What makes a photograph a classic. By ~6

What makes a photograph a “classic”?

By ~6

Email conversation between me and ~6 this morning…

Steve– “TOO BAD I MISSED THE FOCUS……would have been a classic shot”.

`6– “No, no, no, no…..it is perrrrrfect that you missed focus! Also, the ‘dust/scratch/vignette’ pp is perfect for this photo. It looks so authentic and in my opinion you should post it as an example of what makes a, to use your word, “Classic” photograph. It is nothing about focus, nothing about digital versus film and it is nothing about the gear. It is about one thing…the photographers ability to ‘stop time’, to capture emotion! Alternatively, post it and let me say it as some people (there’s always one) might think you’re being self-praising, not that, that would stop me mind you. I could write an essay on this picture alone and it is perhaps my favorite of the whole tour because it tells me so much and leaves me to imagine even more. It is perfect Steve and I want a print.”

Above is a section of an email correspondence between Steve and myself.

I asked steve to let me write this for a few reasons. The first being that he sent it to me with the title ‘Shame I missed the focus….would’ve been a classic’. The second reason being that it may come off as being ‘self-praising’ if he were to use the appropriate words to describe what I feel is one of his greatest photographs ever. Lastly, it is a shining example of what makes a lasting ‘Photograph’ and not a ‘file’.

Without question, this will turn out to be the photograph that I will hang on the wall of my studio when I return home. Not only to remind me of this tour, but also to serve as a memory of this stage of my life with everything and everyone that was around it at the time. It is what I will look at when I’m old and grey (please God) because my feeling is that more than the incredible, best ever photographs that Steve took of the rest of the band, crew and myself, yes, more than those iconic images of me performing in my prime, this one photograph will perhaps be the one that draws tears, lament, joy and a sense of pride when I look back on my professional career.

It is sad and happy at the same time. It shows the detachedness that one has to have when being away from home for extended periods of time. Within the context of the whole tour series, it tells the ‘narrative’, the need to numb one’s-self with liquor, nicotine and fool-hardy behaviour in order to obtain relief from the distance of those loved one’s left behind. It conveys the humidity in the night air of Recife. It shows the tour winding down, the end of one chapter and perhaps the beginning of another, the complexity of a great musician and friend that is Marcus Brown. Yes, it shows all of this in one decisive moment…one photograph. I could go on and write a paper on this photograph but I won’t as the gym beckons and soundcheck is in about three, besides… it’s better left to your imagination.

Angels made of flesh and bone come in and out of one’s life at optimum moments disguised as people. They bring messages that are sometimes hard to see and other times…as clear as the sunlit day here in Recife. You just have to be open to see them.

Thanks for being an angel Steve, thanks for being my friend.


p.s. a little less vignetting when you make my print please….Ha ha ha ha ha…….

(~6, thank YOU for everything and for being MY friend. True friends are not easy to come by these days, but since I have been on this tour I have already made some close friendships with some of the band and the crew. Thank YOU for having me shoot this tour as it is something I will always remember for the rest of my life. The food, the drink, the laughter, the locations, the experiences and continued learning for me has been mind blowing. So again, thank you for helping create these memories for ME to document. It’s been delightful. Steve)

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  1. One of the most interesting discussions in a long time! And some of the most interesting photos I’ve seen here in quite a while.
    Thank you Steve, -6, and everybody else!
    That’s why I visit Steve’s website every day (and it’s much more inspiring than debates on whether to spend x-thousand €s on this or that lens…)
    I’m looking forward to MORE!


  2. ~6 thanks for the post. Some years ago I was able to see some HCB original prints during an exhibition in NYC, that experience taught me something important about photography. To me a photograph should be unique in two ways. In the first way the slice of time in the photo must be so that creates an emotional connection with the observer, it could be at a very personal level or related to collective level, the real value of the moment is that it is the result of a sum of conditions that will never happen again the same way, it is the photographer behind the camera that in an act of present is able to “see” and capture that moment, for this to happen the photographer must “be there”, it doesn’t matter if he uses film, digital, or whatever he has to steal that moment to the life flow. In the second way the photo must be unique as an object it self, I mean the print, a unique print is the result of a craft, the result of patience and time, it may be possible that the print it self may not be the exact copy of the image in the negative (or raw file), but that print should show that passion and love for the craft needed to create a beautiful object, to me the print must reflect the moment itself and its conditions, that means all the “imperfections” that were present in that “magic moment”, those “imperfections” gave the print that “uniqueness” that is needed. Even if the final print is in not here, I can see in the Steve’s photo you share here the magic of the moment, I can see his connection with that present. Thanks for the freshness and for the energy you share with this pic.

    Greeting from Colombia.

    Jorge Saravia

  3. Hi,
    very interesting discussion here…..
    At first, let me state that I’m not the fan of tack sharp aspherical photographs made by high tech lenses which are so much praised because they are sharp, but some photographers can’t add with them anything made by themselfs as f.e. composition or, in easy words: “The hook”
    The pic here has a certain hook, but Steve didn’t got the ‘Kiss of an Angle’ in terms of lifting this photograph into a sphere where we MUST shout: Wowww!!!
    But it’s not bad because most of the time we can’t get all four dimensions into just one 1/500 sec. ….
    Steve keep on going – it’s worth and you are young….. 😉 compare to me……

    40 years ago I got this ‘Special Moment’ without any effort beside the trained wipe effect, but there was just that added component which made this shot a ‘classic’ never to be repeatable by me……:-(
    [img]http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/The race.jpg[/img]

  4. Steve & Seal – Thanks for getting this conversation going.

    When I look at a photograph I tend to take one of two paths. Path 1 – The photos is emotionally stirring and I fall deeper into the photo. I start thinking about the circumstances, emotions and start asking questions related to the subject. Path 2 – The photo is not immediately captivating and I gravitate towards technicalities of the photograph (exposure, color rendering, framing…). Now my questioning tends to be more shallow and related to the technical aspects of the photo rather than the subject itself.


