Bokeh is sharp? You readers must think I’ve over-indulged myself over the year-end celebrations. Not so…. alas!
Why is bokeh the new sharp? for a number of reasons. Let me rattle them off
Because we can. I already made that argument in my post “why am I such a bokeh slut?”, but in different context. Basically, digital photography started off as emerging technology, so we made do with what we had. That included lousy sensors, and little understanding of the requirements digital puts on glass. That phase is now over. We have superb electronics and very high performance glass to go with it. Early on, resolution and sharpness were the first goals we sought. And, as electronics improved, they began to require better glass in a way different from film had. Many much-loved lenses from earlier times were no longer as satisfactory as before, and became “character” lenses. Lovely bokeh lenses for film showed their dirty undies in the form of various aberrations, and they became less and less appealing as sensor resolution increased. But today we have glass on offer that has no such weaknesses. While it was understood earlier on that wide open performance was quite a bit weaker than stopped down, and should only be used when required by low light, or for effect, modern glass performs well indeed including wide open, which means more opportunities for bokeh.
Because we must. Why must we? Because everyone else is doing “everything sharp”. The ubiquitous smartphone, with its very small sensor, offers almost only all-sharp pictures. The huge number of such pictures means all-sharp is the new standard for non-differentiated, mass-produced pictures. It is thus difficult to stand out from the crowd just by saying that “my sharp is better than your sharp”. The same is true with landscape pictures, as the world’s best spots are now overrun with hordes of tourists, most of them with smartphones. So there we are, chased away from all-sharp shots by the thundering hordes of mindless sprayers-and-prayers. This makes bokeh the reserve for us, remnants of an endangered species.
Red light at night, bokeh’s delight – Pascal
Because we want to. What is a selfie? A shot where you control almost nothing. Distance and composition are dictated by the length of your arm [shudder]. And the all-sharp picture guarantees that your friends can see the landmark in front of which you stand, and which is the true justification for this exercise (sorry, can’t call it a shot). So, what is a bokeh shot, in this context? It is an un-selfie! Not only does it include the out-of-focus component that the selfie doesn’t, but its use means there are more variables one needs to master to get a great shot than in a standard picture. Combining composition with what is in focus and what isn’t, making sure our choice of lighting dovetails with that, and with the important transition zone. A bokeh shot by a master is not just a blur-the-hell out of everything but the centre…
Because it makes some subjects look better, or because it gets you more than one micture out of a subject. Portraits with the whole picture sharp? I rather think not. Flower picturs that are all sharp? Definitely. Some even resort to focus stacking to achieve that. But it is not the only appealing face of flowers. Single, forlorn autumn leaves. A picture of a chain with all its links sharp? Why not? But why not with only one link sharp.
Flower power – Pascal
Because it matters to the story-telling. I’ve been over that already. Part of the story is in what is left blurred. Just like, in a movie, part of the story is in what is left unshown. I remember Eastwood’s movie “The bridges of Madison County”. What was left unsaid mattered in much the same way as what is left unsharp matters…
Soft seats – Pascal
I could go on like this, but I am sure you get the point. Just one question, before I leave you. Un-potscards, un-destinations, un-sharp, un-selfies. Am I coming un-glued? There is a sure way to tell. Not a single mention of a piece of gear: I am definitely un-something-or-other…
Brunia albiflora – Fuji X-Pro1 with Fuji 90mm f2 Paul
Brunia albiflora – Fuji X100T Paul
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