Just about every photographer has or would like the latest camera with the best, most expensive lenses. Who wouldn’t? Lenses so sharp you can see each separate hair on the person’s head you’re doing a portrait of. Lenses so sharp you swear you could count each blade of grass in your landscape shot. Sensors so good that they can easily outdo film in terms of information, detail and tonal range. Don’t get me wrong, if you love to shoot film, keep going. There is something about that experience that is wonderful.
Nikon’s products are amazing. From my first FTN to my workhorse D800, from my first lens, a F1.4 50mm to a 500mm, 24-120 zoom, 70-300 zoom, and quite a few more, I could always rely on my equipment to produce the best pictures I could possibly make. Not only that, but I still have that 47+ year old 50mm and I can use it on my D800 if I like. As far as I know, no other camera manufacturer can make the same claim.
Most of my pictures range from 30”x45” to 60”x90”, and a couple that are even bigger.
I’ve recently installed a 6 foot by 14 foot photo mural and, not too long ago, a 24 foot by 56 foot photo mural in Chicago’s South Loop, part of the Wabash Art Corridor.
At those sizes, are these pictures sharp? Mainly yes, but also no, and now we get into the crux of what we’re talking about today. They are sharp when I want them to be sharp. Generally most photographers desire their main subject to have that crispness. An out of focus background and/or foreground can add to the effect. But what about purposely making the whole image soft, out of focus? How about adding movement to the picture and enhancing that out of focus feel, and adding more interest to the photo. Maybe add a second exposure to see how that affects the shot.
What? I have camera and a lens that cost a whole lot of money, state of the art equipment. My autofocus is perfect, so what are you saying? Forget about all that? Of course don’t forget about it but you may occasionally want to step outside of the box, not be too preoccupied with just the technical perfection from your photography equipment and see what happens with trying to do something different with your pictures.
When I was a youngster my mother, who is an artist, sent me and one of my sisters to the Art Institute of Chicago for Saturday classes. Thus I had a very early introduction to art and various ways of creating interesting images. But later on I had an experience that opened my eyes further to what you can do with a camera. Its 1970, I’m majoring in photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and the head of the department, Arthur Siegel, takes me and a number of other students to the Art Institute to hear Frederick Sommer speak. I had heard of him but barely knew his work.
There was much to be gained from this event, but the thing that really opened my eyes was when Frederick started showing his amazing work and in particular, a series of nudes-out of focus (Frederick Sommer nudes). These were so different from what I was seeing in photographs at the time and really quite beautiful. All of a sudden I had a new outlook on the possibilities of what one can do with a camera.
Now, years later, I still think of that day and how it influenced my work. Of course I still shoot pictures where sharpness is important, but there are many images I create where it is not a consideration. If you haven’t done it, give it a try. There are many subjects that this will work with. Set your camera to manual focus, open the lens up and shoot from slightly to more out of focus.
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