  5. Life is not always in focus. Life is by the moment, and each moment has a clarity of it’s own. I love the way you are capturing the tour.

    Peace, Janet

  6. Michiel, very well said. Capa’s falling soldier is a PERFECT example. The best pictures are the ones that evoke emotion. Context is key to this. If the point to photography is something other than this, I’ve taken up the wrong hobby!!

    • Thanks Spaceghost!

      When looking up Falling soldier (the first image that came to mý mind…) I realised that it had caused quite a discussion on whether it was staged or not…

      In essence, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that one can, no, one is drawn to look at it (a lot) longer than for just a cursory glance.

  7. The importance, or “classic” value of a photograph is determined mostly by the context that we associate with the image in question, not by it’s technical merits. If we bring a few “classic” images of the past to mind (think of Robert Capa’s Falling soldier), we will see that the importance we attach to those images consists mostly of context.


  8. full of noise, far from perfect… a nearly aborted submission from my meager “red-dot panny”:


    • michiel, this was a simple instance of not really trying to do anything, just being captured by something visually, rather than vice versa. i made three exposures and initially liked this one least. i was bothered by the fact that the dark low-wall seemed to decapitate the man, but when i got home and looked at them again, it was that same cause of frustration that really defined the composition and the moment for me. i posted this, because while obviously not a ‘classic’, i think it’s a decent example of an accident yielding better results than could have been achieved by meticulous planning.

      • @Nymaera: I actually like the image a lot. The “decapitating” bit makes the whole thing slightly unsettling and uncomfortable, which makes it more interesting. It’s an image I would pause in front of longer than many others in an exhibition.

        “Noise”? What’s that? An irrelevancy in this case.

        I just thought you shouldn’t apologize for it. At all.

        • thanks for looking and again taking the time to comment. rest assured, i make no apologies for that image. as with everything else in creation, it is what it is and that is that.

          perhaps what you took for an apology was simply me pointing out that by technical and rational standards, it is imperfect. so what? isn’t everything? and where is there any room for beauty in the world when taken that way?


  9. nice topic/post. I think the general public expects sharp and in focus images because that’s how the market sells the the latest cameras. Heres a picture I took on the plane to Hong Kong however, due to the plane being bumpy, I could not get the edge of the seat in perfect focus. however this was one of my favorites on the trip as it captured the dreamy and calm atmosphere on the plane and the seat not being in perfect focus added to this mood IMO.



  10. I almost ignored this photo of my son because it was not tack sharp. I see it now as one of my favorites. I can still see his lollypop anyway ;o)


    • Elaine, thanks so much! It was a school concert for parents. I did the best I could do without a flash. Mason was under the ceiling light in the school hallway after the performance. I pressed the camera to my face with a very sloooow shutter speed. It did come soft but I am glad it did. I think that is what this thread is all about because I would not want it another way. I now have it forever :o)

      Thank you!

  11. Then, then fellow photogs . We are getting moved a bit to tears with our humanising our dehumanised wold of megabits, megapixels, megalenses, megamega everything. So sharp, so hotly debated and louded aint`t classic no more? Off Adams and Avedon and their likes! If I got it right, spontanious and accidental, however of focus, misframed photo is classic. It is!. But then everything, especially taken in colour is valid. I mean everything!.Somebody said tha you can`t take bad photo in color. How right! You get a sliver of life in universe. You can`t improve on that! Once, a shopper asked greengrocer wheather the carrots he sold are the best he`s got? Well, answered the man, as it goes for carrots, they are Gods best shot for them. Boy, everything can be art in right time and the right place. Haven`t you noticed one of recent trends epitomized between others by mr.Parr, otherwised excellent street snapper, that elevates daily lifes banality to museum and art gallery level. Take any of bleached labprint from you family album, blow it up to 100 by150, hang it in the IN place and you have it. As to stuff connected to personal life and memories, no doubt, they are classic to their makers and beholders, especially when there`s a story connected to it. Whole human emotion scale from tears to joy are classic and universal. But what`s makes stranger being captivated for longer moment by a specific photo? Well in old days it was visual and emotional universality, a family of man. Nowedays the impact is heightned by story. It would be very difficult to make captivating photo of three out of focus, blurred and hard to recognise persons but if you could prove it was spaced out Brad with Paris and Brittney, it would make the global day. If, like somebody said, the picture is worth a thousands words, why all that jazz? You know how Hollywood enhances attention on a person? Blurring the background. And the likes of H.C.B? Clean distribution of light and dark areas and putting main object in undistructing space. Of course all options are posible. I mean braking the rules. But then you should know what to brake. The one Pablo Picasso was master at that. Only when he first fully exploited the rules he set, he broke them.
    p.s. Appointing `6 Leica global ambassador (congratulatios aside), makes one muse on the trend set out by Leica. Prefering Avedon to H.C.B. surely says that the future belongs to fashonable and exclusive (S2?) even on other hand maybe I`m very wrong. They do make The point and shoot and Leica will do rest for you cameras, don`t they?

  12. Je suis très heureuse des propos tenus par Seal, j’ai la même ligne de pensée sur le sujet, à 100%. C’est justement cet émotion sensible, cet approche naturelle et profondément humaine qui me touchent dans les photos de Steve. Voilà pourquoi je regarde et lis assidûment son aventure dans la tournée. Il faut continuer dans ce sens, c’est tellement rare et précieux… De toutes façons cette capture est excellente!!! Merci Steve.

  13. While I hate artificial circular vignetting, I agree that out of focus is not a concern at all and it’s the content/emotion/composition that matters.

      • Yes, profoundly substantial and well supplied with self-produced examples of good photos. Bravo, YJ! You have a great future as an art critic! That simple…


          • Hi Michiel!

            Well, yes, harsh… But very much in tune with the original statement. I am a very calm person by nature but I do get irritated when I see someone barging in on a peaceful conversation with a statement like: “You guys are all a bunch of fools here. Because I say so!” If you want to criticize something you have to be polite and constructive. Or you get punched in the nose…


            P.S. By saying ‘you’ I don’t mean you, Michiel. Sorry for the stupid disclaimer…

  14. Capturing the real emotion of a moment is the highest thing to aspire to in photography, for me.

    I too had some fortunate accidents below.

