Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Orange pot

Photographers tend to worry a lot about focus, often becoming obsessed with resolution and sharpness. (See "So You Say You Want a 'Sharp' Lens" over on The Online Photographer for a good discussion of this topic). Achieving critical focus (which is not an easy task) and placing the focus where you want it (the eyes in a portrait, for example) are constant concerns. But what happens if nothing is in sharp focus?

When you think about it, focus is very concerned with surfaces. (I am using the word "surface" here not to imply superficiality, but simply to indicate a physical surface). Photography is wonderful at revealing surface texture and detail, but in studying several favorite artists recently, I realized that painters are often not at all concerned with rendering surfaces in sharp "focus." So instead of worrying about what should be in focus, I decided to see what could be photographed when the details are minimized by soft focus.

If focus (surface) is not the "focus" of the shot, then something else has to be and by deliberately avoiding sharp focus, I began to concentrate on shapes and spaces, color and light and the relationships between these elements. Nothing new here; in concept it is not much different from the way we ignore color when we take black and white photos, and of course the early pictorialists sought to free photography from the "stigma" of mechanical representation using soft focus and low contrast lenses in an attempt to create a more "painterly" look.

The exercise is not as easy as throwing the lens out of focus and hoping for the best. But I have looked at things in a different way, and even if I never take another "out of focus" picture, I think I have improved my ability to see, and to make what I see into a photograph.


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