Emotion vs. perfection: what comes first?

It's a constant war, but only in my head. I'd rather not discuss it with my fellow photographers--creative conversations are more important when we get together, not debates. 

My approach to photography has always been centered on aesthetics. So, in the beginning, my focus was almost always on making right exposures, framing and cropping per the rules, and you know, the whole nine yards. This is me saying in a subtle way, I was shooting images that were boring. No emotion, unless it happened by accident. 

This is was when I primarily shot animals, nature, landscapes...everything but people. It was only in 2012 that I realized making pictures of people isn't boring at all. Yeah, that's how skewed my perspective was before, all the while assuming landscapes and pictures of water birds digging up bugs were interesting. I'm not saying they aren't, but they rarely evoke any emotion, do they? 

When I did start shooting weddings, again my focus was entirely on aesthetics. Until I started reading. Reading a lot. About the best wedding photographers, their approach to photography, why they shoot weddings...and I knew in time what my pictures were missing. Emotion. The most important ingredient in wedding photography, and I was ignoring it completely. 

I was also following several Indian wedding photographers, who perhaps have the most challenging of photography jobs. Everything about India spells chaos, it's always difficult to execute plans, and most wedding venues are photographer nightmares. Poorly lit, crammed. 

Initially, I said to myself: to heck with aesthetics and technical brilliance, let me just capture emotion to the best I can. After all, most of my peers were successfully pulling it off. I had begun to subscribe to the philosophy of: emotion trumps technical perfection. 

To a large extent it is true, emotion trumps technical perfection. Any day.

But when you look at wedding portfolios of people like Jerry Ghionis, Ben Chrisman and his fellow studio photogs, Joe Buissink, Cliff Mautner, I realized one thing...it's absolutely right what people say about emotion being more important. But, technical perfection is the unspoken rule. 9 out of their 10 pictures are technically perfect, and one of them might be a compromise under extremely difficult shooting conditions. 

It's what I call it the perfect marriage of emotion and technical perfection. That's exactly why their images are so damn good. 

It's what I believe in now. As photographers, we have a lot of things to think about while making a picture. Light, composition, white balance...it's a pretty long list. Why is it so difficult then to make a picture that's both emotionally overwhelming and technically mind-blowing?

Right (or creatively right) exposures should come naturally to professional photographers. Other aspects of photography too. All they need to add is capturing emotion. 

It's not a change of focus. I believe it is never emotion vs. perfection. It should be emotion + technical perfection. That for me defines an exceptional picture. 

This is one of my favorite images. To capture just the emotion, I could've easily let the camera choose the settings for this scene. Depending on where I metered, I would've ended up with clipped highlights (from the side-lit portions of the face) or an underexposed image (if I had metered for the white shirt). I made sure I'm making the picture, not the camera...and I got it right. 

This is one of my favorite images. To capture just the emotion, I could've easily let the camera choose the settings for this scene. Depending on where I metered, I would've ended up with clipped highlights (from the side-lit portions of the face) or an underexposed image (if I had metered for the white shirt). I made sure I'm making the picture, not the camera...and I got it right.