    I wonder if there are photographers that master their craft to such extend that they can do this kind of thing on purpose, rather than as an accident.

    Great images Steve, you’re an inspiration to me!

  15. Sweet! Oof photo can do wonders sometimes! This would be my choice also to get it printed. I have many photos oof that are now actually on my studio wall and they tell a lot more story then some of the most polished photos i’ve done. Weird but true.

    This shot was on my way home from work and i tried to get a lock on truck and blur the windshield but came vice versa. When i saw it on my computer i knew it would be definitely a keeper and it was, it sits above my computer desk now.



  16. Greetings Seal!

    I really can say that I understand you too 100%…happened to me about 10days ago – as I have been at a Photo Exhibition – and I made a quick shot by turning around seeing a Photographer who asked people there to make a shot of them – and he had a big laugh – I quickly raised my M9 and had no time to make any changes like raising the shutterspeed – and as I was going to publish the pics of this event online I for a second thought if I really should put it online:


    Emotions should stand above any technical issues…


    Michael S.

  17. This photo is has very beautiful elements to it.
    The spontaneous couple not the bike.
    The shadow and the high-contrast light.

    What I’m not so happy with are the cars which dominate this beautiful and delicate scene. And I also wish, that the shadow of the bike with the couple would not be cut off.

    Nice image regardless of my thoughts …

    • Birgit, I think there is always a way to improve an image before it’s taken. But it already is the way it is. Nothing could be done about it now. So the question remains: does it have that ‘classical’ value or not, and what is ‘classical’ anyway. I think these questions were addressed here quite extensively. Maybe not answered for all but at least for some people. That is not bad already. Besides, we have all the reasons to believe this picture will be hanging on Seal’s wall and probably, due to the resonance it had received here, on some other people’s walls as well. That is not too bad, either. After all, what makes an image successful? I guess, the exposure and adoration. And, very often, controversy. This image is already enjoying all three.

      I’ve recently met a very good Magnum photographer, Gueorgui Pinkhassov. He is also from Russia, like me, but lives in Paris now. I’ve heard from him that “masterpiece cannot be without imperfection”. I think it’s very true. I’m not implying that this particular image is a ‘masterpiece’. What I want to say is that imperfections aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

      I’ve also met another excellent photographer, Paolo Roversi, when he was in Moscow some time ago. He is one of the top Fashion photographers in the world. Fashion photography is usually associated with absolute technical perfection of the images. You wouldn’t think of a Fashion shot being out of focus or imperfectly lit. But Paolo’s images are very often out of focus on purpose. He says he likes it that way. He prefers to work with long exposures. Rarely makes a shot less that one second long. He thinks long exposures allow for the ‘soul’ of the model to emerge (a very nice idea, I think). Of course you can’t get perfect focus with one-second exposures. But he is fine with it and his clients are happy, too. He also likes to light his subjects in very strange ways, which is no less unconventional than his OOF technique. Photography is Art. You can do anything. As long as you yourself and at least some other people are happy with it.

      Anyway, Birgit, I am preaching to a preacher here. You are an outstanding photographer. I love your work. And I can say it’s full of those lovely imperfections I was talking about here. So, my ‘monologue’ is actually meant to add more to this topic here than to prove anything to you personally.


  18. Wow, talk about a bandwagon. Well, ok, I suppose somebody needs to get run over by it.

    ~6, if a song you wrote did not realize your vision for it, did not express what you intended when you sat down to write it, would you agree with somebody else insisting that it was a “classic”? This whole stream is an exercise in proving that “classic” is in the eye of the beholder, which, if true, renders us incapable of offering a critical assessment of the merit of any work of art.

    I dissent from the view that photography is exclusively an emotional enterprise. All art has elements of both craft (technical) and artistic (emotional). Sometimes your visualization is best realized by keeping the rules, ie having something important to your intent in sharp focus and sometimes it’s best served by breaking the rules, “throwing” the focus or even blurring everything as with a Holga or toy camera or homemade plastic lenses. But whichever you do, you do it by design.

    In the end, I don’t think you get “classic” by accident, which presupposes only the viewers’ approval. I think it’s accomplished only by first having a fully realized intent and then by approval. Here, by Steve’s own assessment, the former is lacking. He intended the primary actors to be in sharp focus. They’re not. His design failed, so no matter the degree of secondary acceptance, it’s not classic. It’s fun. it’s emotional, particularly for those who were there, and it’s effective; but not classic.

    By contrast, take Steve’s image of Marianella and Nicolas. It’s technically and emotionally fully realized. It is, I’m willing to bet, exactly what Steve envisioned when he brought the M9 and Noctilux to his eye; and, show that image to anybody anywhere, in context or out, and it resonates on a very basic and deep human emotional level. Now that’s a classic.


    • Doubleg,

      So let me understand this properly. You are saying essentially that a ‘Classic’ cannot happen without intention and later on…approval by critics? Mate, if this is what you’re really saying then there isn’t any point in me even getting into a debate with you on that. We’d be such such worlds apart that it would be futile.

      As for your first point about me writing a song that didn’t realize my vision or express what I intended, I did do just that. I hated it when I wrote it, so much so that I was embarrassed to play it to my producer at the time and didn’t play the demo until it was time to record my second album. A friend of mine told him about it and bugged me so much that I eventually played to him. We even recorded it and hated it so much I convinced my producer to take it off of the album before it was released. It was only due to a third party hearing it, saying that the song was the only one she could remember, that Trevor horn finally put it back on the album.

      It went on to become the second most played song in American history within a year along with Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’. I had the military call me for permission to include it in their dressage. It also won me four Grammy’s…it was called ‘A Kiss From a Rose’.

      I don’t know about you but some people tell me it’s a classic.


      • It is a classic, the song! I agree that photographers sometimes don’t have the intention to create a classic but it happens to them. Many things have to come together to create a classic and a lot of these elements are not controlled by the photographer. In the end it is the wider audience, or viewers that knights the result. Things happen unintentionally and that can lead to much nicer results.

