons: 1) the blur is definable in that the birds are identifiable instead of being a total abstract, 2) the colors and the birds’ heads being on the band of orange give structure to the blur, and 3) the dark band at the top with the light band underneath draws you eye down to the birds.

    On my laptop monitor the “sharp” isn’t tack sharp from a point somewhere in the color behind the eye to the rest of the body. The eye is very sharp; the rest of the body is sharp to not so sharp and just bothers my eye if I look at the image as a whole rather than concentrating on the eye.

    That is why I choose the blur.


  • I’m new here — joined a while back but I rarely comment on things. To me, the blur here is very pleasing, especially in that the three birds are separated by slightly different colors. And the morning (?) colors are beautiful. (Wish I were at Bosque just now…) I have to favor it over the Wigeon because its anatomy is somewhat obscured to me by its pose — the head is a little lost against the wing background and the tip of the beak ends just at the edge of the feathers. On the near wing, the white feathers seem to be on a closer plane than the rest of the wing. I know this isn’t the case but it is a little visually confusing.

  • I am not a fan of soft or blur! The sharper the better for me.

  • Bill Clausen

    Sharp is much better!

  • I much prefer the blur because its more evocitive of the action coupled with excitement of the early morning light.