Monday, September 14, 2009

Focus Pocus!

Reading on the Steps
My good friend John at Far Out Photographic recently wrote a blog about getting intimate with your subjects titled “Ditch the Telephoto and Get Closer.”  I completely agree with John, and his post motivated me to go make some photography with only one lens.
FDR Soup Line
Shooting with only one lens is something I will occasionally do because it is fun, challenging and helps to further your mastery of the chosen lens.  So following Johns post, I grabbed my Canon 5D,  my 50mm f1.8 II, and went for a walk around the U.S. Capitol building and the Eastern end of the National Mall.
Flag Ring at Washington Monument
This blog is not about my walk with the 50mm lens.  I will get to that soon, but for now we will let the 50mm subject be the launching point for the real story.  The day following the 50mm walk, I made a similar walk around the Western end of the National Mall with only one lens.  This time I used the Lensbaby 3G.
Kite Man
The Lensbaby is a unique lens that “bends” giving the photographer selective focus (one area of the composition remaining in focus and the remainder is blurred quite dramatically).  The lens is terrific fun and presents an enjoyable challenge for making truly unique photography.
I had a fun afternoon taking the shots featured in this post.  But yet, we have not broken the real story that instigated this post.  Following are portions of an e-mail conversation I had with John.  This conversation is the motive for the entry.
Vietnam Memorial
Took this yesterday at a birthday party.  I've been using Silver Efex Pro (which now has a LR plugin version) to "hide" the 20D's noise (think I used ISO 800 on this one).  Would like your opinion.  It looks a bit too soft to me - I may be able to go back to the original and mask the eyes and mouth for sharpening.

Headed out to some festival in Adams Morgan - should be a lot of characters there to photograph for sure!

Curly Smile

First, let me say the shot is spectacular and not just from a technical standpoint.  The little girl has a direct connection with the's all in the eyes.  If there were technical flaws, they would be completely obliterated by the connection with her smile.

As I was processing the shots from a recent outing with the Lensbaby(and very happy with many of them), a lightbulb went off.  With all the great camera bodies, lenses, sensors, software, etc., we (as photographers in general) seem to be obsessed with capturing the elusive super tack sharp shot (that happens to include a cool subject, blurred background, perfectly distributed tonal range, a "decisive moment", yada, yada, yada).  As I evaluated my lensbaby shots, I saw that this pursuit of non-soft perfection is misplaced.  There are a whole host of attributes that happen to trump "tack sharp."  Take a look at the photos attached, and make an argument otherwise.

As you look at these shots, you will find that even the parts of the shots that are in clearest focus, are still out of focus.  But when you look at the picture as a whole, it works.  There seems to be some jedi mind trick going on that deals with "relative focus."  In other words, when parts of the shot are way out of focus, those that are close to being on the focal plane, appear to be more in focus than they really are.

Bottom line:  you are being way to critical of your is great, and the subject/composition/exposure/timing outweigh your concerns by a long shot.
Good luck shooting today!


Vietnam Memorial-2
Whoah!  I really like the one of the kid sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Mem!  …Still, I think a really good portrait needs sharp eyes and mouth to work for me, unless the shot is so [intentionally] blurry, then having an entire soft image works fine…
Washington Monument - blur

OK, I concede that good portraiture is all about the eyes.  To nail it, the eyes, if nothing else, need to be in super sharp focus.  I don't so much need the mouth in focus...the story is told in the eyes.
Washington Monument - blur-2

So what is the bottom line?  Here is what I think:
  1. John totally rocks portraits!
  2. Good portraits mean getting the eyes right…the eyes must be in focus.
  3. There is some very good photography to be had that is not in the sweet spot of focus (the real question is “how far can we go and still get something pleasing?”  I may just test that).
  4. Go challenge yourself by taking just one lens…it will force you to be creative, and you will have fun!
I hope you enjoyed the story and the photography.
Go make some great photography.

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