        BTW How can someone not be touched by HCB?????????????

        • Hi D!rk,

          When I first got into photograhy, I was wowed by HCB (not emotionally touched) due to the perfect technical aspect. Whilst I still respect and admire what he has done, I never look to his photographs for inspiration. Avedon on the other hand is just short of God for me. So I can really understand why HCB does nothing for my wife.


          • I like Avedon as well. I went to his exhibition in Berlin. His images are amazing. I am a big fan of his homeless series. It made me buy an 8×10 camera. Still I am inspired by HCB. He worked in uncontrollable places and managed to capture amazing moments with great compositions. I get your point that HCB are almost too perfect to be emotional. I took one image which is not in focus and crisp but I like it a lot because of the emotional aspect.D!RK

          • Seal, Dirk, why HCB’s images are too perfect and not emotional? I can’t subscribe to that. They are VERY emotional to me! And I don’t think many of them are too perfect, either. I mean, his geometry is probably always perfect, yes. But what is wrong about that and how it can diminish the emotional value? I am convinced it can greatly contribute to emotional aspect of an image.

            I love HCB, he is one of my most favourite artists. As well as Avedon. They are both great masters. And not just them. There are many others as well. Like in painting. It would have been awfully, awfully sad if we had only one or two great artists. Art is as huge as the world itself. There are many stars in that sky.

            But Art is very subjective, too. So, it’s OK not to be taken by a particular Artist. Doesn’t mean he’s any bad, though.


          • This is actually meant for Greg.

            Greg, that’s why there’s 31 different flavours. Besides, I’m not saying that they’re unemotional period, what I meant was that I personally feel that the emphasis is more on the technical and less on the emotional compared to Avedon who is ALL emotion and that’s what I prefer. Believe me I have pretty much EVERYTHING for HCB. I was obsessed to the point of owning original prints so don’t get me wrong, it’s not tht I don’t like him….I do. I just grew a little weary of everything being so perfect all the time. Apart from ‘America in Passing’ I felt that everything else was amazing, a bit too amazing bordering on sterile.

            But don’t get me wrong Greg, Avedon quotes HCB as the master of all masters, the photographers photographer. I just prefer something else…I grew into something else.


          • Seal, I know you never said anything about HCB’s pictures not being emotional. I think it was Dirk who said it. In fact, he said, addressing you, “I get your point that HCB are almost too perfect to be emotional.”

            I understand what you mean. I also grow in an out of things in Art and Life. Sometimes I go through the same gates more than once. And why not? It’s all about feeling. You cherish what touches you at the moment. That moment may last a lifetime or may disappear tomorrow. You never know. Life is spontaneous. Isn’t that just great? “Like a box of chocolates”…

            I don’t think all HCB’s pictures are ‘perfect’. Most of them are great in composition, as it was often his primary concern. But many were full of imperfections. Like, most of his pictures were hopelessly unsharp by today’s standard. He even made a well-known statement about it. There were other flaws, both technical and even compositional at times. I even find some of his pictures simply boring to my taste.

            Most of Avedon’s works are also perfectly composed and very well executed technically. So, would that qualify him in the same ‘perfect’ league? No, of course not! It’s not about technique, it’s about feeling.

            They are very different in their vision and I love them both. As well as many other masters. I’m sure you do, too. That Avedon is more appealing to you now is perfectly OK with me. I wouldn’t get upset about it like Stanis did the other day.

            I would dare to assume that HCB’s work is also ALL emotion, like Avedon’s but in a different way. He was an emotional man and his photography was driven by some strong feelings. His whole concept of ‘decisive moment’ was based on an emotional perception of a perfect arrangement of objects and movements in front of your camera.

            Anyway, I think there is no dispute here. We both are talking of the same thing but sometimes from slightly different angles. And that’s where your ’31 flavour’ theory kicks in.

            You can’t like or dislike everything in an individual. Some things you appreciate, some adore and some dislike or even hate. For example, I love Nabokov’s writings. I mean, he is one of the very best writers of all time. But I totally dislike him as a person. Or Tolstoy. I admire him as an individual and a humanist but I am not that crazy about his writings. Well, not all of it at least. Or Pythagoras. He was one of the greatest thinkers but had some undeniably foolish ideas at the same time. Then go Nietzsche, Tchaikovsky, Darwin, Goya, etc. The list could go on and on. All of these people had something great about them and some ridiculous or even dangerous flaws. Well, who cares? I want to go after the good stuff. Even if there’s bad stuff sitting right next to it.

            In India there is a legend about a swan who could extract milk from the mixture of milk and water. In Sanskrit swan is ‘hamsa’. In ancient India they call great sages and thinkers ‘Parama-hamsa’ which means ‘the greatest of the swans’.

            I must say that I really enjoy our communication and I look forward for more. We’re in the same boat. Sometimes we might be pushing it from different sides but the important thing is that the boat is moving forward.


      • “’A classic is accomplished only by first having a fully realized intent and then by approval”.

        Uhh… No. 😉

      • ‘6 I am just curious how you feel about the song “A kiss from a Rose” now. Has it grown on you and if so why? Because of the commercial success or because you hear it differently now? It could be that you still don’t like that song and curse every moment that you have to sing it. 😉 D!RK

  19. I noticed this post earlier today and saved it to read before bed. I’m not ashamed to say it made me cry. My passion for photography is because of its impact. Your kind words and Steve’s document of your tour has been a source of inspiration and admiration.


  20. Sharpness and correct focus are for silly lens test that mean nothing when it comes to art and actual photography. That’s great image because it tells a story and it carries a deep meaning to you, Seal. The fact that is out of focus makes in fact it all more interesting and special, in the context of your life, the tour and all the memories carried forward.

    Didn’t get a chance to post on the other articles but, GREAT job Steve, on all the pics throughout the tour. Now I want to see some of Seal film stuff! 🙂

  21. I couldn’t agree more. The technical aspects of a photo are less important than the emotions it evokes. I can think of one photo in particular that I’ve kept around despite misfocus.
    I love the emotion and movement in this photo despite the fact that the focus wasn’t perfect. In fact, in some ways I think the photo is almost better because of the misfocus.

