Reflex Open Competition Round 4 last meeting and congratulations to the award winners and I hope everyone took something away from the evening. Our judge was Roger Mallinson, the man to go to if you want to know about making audio visual presentations and a returnee to judge at Reflex and many thanks to him for his time and effort. As usual the winners will appear on the club website in due course.
“There is no special way a photograph should look“ – Garry Winogrand.
Even a themed competition will tell you that and whereas there are things that work as a general rule, the tools of composition, and sharpness, as we have quoted before, is a “Bourgeoise concept” (maybe). It does rather make you wonder what club competitions are for.
Well the first two clues are in the name club competition. It is about members of the club, first and foremost. Members having a framework into which they can receive feedback. And it is about competition, that is to say a test of skill and ability against other like minded individuals. They coexist but, depending on our choices and personalities, one side will be more important than the other. Recognition is both a middle point and the backbone that connects the two extremes.
If no two pictures are the same how do we differentiate between two pictures on merit? The tools of composition give us a clue, more particularly how they are used and abused, but there is no one accepted system, though some sort of system is required to be consistent.
No two judges are the same and that is a good thing. All our judges are fellow photographers and have their own development route. OK we have all sat there and thought, on occasion, what are they on and where do I get some? when our carefully crafted images totally fail to convey their message. The fault does not lie with the viewer. It is still a good thing if that failure comes with an explanation. Better yet one that we can apply to the next similar situation.
If we don’t fail, at least occasionally, and have an inkling of why we fail then we will not learn. It all comes back to that word “Because”. There is no way a photograph should look. There are individual tastes and opinions and that will apply to any judge the same as to the rest of us.
Lets come back to that idea of sharpness and its evil twin blur as one example. Generally, when looking at a photograph, one of the first things that strike us is can we see it clearly. It is important because I, for one, can see blurry things just by taking my glasses off. Rather like a number of my fellow club members, I paid rather a lot of money specifically to do the opposite and see things in focus. Focus is a thing and having something sharp within our depth of focus is generally desirable.
If there was a single way of producing an acceptable image all images must either be all in or all out of focus. We would then be free to challenge this convention or rule in the pursuit of artistic interpretation. Hold on. Wait one. That’s exacly what we do on occasion. It is one of the most popular nights we have for practicals on the calendar. It’s called light-painting.
Blur can be creative when it is deliberate and controlled (or we can pass it off as that). We generally differentiate blur from focus as one is produced by movement and one by mechanical physics. Ultra wide and expensive prime lenses producing very limited acceptable focus and blury (often sold as dreamy) backgrounds are all the rage. Bokeh is a thing too and now deemed as a selling point in a lens. Figure to ground is an established art principle of grouping things together visually (visited recently in our tour around Gestalt theory) where the subject is seperated from but relational to the background (and or foreground).
Creative blur is an accepted technique. That is it is deliberate and measured in its application to a suitable subject. The idea of photo-dynamism is over a century old and is linked to a wider art movement known as Italian Futurism, though photography was initially rejected by the Futurists for being static.
It has several variants we might use. First up we have the deliberate de-focusing effect. Bokeh originated from this in Japan and became a form all of its own but was always an incidental to taking photographs with points of light in the background. Defocusing works best in colour, with large blocks of identifiable shapes such as flowers, people, painted walls etc. It also works well when shooting against a bright background. Where to stop defocusing is a personal call, again there is no fixed point, but it’s fun to do.
Next up we have panning. We talked last week about taking panoramas, basically a linked series of photographs of something from a fixed point that usually extends beyond the horizontal field of focus of our lenses regardless of there orientation. This uses the same movement idea but within the same period of exposure. By necessity this involves longer shutter speeds but doesn’t have to be on a tripod,.though a pair of steady hands is useful. Keeping the focus and speed in synch on the subject is one option, but the other is to slowly follow the subject through keeping it identifiable but blurred.
Thirdly we have the deliberate shake of the camera during the exposure, up and down or left to right. This doesn’t have to be violent to give an effect but it is best if slightly exaggerated. A fourth variation is to rotate the camera during the exposure around a fixed point.
So five variations that we can try and combine into a little project and maybe use to generate entries in the next round of ROC.
Bokeh is one of those words that have newcomers to photography scratching their heads! Their confusion is made worse by the way that the word is misused by many authors and bloggers who should know better.
The Japanese word “bokeh” is usually pronounced with bo as in bone and ke as in Kenneth, with equal stress on either syllable. It is often defined as the way a lens renders out-of-focus points of light. In general, some lenses render it in a more pleasing way than others.
OK, so what do we mean by “pleasing”? Well, you can easily spot “bad” bokeh. The out-of-focus areas of a picture will have a feeling that could be described as gritty, clumpy or wiry. These areas tend to draw the eye and detract from the picture, especially if they contain bright highlights or are in the foreground. Have a look at this or this. Warning – some of them may hurt the eyes.
“Good” bokeh on the other hand is often described as smooth or creamy. There is little to distract the eye from the parts of the image that are in focus. Out of focus highlights will be rendered smoothly without harsh edges. Often they will be circular, but will sometimes be a polygon whose number of sides depends on the lens diaphragm (frequently seven or nine-sided). Try some random examples – this or this or this.
The real problem with bad bokeh is that once you are aware of it, it draws the eye and can’t be ignored.
How can I get better bokeh?
There are articles and even books that imply that you can control bokeh. You can’t. What you can control is depth of focus, and anyone who has been on the Reflex beginner’s course will know how you can do that:
- Lens aperture
- Distance from the camera to the subject
- Distance from the subject to the background
If you are aware of the rules and are still suffering from bad bokeh, what can you do about it? Use a different lens! There are some well-known rules of thumb:
- Prime lenses usually give better bokeh than zoom lenses. Some zooms are really good for bokeh, but they tend to be large and expensive.
- So called superzooms (with a zoom ratio of 10x or so) will generally have bad bokeh.
- Very wide aperture lenses (e.g. F/1.2) can sometimes render very strange bokeh when wide open. They usually improve when stopped down but that rather destroys the point of them!
- You usually get what you pay for. Cheap primes like the well-known brand 50mm F/1.8 lenses often have poor bokeh. That’s not to say they are not worth buying but it’s worth bearing in mind.
- Mirror lenses have disastrously bad bokeh: highlights are rendered as bright doughnuts!
As always with rules of thumb, there will be exceptions…