Facebook Q & A, June 3, 2012

Tonight, Shirley Roberson asked about the work posted to Facebook and the Public Rotation album in particular :

I really like the ones where the subject is in the back and very sharp and the people or things up front are muted. How do get this look, if I may ask. And do you ask the people for permission or are these candid shots?

I had written up an answer that was going up as a Facebook comment, but it got so long, I decided to move it here for the ability to provide links and edit text.

Answer:   The area in space that is rendered as sharp is called “depth of field” and is often the marker of so-called professional work for a number of reasons and (not exhaustively) these are some good ones: lenses or mechanisms that provide for shallow and/or controllable fields are typically expensive, and the camera sensor/film size must larger than common cameras for it to be distinctly notable, and the thinner and more complex the shape of the plane the more skill is required.

The shape of that area is effectively controlled by three things: the magnification ratio – the ratio of the object in reality to the object as recorded by film/sensor, the aperture of the lens, and the lens position and (focus, tilts, swings, etc.) relative to the film/sensor. Also, you have to realize (as you implied) that what’s important in terms of composing for human perception is the contrast between sharpness and unsharpness. You only begin to see unsharpness once you go below the weakest link in the chain – for example, it doesn’t matter if you have sharpest lens in the world – you won’t see it if you are printing to newspaper (which has very coarse, dithered dots). It’s actually a moderately complicated subject.

As far as permission or candid – that too is complicated. In general, in the US so long as one is in public and a person’s likeness is not used commercially – think in an advertisement, not a sold fine art piece, permission is not needed. Much of my work is wholly surreptitious even though my cameras – which usually weigh at least 4 lbs – are worn openly. Nevertheless, to call it candid is inaccurate. People are generally predictable and actually are controllable. Eye contact, shifting equipment or limbs, changing the angle of your path on the street, and so forth can not just elicit responses, but actually induce people to move to the desired part of the frame for purely compositional reasons, e.g. to control weighting of areas or to present color and luminous contrast to a chosen background.

You might not realize that I need to use manual focus lenses for these techniques and have to have my lens set well before I even get to the time, place, and angle I intend to use… and I usually can’t be looking in the direction of my subject. In short, I usually have 1-6 inches of error, have to predict the future, envision the camera’s perspective from another point in space (and time), and not have the subject (or sometimes anyone) notice what I am doing. The last two mean, that in effect, I work with my eyes closed (sometimes less than effect – I have worked that way). I find that most times people assume – to the point of not asking – that a motor drive is used, that I shoot many frames per second. In fact, to keep the mechanism of my usual digital camera quiet, my 5DII is set to an advance mode where I can release the shutter once every two or three seconds at most – and that maximum doesn’t usually work either, because that begins to give away your interest in the subject. The film cameras typically don’t have motor drives.

That process isn’t magic and can be taught, but it does require time and exercises and I know of no one who has written this down.  (Yet.  Maybe.)  I also don’t know of many “photographers” who would put in the time to develop the ability.  A related concept (minus the surreptitious prediction and manipulation bit) is called blocking, but being a cinematography  concept, usually needs to be explained to still photographers.  (Not that “DP”s are any better.  They suck too.  Except for the ones that don’t.)

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This entry was posted on ‍‍י״ד סיון ה׳ תשע״ב - Sunday, June 3rd, 2012 at 23:51 and is filed under 24 lies/sec, hardware, self pimpin, shutim, specula, tech. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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