    • I think I see what’s going on. Someone keeps driving a car into these pictures and leaving it in the background. THAT’s what makes the images work! Ha ha! Just kidding!

      Yes, I think sharpness has become such an obsession and tyranny in photography that our photos often lose the sense of wonder, emotion and inspiration because of it.
      Our life’s memories are sometimes blurred or not clear when we think back on them, but how precious and essential they are. Exactly like this photograph. And you could play for hours at trying to improve it in vain.
      I have a vivid memory of a young woman I knew many years ago. We were standing outside an office talking and suddenly there was this most amazing light after a rain storm and it lit up her face and she looked extraordinarily beautiful. So much so I was stunned and must have been staring at her. She noticed and said..”What’s wrong? ” I couldn’t say anything because I couldn’t express what I was seeing. But at that moment the light, the timing, a pretty girl all came together in a rare and unique moment. I didn’t have a camera. But the image I saw was so strong that it has stayed in my memory some twenty or twenty five years later and has never been repeated. Some photographic images do that. Nothing to do with the camera, the sharpness of the print, the depth of field or whatever. It’s just the magic of the moment. The photo at the top of this page just perfect in this way.
      Thanks for reminding me to take more pictures just like this!

  22. Hi Seal!

    Very nice post and a great subject to discuss. I agree with Mohan: you do write very eloquently. Well, I am not surprised; you’re a poet and a songwriter, after all.

    And the picture in question — very good, indeed! I like it a lot. Accidents sometimes turn into treasures. This seems to be the case here. Well done, Steve! Who knows, maybe in perfect focus it wouldn’t be as appealing. You never know…

    I had a similar type of accident yesterday. I wrote about it on your Facebook page without knowing there will be such a great discussion here precisely on this subject. Anyway, I’ll repost my little comment here, just to illustrate my point:

    “I had a little accident yesterday. I saw an amazing scene and had pressed the button just in time to capture it. The picture was in perfect focus. Decisive moment at its best! But then, right at the instant I pressed that button my better half accidentally touched me on my right elbow, thus ruining the sharpness of my picture. I came home and realized that it’s not just slightly out of focus but, rather, completely, hopelessly out of focus. I was going to delete it but prior to that I decided to try a couple of things in LR. And you know what? I now like the outcome even better than if it was perfectly sharp! Here’s that picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregshanta/5561654754/lightbox/

    The more I think of that picture of mine the more I am convinced that the accident was a lucky one. And your picture, Steve, I think, is in the same category. I like the emotion it conveys and I can relate to that emotion and experience some of the fun you guys had there. And I love the rendering and overall ‘look’ of this picture.

    What makes a picture a classic? I think there isn’t a simple answer to this question. It depends on your angle of view and your position in regards to the picture. The term ‘classic’ is used in many different ways to express different ideas but there is a common thing among all those variants. We refer to something as a ‘classic’ in order to stress on two major aspects: excellence and timelessness.

    I think this picture has both. The emphasis of each may vary for different people, depending on their personal involvement with this photograph. But it’s all there. So, you’re right, Seal, it’s a classic. It’s your personal classic for the emotion and timeless memories it evokes for you. It’s Steve’s classic image because it has made such an impact on you and some of his other friends and will be remembered for a long time. And even to guys like me it’s a classic because I follow Steve as a photographer (I have so far 118 of his images in my ‘favourite’ folder on my computer; and believe me, that’s a lot in my world!); and I know what kind of impact this image has made on some of his fans and that it will be hanging on their wall for a long time. So, by all means, it’s a classic!

    Regarding Dirk’s point, I think it could very well be left just the way it is. Yes, normally I would also try to even it out in terms of (un)sharpness if it were my picture. But I looked at what Darius did and I think I’d rather not go in that direction. No offense, Darius, you did a nice job but to me it looks like the picture has lost something important. Looking at the corrected picture I no longer feel like being there, or the initial feeling it had created for me. Maybe it’s because in this case an attempt was made to correct the imperfection that was put there for a reason by Nature Herself. So, by trying to smooth it out we may end up “throwing away the baby”. Some things should be left imperfect because they are meant to be that way.


    P.S. Seal, it’s great news to know you are now Leica’s global ambassador. I think you are just the right man for the job. In fact, I was wondering why they didn’t do it long before.

  23. I agree with this being a classic photo from the tour. It captures a spontaneous burst of emotion that can not be duplicated.

    Plus, Steve achieved rule #1 of photography. He got the picture!


  24. Ooops, sorry guys, I just realised that my response to Darius’ version didn’t post.


    great that you took the time to illustrate your point, it shows your passion and I admire that. The problem with this version for me is that it hurts my eyes because EVERYTHING is now oof. In blurring the background you have taken away my sense of discovery because you have removed an essential component of the photograph…the layer!

    A good friend of mine James Russell is a master of ‘Throwing Focus’ to the point where he builds ‘Frankenlenses’ to achieve this. He attempted to teach me (and I continue to fail him miserably).

    ‘Throwing’ as opposed to ‘Pulling’ focus requires a very unique and deliberate skill. Any time I’m able to create layers in my photography, those tend to be the one’s that end up on my wall.

    I hope this answers your question Hugo


    • Excused 🙂 its like everything in life. A matter of taste and the poin of view. Like i sayed. Just a quick and not very precise done Attempt of an “emergency-solution”

      Machs gut und sag deiner Frau daß es sehr viele Leute gibt die sie und ihre Sendung gern haben und sie sich die Kritik der Medien nicht zu Herzen nehmen soll.

  25. It’s a great pic because it catches a moment that won’t be repeated.

    It doesn’t need to have the focus in the right place.


    • Great image Michiel that pretty much illustrates what I was trying to say. With your image I see the distance first, then the railing second. What you’ve done is given me layers and a sense of discovery. In effect you have kept my eye returning to the background, at the same time showing me your vantage point.


