Something Mechanical ‘Competition’ and ruminations on the subject of ‘depth of field’

Sorry for the lateness of the report folks.  Workshops have been front and centre for a week or three!

The entries for “Something Mechanical” were critiqued by local artist and teacher Roger Thompson.  Roger’s current interests include sculptures in metal but he has worked in many media, including photography.  He taught photography for nearly 20 years.

In his introduction Roger replayed a theme brought up by many of our judges:  what makes a compelling and engaging photographic image?  He referred to the fact that the explosion in the availability of digital cameras and camera phones makes everyone a photographer.  But what makes a good photograph?  It is more than “just a record shot”.  A good photograph is a piece of art telling the viewer about the object or scene some quality of the scene and its lighting.

It’s a useful exercise, when making a photograph, either behind the camera or while post-processing, for the photographer to ask “what is it about this scene that is worth the trouble”?  The answer to that question should help with decisions about composition, and help with the choices that might be made in post processing.

"Mechanical 1" John Rhodes— JOINT WINNER Projim

“Mechanical 1” John Rhodes— JOINT WINNER Projim

Particularly in reference to black and white photographs, Roger emphasised the way outstanding practitioners use the whole tonal range from absolute black to pure white.  The contrast helps to create drama, while the ‘stretch’ in the mid tones can make details and textures much more obvious.

In this context, Roger referred members to the work of once controversial American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and New Zealand photographer Laurence Aberhart with whom he had worked.  (You can see some of Aberhart’s photographs here. )

Roger noted that the subject “Something Mechanical” lends itself to a different point of view, and to abstraction, with an emphasis on lines, shapes and textures.  He rated images with those qualities more highly than those he regarded as ‘record’ shots.

"Rotary Aero Engine" Dave Ferguson — JOINT WINNER Projim

“Rotary Aero Engine” Dave Ferguson — JOINT WINNER Projim

However, part of his discussion raised some interesting debate.

Roger belongs to a school of photography that was championed by Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and co. in the “Group f/64”.  It was Adams’ conviction that every element in a landscape photograph had to be pin sharp.  Consequently, he used very narrow apertures and long exposures to get great depth of field and sharp focus from front to back as you can see here.

Roger commented critically  that many of the images we had entered had rather shallow depth of field and some parts of these images were not in focus.

In landscape photograph, very often the far distance is a critical part of the story the photographer is trying to tell.  That has to be sharp.  But blurry foregrounds in landscapes, more often than not, distract the viewer.  In other words, landscapes usually do require large depth of field as Adams argued.

But other photography, like product photography, portraits and the like, very often benefit from a quite different treatment:  the photographer wants the main subject to be very sharp to draw the viewer’s attention, but background objects to be softened so as not to distract.  For all that, very blurry foregrounds work only in very special photographs:  usually where the blur has been intentionally introduced to frame the subject as in this example.

"Gear Fix" by Tim McMahon — WINNER Print

“Gear Fix” by Tim McMahon — WINNER Print

Ironically, the print that he judged best on the night is an example of intentional use of shallow depth of field.  Thank goodness for texture and tone!

What would competition night at the Wairarapa Camera Club be without some stimulating alternative points of view?  Thinking about these issues can only make us better photographers.  Bring it on!

See you at the macro evening.

 

Tim

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