Photo Experts Say 'Stop Deleting!'

Digital technology might make the endearingly flawed family photo aobsolete.


May 9, 2007 — -- Look through any old photo album and you'll find them: terrible family photos -- the crying baby, the poorly lighted shot, the out-of-focus family, the off-center portrait. But the new digital ritual is changing all that.

Some call it the lost art of bad photography. And many people are bothered by the deleted images. "[They] are often eliminating some of the best pictures," says Mark Jenkinson, a professor in the photography and imaging department at New York University.

Jenkinson says it's often the accidental photos -- the ones you don't think are any good -- that turn out to be something special. "You need to see things full on the screen of the computer. And you need to look at prints. You'll miss the subtleties. And photography at it's best is all about subtleties."

And by removing these subtleties that some might view as errors, Jenkinson says we risk sanitizing our history. "We are eliminating some of our most beautiful flaws," he says.

Nowadays, family photos can be edited to incorporate all sorts of changes: frowns can be turned into smiles, even a forgotten family member can be added into the picture.

Ted Fisher alters photos for a living. He can change an expression, improve a wedding portrait or create a moment that never existed.

The newest technology is actually making it easier and easier to create the "perfect" photo. There are cameras that can recognize a face in a scene and automatically focus on adjusting the lighting for that face. And coming soon to a store shelf near you -- cameras that will whiten your teeth.

But as much as he can do, Fisher's not so sure we should be striving for perfection.

"I am a fan of old family photos, errors and all," says Fisher. "I like when people reveal themselves in front of the camera. I think there is a real temptation to go in and perfect ourselves, and maybe we don't need it. I like the ones that sort of show the minutes that happen in daily life and the way we live -- those are my favorites."

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