      • Thanks “6”; that’s very kind. But your pic is a true split second catch; there are many “official” classic images thta share the same qualities.

        My “catch” was thought up approaching the scene and having contemplated the light on my walk this afternoon already. But still, I really wanted most of the image unsharp, ’30’s postcard like, and the Zeiss 2.0/50 on the D700 helped there.

        • Lovely image, Michiel! Seal is right, the viewer’s eye surely goes to the upper background first, then moves down, appreciates the lovely texture on that railing and then promptly returns back up. Very well composed and very nice rendering by Mr. Zeiss.

          My photography mentor, Georgy Kolosov (a great Russian portraitist), says that the human eye always goes to the brightest spot first, and then only to the sharpest. For this reason for many years he has been trying to have dark backgrounds in his portraits. But then he discovered a paradoxic phenomenon: that if you have all white background around a person, your eye will firmly stay on model’s face and the white around it won’t let it escape. Then he started making portraits with white backgrounds, too.

          I once took his portrait following this idea. Here it is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregshanta/5327641070/lightbox/


          • Interesting what your mentor discovered. This is why my favorite photgraphet of all time. Is Avedon.


          • Yes, Seal, he is one of my most favourite photographers, too!

            As for Kolosov’s discovery, you see, we all lived in total isolation in the Soviet Union, both culturally, artistically and politically. Our artists, writers and other creative masters had to invent many things that were already known in the West. That was our reality. So, Kolosov may not even have heard about Avedon for most of his career. Now, of course, everything is open and available.

            Kolosov is one of our all time classical masters. He is specializing in (long forgotten in the West) pictorialist style and his main genres are portrait and landscape. He doesn’t care much for sharpness and shoots only with DIY soft-focus lenses. I will try to attach a few of his pictures here.



  26. This post is just yet another reminder of why this is my favorite photo website – passionate, posts for the growing photographer, and without all the pretentiousness that is the bane of so many forums and photo communities.

    I tend to think that celebrities are over-glorified in our society, but I will have to say, Seal has impressed me with his friendship with Steve and his generosity to this blog. Too bad THAT is not featured in all the celebrity weeklies and gossip items!

    Kudos, Steve, thanks for sharing this exchange – this is a post that I’ll return to read again.

  27. Very much agree with ~6. What you shoot or the technical aspects of focus, etc. don’t necessarily make the picture. My wife and I recently spend an excruciating 8 days at Children’s Memorial Hospital here in Chicago with our 5 year old son Jack. I came across this scene while taking a “break”. The only tool I had was my iPhone. I captured this and a few others just to get some “shooting” to pass the time. The GF1 was at home. Edited on the iPhone as well. Certainly not the best photo I’ve ever made, but it will always be a special reminder to me that nothing should be taken for granted, especially your child’s health. To me, it will always be a “classic”.

    I’m happy to say he’s back home now doing much, much better. We are blessed.

    • LOVE THIS PHOTOGRAPH! If I had a say in the recent ‘Leica M9 Giveaway’ competition, I would’ve picked an image made with a camera phone if it moved me emotionally. I’m glad you left your GF1 t home.


      • Thanks ~6. The scene moved me the moment I saw it. It captured how I was feeling at the time. As a parent yourself, I’m sure you can appreciate that. The alone and helpless feeling you have is more than words can say. I would have traded places with my son in a second. This image captured what I was feeling. I’ve always heard the saying, “the best camera is the one you have with you”. This is the first time I truly understood it. I’m just glad I had something (an iPhone) to capture this moment. This “age of technology” does have it’s advantages 🙂

        By the way Steve, I’m with Seal in the opinion of your shot. I don’t think it would have been as good if it WAS in focus. You captured something I can’t describe. But the less than perfect focus gives something to the image. Nicely done. I enjoyed all your pictures of Seal’s tour during our time with my son in the hospital. I found myself looking forward to seeing new ones every day. For some reason, it was almost theraputic for me. An escape I guess. Thanks for such a great site and community.

      • I should have also included this follow-up photo, since, emotionally, it’s the polar opposite of the chair photo. Going home. This was a good day.
        [img]http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/GOING HOME.jpg[/img]

        • Great picture of Jack! Very nice boy! Wow, so many gifts in the ‘trunk’! You are lucky to have him and he is lucky to have such loving parents.

          And, I must say, an amazing photo-story, these two pictures.


          • Thanks Greg. He is a sweet boy. He’s becoming quite the photographer as well (at 5!). He did ask me one day though “what’s film?”. Yes, I did take the time to explain it. We are fortunate to have been blessed with two wonderful boys. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

            I do like these two pictures. It’s the two extremes of emotions we felt at the hospital during those 8 days. Now if only there was some sort of contest where you could win a cool M9 previously owned by a world-class recording artist for submitting two photos that tell a story……:-)

    • Great photograph! Love it! The feeling, the geometry, the light — all great! The story — very moving. I am a parent, too, and I know what you went through. My two-year-old daughter was in a terrible accident once: she pulled a table-cloth off the kitchen table with a boiling tea-kettle on it… She had 30% of her body very badly burnt and we too had excruciating experience in the hospital for quite a while. She’s five now and is doing very well. Not even a trace of those burns, amazingly… The doctors said she’d be scarred for life. Thank God they were wrong!

      Here she is, fooling around, while I try to catch her with my then newly-aquired Sonnar 50/1.5: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregshanta/5046016147/lightbox/

      Who said you can’t photograph moving children with Leica in low-light? This one was ISO 1600, wide open, 1/125.


      • Thanks Greg.

        Your daughter is a beautiful little girl. That is a fantastic image!! I’m so happy for you that she recovered fully. I can’t imagine the scare it must have been to have your child burned like that. Thank God is right!

        All the best.

        • Spaceghost33, thank you very much for your kind words! I am glad to know that your little Jack is doing better. Please say hello to him from uncle Greg from Russia. I bet he’ll be surprised who the hell that uncle Greg is. I wish I could give him something sweet but I am too far away from Chicago. Been there, though, and loved it. The Lake is beautiful.

