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Bokeh and the Beach

Bokeh (many pronunciations, but I prefer bo-kay) is the Japanese term for the out-of-focus areas of an image.

Bokeh is photography’s gift to art. Before photography, there was really no concept of using focus to define a subject. How many paintings can you name where there is an out-of-focus component? There are some, but none before photography defined the concept.

They say that one of the things that defines “professional” photography is the use of bokeh in a photograph.

I am fortunate to live in a world where I can not only throw the background out of focus using a zoom lens (and a zoom lens that rivals primes in sharpness and its ability to produce smooth bokeh), but I can key shift the background too by a couple of stops at the same time. That is nothing short of fantastic.

Because, as the following example will attest, I want to convey the emotion and the feel of subjects such as a dancer on the beach at twilight.

And all this technical gobbely-gook is the way to achieve it.

In an automated camera world you don’t get a foreground that pops from the background and warm light and cool sky. Well, not predictably, anyway. You generally get a nice, average exposure. You get  a nice, average f-stop that’ll hold focus with the fishermen and the building. Nice. Average. Balanced. Great if this is what you want.

I don’t think Haley here deserves nice, average, or balanced though. She’s worked too hard for that.

The reason I drag that c-stand and that pack-and-head system and that heavy camera and lens and the graduated ND filter and all that other crap to the beach and back – sand and all – is to use everything at my disposal, everything that I have learned, to bring the experience of that occasion to the viewer. I want that dancer to pop from the background, to bathe her in warm light. And I want to do it predictably. Repeatedly.

The beauty of the dancer, the beauty of the beach, and the beauty of the photographic art I want to meet. They help each other. They elevate each other.

For photography to play it’s part means that I, as the photographer, need to use all the tools at my disposal; this includes leveraging what is unique to that art form to achieve that impact-full image. The painter and I share the ability to use light  to achieve emotion in the image. And, like the painter, I can bring my own. Unlike the painter, though, I can use the lens to literally focus the viewer’s attention and add that three dimensional aspect.

The dancer and the beach bring beauty. Photography reveals it in an image using light and it’s own special gift – bokeh.


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