Find a subject in front of a background with depth. Take a very close viewpoint and zoom in; you’ll need to be aware of the minimum focusing distance of your lens. Focus on the subject and take a single shot. Then, without changing the focal length or framing, set your focus to infinity and take a second shot.
This is something I usually do quite frequently, as I have said before, I like to separate and break an image down into three dimensions. Front, Middle, Back – this is important. I play around with this all the time, here’s an example from my Instagram:
As you can see it’s pretty much your standard macro shot, or so you’d think. Some moments you’ll never get a chance to capture again – this was perhaps one of them. I took advantage of my lens’s close focusing capabilities, as you can see manually focusing like this can really help you tune into untapped territory. Canon cameras are known for their fantastic autofocus capabilities, but this one needed a manual adjustment. I tapped in my autofocus points and it just wouldn’t act quick enough, I had to do it myself, otherwise that moment would be lost forever. The framing and focusing in this photo invokes something inside the viewer – as photographer Charlotte Sutton said in her book The Photograph As Contemporary Art: ‘Contemporary Artists have determined that through a sensitized and subjective point of view, everything in the real world is a potential subject’ – in more generalized terms you could say the world is your canvas and the camera is your paintbrush – but I think it’s important to attack it from a more conceptual point of view. Photography is a two dimensional artform, I like to break my images down into segments. More importantly I want to invoke a response.
For example in this image, I was in the back of a Taxi Cab coming back from a wild night in Leeds – we were almost home. The clouds were dull and overcast, so I’d been swapping from my Leica M to my Olympus Trip 35 quite frequently throughout the trip (no pun intended) using the Leica to get beauty shots and the Olympus to make the world look filthy. I saw this huge Volvo station wagon come zooming out of nowhere, I had to get it on the Trip 35. The scrape on the back window of the Taxi made the shot even better – it felt very three dimensional to me and with the vehicles going at different speeds I loved the motion in the image as well. That little foreground element actually makes the image in my opinion. Sure, the image could be considered dull or boring – even miserable, but that is by design.
I tested the brief in a couple different scenarios. I think the most important thing to do when practising something like this is covering as much ground as possible. I like to rehearse the idea first before capturing it later, if I need to come back and get it again – then so be it. I learned a lot about this back when I was working in Wedding Photography as if I didn’t rehearse portraits at least a thousand times before these events I’d have been completely lost in those environments. This is an example of me testing something. I liked the black and white filter as well, I think it’s a quick way to make bokeh pop even more. I love shooting scenes like this wide open. F1.7 is the lenses widest aperture, it makes everything look beautiful when you’re out in the woods.
As you can see in these particular night snapshots, I couldn’t get the framing perfectly (no thanks to the pedestrians) but hey, I’ve decided to get this one again when the place is actually open properly. Ideally I wanted to get more bokeh in the frame and get a cohesive texture in which the bokeh could further manipulate the image. I liked the combination of colour in this, also the way the rusted gates contrast the warm and inviting Christmas lights behind. I don’t like the grain though, I think the final shot needs to be more symmetrical, perhaps even locked down on a tripod with a shutter release. I think it’s important to display compositional consistency. Annie Leibovitz once said “One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.” This is practise, something I will attempt to perfect, another tool in the kit so to speak.
I decided to take a look at the way other photographers frame and draw attention to aspects within the image.
This photograph by Joao Bernardino from his 35mm Street collection is a great example of how selective focusing can affect the overall tone and context within the image. As you can see, the photographer chose to focus on the man’s back as opposed to streets preceding him. This gives us a sense of direction and scale, it’s also melancholic. I think the solidarity of this image was a concept Joao was quite keen on, as you can see with the colours he’s attempted to amplify and capitalise on that emotion. I think if you switched the focusing around and chose the background as the subject, the image’s tone could potentially change as well.