          Take care!


          • Greg, your kind words are gift enough. I passed along your greeting to Jack. It’s nice to know he has an “Uncle” in Russia! 🙂 One of the great things about an on-line community like this is that it makes the world seem that much smaller when you can communicate so easily with someone half a world away.

          • Great! I now have a nephew in Chicago. That makes you my brother, I guess. I always liked the idea that all people are brothers.

            And yes, I agree with you. It’s a totally new world we live in. But somehow, I miss the old one, too… Sometimes I don’t see myself fit for the change.


    • Just a quick follow up. Jack (as you can see in the picture) is almost fully recovered from his HSP. He’s being weaned off the steroids he’s been on for quite a few months now and is as active as ever. It’s been a long road, but one that I learned alot about myself and my son along the way. The growing continues.


  28. Hi Steve, Hi Seal,

    i also know the situation. an emotional unique moment capturing lifemoment, and the focus isnt right. for me it is not the fact that the main-subject isnt perfectly sharp, but the fact that other unimportant areas like the car in the left are sharper than the mainobjekt.

    guess im writing something everyone knows but you cant make unsharpness much sharper but you can make sharpness unsharp. due to the hard unsharpness in the rest of my version, the bikers seem “sharp” again and the eyes of the audience can concetrate on the important part of the photo.

    maybe something like that could be an solution.

    if not, thanks for making an ape from myself 🙂


    • Great version!!
      The background’s glow is what was missing to that moment!
      Now everything fits and can be a great moment portrait on the seal studio wall!

        • Why, Seal?
          My first comment about the photograph is still waiting for approval, and i say i really like the shot.
          But when i saw this version, i think the backround’s blur is something that has just to add to the photo.

        • No problem if you dont like it. Just an attempt to help you and give back a little bit of what this site gives me day by day.

        • Hugo – I like you version better. However, maybe the sharp parts of the image bring back images to Seal and allow him to recreate the scene better.

          BTW – Seal – I agree. We spend way too much time worrying about a sharp image and way to little on composition, color and emotion.

    • Pretty cool Darius and cooler that you took the time to illustrate your point. It shows your passion and I admire that. The only problem for me with this version is that the whole image hurts my eyes because EVERYTHING is now OOF and I cannot look at it for any lengthy period of time. Essentially you have taken away my sense of discovery. Any time I can create multiple layers withing a photograph, those are the one’s I generally print. It’s not very easy to do for a non-pro like me. Steve however….

      Throwing focus requires a very unique and deliberate skill which is very difficult to simulate in the post. My friend James Russell is a master of ‘Throwing Focus’ to the point where he builds ‘Frankinlenses’ to do just that…he is a master. Try and look him up if you get the chance.


  29. Seal – I love your example and desire to focus upon the meaning/feeling/emotion behind the photograph vs. the technical/aesthetic virtues! It is everything that makes this art form so wonderful! Your appreciation of it is even more so commendable!

    Steve – Again and again doing an excellent job! To have not deleted that photo is what makes you so amazing! The fact that you saw the picture, kept it, and then sent it to your friend is spectacular and proves your honesty to yourself and your friend. Some photogs might have been embarrassed to have not nailed focus on such a great scene, but keeping it is what makes you great! Your ability to capture life unfolding before you is spectacular and that is what matters (not if you nail focus 100% of the time).

  30. “It conveys the humidity in the night air of Recife”

    It certainly does! And i can say it, because i live here!

    At the first moment, something bothered me when i saw the image… but it wasn’t the focus “missed”, but the desire to see more, and knowing that the memories is more like a monet’s painting than a perfect mind drawing.

    And an eye inconvenient can be so powerful that can describes great moments that are all gone…
    Photograph isn’t by far just a package of rules. It is an art that can make possible to feel, and not just to see, a whole life that we can never touch again.

  31. This is a good point. Now a days, when we think of ‘out of focus’ areas in a picture, we tend to reference bokeh or that fact that the main subject in the photo is ‘in focus’. But for many famous photographers, their work included images that were out of focus as well.

    What is also classic is the term photograph, it seems we rarely use it any more…”check out some of my pics/pictures”

    Here are some very cool ‘out of focus’ photos.

    • Hi John, great point and greater ‘photographs’ (FYI, I do use that term intentionally when referring to Steve’s art). Look up the work of a dear friend of mine, his name is Russell James. He’s a cat from Texas who taught me about ‘Throwing Focus’ as opposed to ‘pulling’.


      • I looked him up. He has some really great photos on his site. I did not find many illustrating the ‘throwing focus’ concept, but the victoria secret model images made up for anything i might have missed. 🙂 – seriously though, nice work!

          • I like his Lifestyle portfolio and some sports images. Fashion and beauty is cool but not my cup of tea (the only exceptions for me so far are Roversi and Avedon).

            I can see sometimes he is using soft-optics like my mentor, Georgy Kolosov. Actually, this is the only thing I really miss from my Nikon days — the soft-focus and other specialty lenses that can’t be used on a Leica. For this purpose alone I want to buy a mirror-less companion camera for my M9.


          • @~6

            I see it now, in the photographs of the ballerinas, incorporating out of focus upfront as part of the composition. Also in ‘the musician’, having an out of focus main subject and still demonstrating nice bokeh in the back. My favorite for some reason is the soft focus of the lady in the truck with the young boy – reminds me of a scene from the 60’s with the sun setting light and de-saturated colors.

            Thanks for sharing

  32. Hi Seal
    Just wants to thanks for the inspiration at the Ricoh GXR 28mm. Just boúght one, and I think it takes some wonderfull pictures. This one at aperture 22, 0,5sec. handheld to get a dreming suface.
    All the best to you all over there.

    • Rock-lock Thorkil, congratulations!

      Although I must say that I’m not officially endorsing the Ricoh as I’ve recently signed an exclusive with Leica as there first ever global ambassador. Great photograh, remember that there’s a major firmware update to the GXR that will be posted tomorrow, bringing among ore things, five new filter profiles.


