One of the things I’ve struggled with most as a photo-taker is how to grow past literal documentation and depict an experience. I’ll maybe get one picture in every roll which does that for me. It’s really hard to capture the feeling of being in 35 miles of pear groves in a 3 x 5 frame. Shooting the whole hillside turns the trees into tiny white specks, shooting a single tree doesn’t show the enormity of the groves.
I’ve found it’s helpful to be intentional when I’m there, and to literally ask myself “How does this place make me feel” and to pick a single word. A 3x5 photo space is small, just like being on stage. Sometimes you’ve gotta sing it to the back row and overdo it, just to make it translate!
When I went to visit the pear blossoms in Hood River, what struck me most was being encircled. Down in the orchard, I would look to either side and just see blossoms, then branches, then tree, then tree after tree after tree. So, the word I picked was surrounded and here’s a little about the technique I used to display it
Middle Distance Focus
Crisp flowers/blurred background is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Focusing on the foreground is great for when you want to show those little moments when everything else fades away except for some small wonder - like a bee nestling into a bud. But, focusing on the middle distance creates a third layer of depth in the photo (extremely blurry obstructed foreground – crisp middle ground – fading to blurry background) rather than the aforementioned two. It gives the viewer the effect of looking through something!
I shot this photo with a wide-open aperture - on my Minolta, that’s all the way down to 1.7 - because I knew that I wanted shallow depth-of-field.
Focusing on the middle distance is most effective if the subject is somewhat centered in the photo. If it’s off to one side, the eye reads the entire photo as out of focus and loses interest. I accidentally do this all the time since I’m a big fan of left-of-center.
I first used this unintentionally, when I shot the Frolic flower class last summer (the only time I’ve ever had the opportunity take 4 rolls of film in one day). This photo was my favorite of all the frames because it looks as bountiful as the room smelled. Since then, I've noticed the technique everywhere.
Here are two great examples from some of my favorite film girls : Untitled Camellias, taken with a Polaroid by Annie Suckow McGarry and A Blossom Scent on the Breeze, taken with a Leica M6 by Erin Young. Middle Distance Focus has been showing up in commercial work (the last two photos in the spring Anne Taylor look book) and even wake-boarding magazines (this photo by Jason Lee was named one of his best in 2011)
Here is a photo I took the same day, with an aperture of 16, resulting in a deeper depth of field. It's much more literal.
I’m definitely not a photographer, but taking pictures is my favorite activity (since laying still in the sun doesn't really count as activity).
Would you guys be interested in talking about photography more? Let me know!