“Lucky” by Ingo in another example of why selective focusing is important, out of all of the beautiful angles this car has…he chose to focus on the Mirror ornament. This shows that he wanted to capture the aspect of the car that displayed the most personality – the most subjective, more importantly, what distinguishes it from the rest. I think this is also a good example of how the photographer controls the image. Looking through the car’s window this way brings attention the parts of the car we may otherwise overlook, it also gives us a sense that we’re ‘peaking’ into someone’s belongings.
How did this effect my images?
Well, I knew I wanted to work with nature on this project and I wanted to work with a minimalist colour palette to bring more attention to these uses and how effective they are. The main thing I wanted to address in my images is how important the subject is. Without those foreground elements in focus, do the images still work? Are the intentions of the photographer still as clear? The way we calculate focus in images is one of the most integral parts of the process. I will never use autofocus these days because I can’t rely on a Computer to interpret what I am seeing, I want my focus to mean something to me and that’s one of the driving motivations of my work. One of the main reasons I got into photography all those years ago was to show the world what I was seeing, not with just my own two eyes but in my mind as well. The subject is the foundation for which we construct all of our images.
I went to a place a few miles away from my house near Redmires. It has a lot of beautiful foliage, I wanted to capture the decaying nature of the environment around me without being too constrained by it. I wanted to capture images that could be universal and could be taken anywhere. For these images I decided to utilise the full effect of depth of field within the lens so I set the aperture to F1.4. I set the camera down on a small tripod and used a remote shutter release to capture both of these photos. I have done this method for pretty much all of the photos I’ve taken with the only exception being the one of the Tree Amigos. I set the camera one a 2 second countdown as well so I had enough time to back away from the tripod without accidentally budging it. I wanted as much light to bounce off of those minute inconsistencies as possible. The small colour variations and imperfections will only be more obvious when working wide open. As I have said before, shooting wide open can often soften out details within the image, this is why I want the camera to absorb as much light information as possible without being blown out. As you can see from these examples, the background is that of an eight foot drop into nothingness, with just the subject in focus you can’t interpret this information because it’s not in focus.
As you can see I achieved 100% focus on the leaf area. I tend to go for slower shutter speeds when I’m locked down in order to achieve as much detail as possible wide open, this photo was shot at 1/30th of a second, same with the following. It just gives a little more time for light to travel down the barrel of the lens in my opinion and makes the bokeh look a lot busier. I liked the slight colour variation on the face of the leaf, this effect is amplified when you activate the Black and White mode in Lightroom. When you bump up the contrast, it really brings out the black values, those inconsistencies in the texture really come through a lot better. I think this effect can really make the image feel more physical and real, despite the fact us humans don’t actually see monochromatically. Black and white images bring more attention to the shape of an image, the circular surface of the leaf is more apparent. The shadows on the first image have more colour information, so there’s more definition, where as if you flip it over to black and white those areas are darker. Colours like orange, red, blue can often register as darker shades of grey when translated over. Greens however can often show up lighter, depending on the level of contrast.
The main thing I learned throughout this experience is the attention you need to physically bring to details in the image. The subject and context actually bring the photo together, not just the technical skill. You can shoot anything perfect but if the subject isn’t intriguing, or doesn’t make you think – it’s just plain boring. For example this photograph of Felicity Jones by Laura Pannack, would this image be as renowned as it is if it weren’t for the fact it features one of the UK’s hottest movie stars? Perhaps, but the photographer knew this by design, she didn’t want the focus to be on the fields in the background, she didn’t distract us with foreground elements either – all of which could have made for an exceptional image, but the focus had to be on the actor. You could take this even deeper and say the background could represent her upbringing, where the actress came from.
For the final set, I chose to feature the photographs with the background in focus first, then follow with the foreground. I think the images flow better if you know the context behind them better, this also shows us the difference background has over the images, even if the background is nowhere near as fascinating as the fore – you have to appreciate the selective nature of these images. This particular experiment allowed me to think about things in a different way. As a photographer you’re in charge of what people see and what they don’t, so it’s very important to make your intensions clear.