      • Thanks ‘6
        I’ll look after it!
        Yes (and ok for the Leica commitment!) I would have done it with a M9 if I could have afford it.
        But the GXR gives me in a way the same pleasure as the M6 do, whick is not bad at all(and more easy)!

  33. Love this dialogue. I think their needs to be the distinction between “classic shot for you” vs. “classic shot for a broad audience” Today, I took a photograph of my blind dog pointing her head at the cookie jar which is a “classic” for me but contrast this with a shot the evokes an familiar emotion that a broad audience can relate too – that is truly a classic photograph – one that evokes an emotion that strikes accord across a broad group of persons. GREAT work and discussion. `6 and Steve, the world needs more thoughtful and kind souls like you.

    • Thanks Joan.

      ” I think there needs to be the distinction between “classic shot for you” vs. “classic shot for the broad audience”. I think you’ve just defined not only what we’re discussing but art in general. Isn’t that the essence of all art……subjectivity? So when one person states “what makes a photograph classic”, does there really need to be a distinction?

      “the world needs more kind souls like you”. You’ve read Steve’s posts and hopefully got some insight into my operation but ask the one guy who recently posted to my website’s Facebook account, stating that he and twenty others had waited at the ‘after-show meet and greet’ without getting his picture taken and that not only myself but my crew were assholes and that he was was going to advise all fans to burn my music!………and he will have a very different sentiment to your quote above. He doesn’t stop to think about life from my perspective, how can he? He doesn’t stop to think that I’d just performed for two and a half hours, two days in a row and that it was probably after midnight with travel plus a show the next day, he doesn’t acknowledge the fifty-plus others all clamoring for attention, autographs and momentous. Instead he selfishly splurts like a petulant child obsessed with only himself whilst affecting others opinions of my band and I with his reckless post. Does this make me an asshole because I didn’t get to him personally for what ever reason? Some could argue perhaps yes! It is subjective.

      Food for thought,


  34. Hi Seal,
    You write so eloquently.

    It is the history and the emotions behind the images that make a classic. Otherwise the best pictures will always remain landscapes and other that are technically well executed and will always be bettered by someone else. How many on this forum will accept that they like all the No.1 hits on the music charts today? We all have preferences based on our own experience of the world, and that is something that is unique. To understand and appreciate art you also need to understand the history behind the creation. That will elevate our appreciation a level higher than mere aesthetic appeal.

    If something polarizes people’s opinion, it is probably good. Think Van Gogh!


  35. As an M9 user, I’m so glad I’m not the only one. At times I’ve argued until I’m blue in the face (quite loudly) with my lecturers at college who are totally hung up on the fact that the focus has to be sharp, sharp, sharp, Why why why? I’ve asked, and does it really matter if it’s even just a little bit soft …. So what if the focus is slightly off, it’s art! Love it, don’t you x

  36. ~6, I agree with most of what you say but still cannot classify this shot as a classic. I who do not share you and Steve’s experiences in Recife with the other band members (unfortunately :)) don’t share the context of this photo as you do. To me, it is an interesting photo which does capture the joyful moment of a couple of band members having fun and makes me wonder what exactly happened there (how many shots did they have :)) but it still does look a bit post processed and meant to look ancient somewhat. I think that this shot is classic in your eyes because of it’s context to you but unfortunately it’s not that to me. A classic shot has probably all or most of the qualities you mentioned above but without the personal context as this one has for you.

    Other then that, Steve’s photos of the tour are truly wonderful and I would love to be able to take such photos my self someday.



    • Hi Dan
      I think you are touching an important aspect. I think a classic image provides a strong emotional aspect with just the minimum required context to pull people in who have not been there. It conveys the feeling of that moment, at that time and place. For people who have been there it is a reminder, for those who have not the photo has to take them there.

    • Bravo Dan, EXACTLY my point! My wife looks at HCB’s widely regarded ‘classic’ photographs and couldn’t give a flying rats ass about them, they do NOTHING for her emotionally. On the other hand she sent me a photograph of our two daughters on the potty yesterday, made with her Blackberry….in her eyes and mine too, a classic! ‘Classic’ is in the eyes of the beholder


      • Goodness, ‘6, as if your entire post above hadn’t already brought a tear to my eye (it literally did!), this comment just sealed it (and I’m not even a parent)! Powerful, good stuff.

  37. “I could write an essay on this picture alone and it is perhaps my favorite of the whole tour because it tells me so much and leaves me to imagine even more “…

    To me, this about sums it up perfectly. Photos, regardless of technical perfection, are best when conveying the emotion of the moment, or really any emotion engendered in the viewer at all…..Technically perfect photos don’t always achieve this. This is why I like to tweak, selectively focus, add grain, and yup, even add vignetting when playing with me photos….

    Sometimes, it’s the blemishes of the person that defines them. Same goes with this photo. Well stated, Seal!

  38. I don’t mind that the guys are not in focus. I almost wish that the entire photos would be consistently out of focus. Some classic shots are like that. It bothers me a bit that the car in the background is crisp. If you are looking for a technical and emotional balance then this one is definitely on the emotional side. Ideally both would be balanced but if I have to choose I would favor emotion over technique. D!RK

    • Honestly, I didn’t even see the car you’re talking about until I read your post and when I did, it was there for a nano second then it disappeared again, the tech-talk noise left my brain, emotional bliss restored.


  39. I totally agree with Seal here Steve. A classic photograph is not about technicalities, about getting focus right, getting the exposure just the way it should be, composing, framing… It’s about the emotion an image conveys, and the emotion it evokes in it’s viewer. And even to someone like myself, who’s never been to Brazil and who’s never been able to go to a Seal concert, let alone know him and his band, this image conveys nothing but happy emotions. Laughter, joy, friendship; it’s the perfect image for showing a memory, partly because of the PP. I can see how not only Seal, but you too, would have a print of this photo, look at it, and remember the tour. The fun you had, the friendships you built, the places you saw. Hold on to it Steve, make prints and back-up copies. This is what photography is really about!

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