getting to know your camera # 2 – focus with a set aperture

For this, I made more than one series of photos, trying to get different relationships between the in and out of focus areas, and to try different types of subject matter. In all cases, I used a 50mm lens at f1.8 on my D50.

First I tried framing something with no obvious subject that demanded focus – a section of my neighbours’ privet hedge, focussing on different areas of leaves, working from left (near) to right (far):

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None of them particularly wows me, but the third, with a narrow in-focus area to the right of the frame is the least interesting with the nearer, out-of-focus leaves creating a sense that I’m pressed up against something, trying to see beyond it. It might work if there was an obvious “thing” that was partly obscured, giving some sort of spying/surveillance feel to the shot, but here there’s nothing to suggest that sort of narrative. The second (focussed on the middle of the frame is okay, but unengaging; the first comes closest to working by dint of having an identifiable, in-focus subject (some foreground twigs) and also, I suspect because I am conditioned to scan pages (and pictures) from left to right and here I don’t start off with an area of no focus before settling on an in-focus area to the right of the page.

Next I took a subject where the planes we more obviously distinct – a swing in a playpark – and focussed on the textured matting beneath the swing (far) the swing itself (middle) and one of the supporting ropes (near):

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There is something to look at and treat as a subject in each of these , with the texture of the in-focus area helping to settle the eye, but the middle picture with the swing in-focus between two out-of-focus planes is probably the most easy to project into some sort of three dimensional space while the other two are less complex, consisting of something on top of, or in front of an in-focus object. This preference is probably enhanced by the strength of the blue and red versus the more muted colour of the faded red rope and the green matting.

My final go at this exercise involved setting the focus on different people in front of me on the long escalator down from the 2nd level at Tate Modern:

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Again, all three work in the sense of giving subject status to the thing in focus with the least successful being the one where that subject is not doing something (the one on the right, which was in fact the first to be taken). The centrally focussed picture with the man kissing his girlfriend is  probably the most comfortable to look at; the one on the left with the young man looking off to the upper right of the frame is also good, but there is an element of tension introduced by the man on the up escalator  (who I wasn’t really aware of as I took the picture) who is equally in focus and looking up into the frame, causing the eye to move back and forth over the central out of focus couple.

In all three series there is a sense that the thing in focus needs to be worthy of the attention before the picture works. Where this happens, the viewer is placed into a relationship with the subject that locates both of them within three dimensional space. Further to this, there is also a sense that other elements – colour, contrast, the possibility to construct a narrative – can support or undermine the effect of where the area of focus starts and stops. Lastly, there comes a point where the in-focus area can be too close to the edge (the third swing picture with the focus on the rope is a good example) where your eye is drawn out of the picture, away from the centre and other side of the frame.

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