photography talk | Middle Distance Focus

pear blossoms.

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.
apple trees organized neatly.
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!


  1. Such a great post! I love to read about photography tricks, always useful..
    Beautiful pictures!

  2. "I'm definitely not a photographer." - Sam, are you kidding me? Half the reason I come to your blog is for the images you share with us. You're one of the only bloggers I know that doesn't just curate and use pretty images to coincide with a post, but who actually creates their own quality images consistently, and not just with instagram, or even a digital camera - film! That takes dedication and skill. Your "how does this place make me feel" approach really does translate, and it's why I keep coming back.

    The other reason I come to your space is for the writing, and if you try to tell me that you're not a writer, then we really need to talk. ;)

  3. I absolutely loved this informational post - as someone who loves photography but has no experience whatsoever, I would love to read more about techniques you use. Keep these posts coming! :)

    - l

  4. I would definitely be interested in more posts about photography; I know so little about it, but would love to improve the photographs I take! I agree with the commenter above, you definitely are a photographer, girl got skillz! xoxo louise from 'today and tomorrow'

  5. yes, definitely share more! i recently got a film camera and i would love to learn more. digital photography is instant, since you can see the captured image right in front of you, but film photography is still a mystery to me. so, please do continue with these tips.

  6. I'd LOVE for you to share more about photography because yes, my friend, you are an AMAZING photographer :) This post made me miss being in class together, but luckily we still find ways to get academic even when our relationship is long distance...

  7. I loved this post! I love photography as well, but am still unsure of myself as well as my camera. Reading why you're doing certain things technically and how the camera should be used is really great and informative!

  8. thank for all of your enthusiastic responses! I really hesisitated to post this fearing a response like : "who is this girl to hand out photo advice?" or maybe just general boredom from all the technical talk. Now we'll chat about pictures on the regular!

  9. This guide is brilliant. So many times I just shoot blindly anything that catches my eye and forget that it is the feeling of a photo that speaks more than anything else. A little consideration defiantly goes a long way. I can't wait to try out the middle distance focus trick, and to reading more of your photography talk please!!

  10. This is awesome. Tell me moooooreeee. I wouldn't even know where to begin to take a photo like that!

  11. this is great. keep it coming. you are a talented girl. and i think it's a certain kind of bravery to shoot all film. i find that i desire it the end result but lean on the comfort and safety of the digital.

  12. I love reading this post! ;) I'm also into film. Aaaand I also love taking photos of flowers and trees. :) Thank you for these tips! More please!


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