I recently stumbled upon this statement, “character is the deviation from perfection.”
Which is rather interesting for me because I do both photography and audio engineering.
What is character though? Hmm, I see character as somewhat like a handwriting. You can ask 10 billion people write the word, “Apple” and you will get 10 billion “Apple” that looks different. In the same way, you can ask 10 billion people take a photo of an Apple and you will get 10 billion photos that look different as well.
How come newly weds are willing to pay thousands of dollars for a photographer to take their wedding shots for them? In our day and age, cameras are everywhere, why don’t they just use their phone cameras to shoot their wedding photos? Apart for the photographer’s ability, the difference is the look of the photo, the character of it.
In photography, character can be seen in several ways. First of all, I think the most obvious character of a photo is bokeh, or background blur. I always hear people say, “can show me how to take a photo that has the subject in focus and the background blur?”
As if that the only thing that defers from professional photo and phone camera photos is the background blur. HAHA! How can something such as bokeh, which is basically a monopoly of expensive cameras be imperfection?
Just think about it for a moment alright? Blur is having the image not clear. Do our human eyes see things blur? Of course not! So if you want things “perfect” it would be that everything is in focus and clear. However, with everything in focus, images generally look flat. Blur may hide detail, but accentuate what is in focus. Bringing what you want in focus and what you don’t want out of focus gives an image subject isolation, hence character—making the world look different by blurring things that you don’t want.
Next element of character for photos would probably be colour. How would colour contribute to character? Let me start with white balance. Our human eyes sees “white” in different lighting situations, be it tungsten lighting or fluorescent lighting. Cameras are less forgivable, it will capture light as it is if the lighting is tungsten, the “white” will be orange, if the lighting is fluorescent the “white” will be slightly green.
Colour also play a huge part in mood setting. For example, you will often see a horror movie with eerie green lighting to invoke a creepy feeling in you. Orange tend to make you feel warm. Blue makes you feel cool and distant. Often movies will colour grade their shots to make it look coherent.
Not only that, the amount of colour or vibrancy also play a huge part in mood setting too. With a high saturation the picture will look fake and surreal. With high vibrancy, it will look bright and happy. Low vibrancy, makes it look dull and sad. No colour(black and white) also would create a different feel altogether, often dramatic and powerful.
Contrast, the separation of whites and blacks, kinda gives the image grounding. High contrast images are dramatic and impactful, while Low contrast images seem floaty and light.
Grain also seems to play a part in character making. In essence, grain isn’t of the image, but a result of the film physical limitations. The funny thing about this is that people nowadays add filters to their perfect images to give it that look and character. Texture may not be of the image, but it may give off a certain aesthetic that you cannot get otherwise.
It is a funny thing. If we do not have bokeh, colours, contrast or grain, images would never have taken off. Photos would be just used as a tool not art.
It is also the same with audio. Easiest example is distortion. Distortion in itself is basically signal being too hot for the hardware that it drove the signal to clip. Distortion is a by product of a hardware overload. However, you hear distortion in songs everyday. People spend top dollar to buy expensive overdrive and distortion pedals to get that sound. Once again, imperfection for art.
If you want perfection for music, just use programmed MIDI. You will hear that the notes will be perfect, the note strength will be consistent, so different from a musician physically playing the instrument. However, programmed MIDI is way too robotic. It is really the flaws, the squeaks of the guitar, the extra sustain of the ringing piano, the wash of the cymbal that makes a song more heartfelt.
Don’t get me started on mics! HAHA! I am going anyway! Are there even differences in microphones? Just think about a phone call, is the sound quality of the phone mic better? Or is a professional mic better? Having the right microphones for the right instruments are so important.
Being imperfect is being human, embracing character in art is embracing flaws. Perfection may be good, but it is everything but heartfelt. Truly, character of a piece of art is the handwriting of the artist, without character can we really call the product art?