Losing Focus on Purpose

I’m a sharp focus kind of photographer. I’ve sought out the best lenses for sharpness. I use a tripod whenever possible. And I do a lot of focus stacking to get sharpness throughout the depth of an image.

But just maybe, I’m in a photographic rut. What if I broke out of this routine and approached image making in a novel way?

To help me set out in new directions, I’m currently enrolled in Lori Lankford’s Creative Closeups class, which is offered through the Capital Photography Center. Lori’s full of ideas on how to build exciting close-ups using a variety of techniques that, frankly, are new to me.

Although this looks like an array of flower petals, in fact it is a defocused close-up of the air intake grill on my truck!

The current lesson urges us to seek out light in ways that will reveal interesting bokeh. Bokeh, a Japanese term, refers to the out of focus portion of an image. There is good bokeh and there is bad bokeh. The goal is to create out of focus areas, usually in the background behind a sharply focused subject, that is pleasing to the eye.  When you achieve it, you’ve got good bokeh.

This image is of a portion of a translucent yard ornament. The colors were enhanced in post-processing to create this vivid abstraction.

In carrying out my assignment, I chose a somewhat different path. Rather than focusing sharply on a foreground object, I decided to defocus my lens entirely so that no part of the image was recognizable. I shot wide open, using a Voitlander 100mm macro lens at f/2.5.

Another interpretation of the yard ornament.

This was a totally new experience for this sharpness nut and it opened my eyes to wonderful new possibilities. I’m still experimenting, mind you, but already I’ve learned a few things I’ll use in the future. Here are some takeaways:

  • I can get some very artistic effects by defocusing entirely
  • I get my best results shooting into the light against backlit subjects
  • Speculars, like the glint of light on water drops or tiny reflections on other objects can yield geometric patterns due to the configuration of the lens’s diaphragm blades
  • Backlit translucent objects are great for shooting through to create abstractions
  • Subtle colors in the raw files can be enhanced in postprocessing to create brilliantly hued abstractions
  • Tack sharp shooting is definitely not the only way to go

I’m excited to have learned this lesson and I’m eager to see what else I can learn as I continue this course.

Published by Norman Reid

I worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 27 years in the field of rural community and economic development. I retired a few years ago and have been devoting my time to photography and writing. I've been a semi-pro photographer for more than 25 years and sell my work on the Web. I live in rural Virginia not far from the Shenandoah Valley.

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