The lead photo, a Monday, mid-day landscape from the Wildcat Hills-like escarpment south of Reddington is “off-topic” as far as bokeh is concerned, but I hoped it might at least grab some attention. Bokeh, a Japanese word, pronounced Boke or sometimes boke-h is a word given to the aesthetic blur or out of focus areas of a photograph or other artwork. Photographers, and other media artists as well can use sharp and unsharp or blurred areas within the print, slide or digital file and other artwork to isolate the main subject from its background. Like this:
Notice the background in the two images of “those little yellow flowers” (I’ll add something for Jon Farrar at the end of this blog). The first image, taken at 1/250th of a second at f16 exposure, using a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) fitted with a 200mm Minolta lens and its TC1.4x telextender shows more of the background, not sharply, but notice the “softer” background in the second exposure, taken at 1/3000th of a second at f4.5. For both images the auto focus was aimed at the central yellow flowers. F16 is a very small aperture or opening while f4.5 is the largest lens opening available on this lens with the 1.4x teleconverter. (All that means is the lens and TC1.4 equal at 280mm lens). Bokeh is a very significant technique often used by photo journalists, for example, to call attention to the main subject of the photograph. I’ve seen wonderful portraits of children and adults where the photographer focused carefully on the subject’s eyes, used a very large lens f-stop, perhaps even f1.4, f2.0, or similar to “throw” the background, and foreground for that matter, out of focus. Photographers all over the world collect lenses that offer softer bokeh, and often older lenses, even uncoated optics, provide the very best bokeh. Compare the two images above to my last blog showing closeups of pasque flowers from the Pine Ridge. For those closeups, I’d used a so-called APO lens — by their optical design and the speciality glass needed for an apo (aprochromatically corrected) lens, the resulting lens, with their tremendous sharpness and contrast, often produce very unsightly bokeh, or blur in the out of focus areas.
Bokeh is a simple technique, requiring accurate focusing, but the use of very large f-stops — I saw a photographer on the Snake River Overlook east of the Tetons in Wyoming many years ago, he was squinting his eyes more than a few times and when he saw that I noticed, he said he’d gone to a prestigious photography school, and they “taught him to squint” to see more like the camera’s lens.
Another advantage of bokeh photography would be that it allows the photographer, normally, to use a much faster shutter speed, (for the light conditions, of course) — notice the second bokeh example above was shot at 1/3000th of a second at F4.5 — I almost always use ISO or ASA 320 when handholding my camera with the 280mm equivalent lens.
The Minolta line of lenses (nearly all of their classics are now sadly discontinued) have a softer pallet of colors, compared at least to contrasty and extremely sharp Leica lenses, for example. The softness is now more appealing to my eye at least, especially since Leica reflex lenses do not have auto focus and are extremely expensive.
Now for something for Jon Farrar: I’d like to quote a writer in the early 1900′s, I know Jon appreciates writing for both its clarity and beauty. Here is an example that honestly makes me wonder if we’ve made any progress in over 100 years.
“I HAD SEEN them depart on their great mission, those valiant knights of Daguerre, Amfortas–Stieglitz, suffering from acute pictorialitis; Gurnemanz–Keiley, his faithful friend and adviser; Titurel–Steichen, whose pictures were not quite immaculate enough to prove him the best photographer in the world; and young Parsifal–Coburn, who but recently started from Ipswich in quest of the Grail–I had seen them depart, fully armed with kodaks and cameras, on their perilous journey over the Allegheny Mountains to open the Secession Shrine at Pittsburgh, leaving me behind with deep yearnings in my heart. Imagine my ecstatic joy when I received a telegram which read as follows: “The Shrine will be opened tomorrow. Take the next train and join us. Money enclosed. We can not do without you. We need somebody to write us up.” So I sharpened my pencil, took my dress-suit out of pawn, packed both into my suit-case which had led a dream-like existence in the garret, as my traveling of late consisted largely of “L” trips in the rush hours, seized it with a grim grip, bade farewell to my wife and offspring, and set forth on my nocturnal pilgrimage.”
–Sadakichi Hartmann, 1902 — From THE VALIANT KNIGHTS OF DAGUERRE, Selected Critical Essays on Photography and Profiles of Photographic Pioneers. Edited by Harry W. Lawton and George Knox with the collaboration of Wistaria Hartmann Linton, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angles and London.