Research: Project 2 Lens work – Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin was a french fashion photographer who had great success in the 1970s. He created a style of imagery that effectively captured a surreal quality partly due to the hyper-real colour pallette that he used, but also through his use of front to back depth of field. Literally everything is in focus and this permits the eye to take in a lot of detail in the image.

“Deep focus give the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is at leat given the opportunity to edit the scene himself, to select the aspects of it to which he will attend.” – Bazin (1948) quoted in Thompson & Bordwell, 2007

In some of his images, the depth of the image is limited by a close background so the deep focus is compressed by a shallow image stage, in others the there is a deeper image as the background is further away, but we often uses props to create the effect of a theatre stage backdrop or series of backdrops so there isn’t a natural gradual receding background but rather a number of staged, parallel backdrops, each further away from the previous providing a discrete stepping of distance rather an analogue recession.  This creates an unusual sense of drama in his images, a sense of other worldliness that transcends our every day experience of the world as we usually perceive it. This use of deep focus, colour and staged background makes his images both compelling and unsettling to view. He almost anticipates the digital age, though he died, in  1991 well before its advent.

Below is a photograph I took using deep focus and a slightly surreal image of a phone box on a beach. It was a hot summer and the colours are strong which gives an edgy feel enhanced by the deep focus.  I use a Nikon D70 with a 50mm f1.4 lens at f13.  I could not find anything comparable with people in my personal archive.


Images

  1. Guy Bourdin courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery at https://www.michaelhoppengallery.com/artists/30-guy-bourdin/overview/#/artworks/10379 – accessed February 2018
  2. Mark Owen-Ward (2010)

Bibliography

Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, pp.48-51

Research: Project 2 Lens work – Mona Kuhn

In Project 2 of Part 2, we are encouraged to research the varying depth of field  chosen by various photographers to understand the effect on the viewer of different lens technique and on occasion the political impact of choosing either a shallow or a deep depth of field.

“The most political decision you can make is where you direct people’s eyes.” – Wim Wenders (1997) quoted in Bromberg & Chanarin, 2008

Mona Kuhn is  a photographer who seems to prefer the use of shallow depth of field. Whereas “soft focus” has in the past been a cliched technique used in portraiture to romanticise and feminise, presenting an unrealistic and flawless view of the subject, often female, Kuin uses selective focus to create a sense of intimacy between the viewer and the subject.

In her “Evidence” series, Kuhn uses both reflection and depth of field to great effect to draw us closer to the subject – in one example the focus is at the front of the image and in the background out of focus are  pair of nude figures in close proximity. This creates the sense of great intimacy and mystery and of a feeling of us being in the room and somehow part of the scene, yet not as a voyeur but as part of the image. She portrays beautiful people as her website suggests, perhaps as part of a”utopian community” of which the viewer/photographer appears, at least briefly, to be a part.  It is clear that the photographer is presenting her beliefs in her imagery, perhaps that one based on a more collective and sensual approach to life in clear contrast to the nuclear family model which is the societal norm in the west.

In interview in Issue Magazine (online) Kuhn talks about being “drawn to nudes as timeless forms” but also mentions being introduced to the naturist community in France where “Nudity is perceived as free and natural. It reflects a basic understanding of freedom and respect that I have not seen anywhere else.”

Clearly her images point to her own personal experience, her belief in nudity as freedom and her perception of the nude as an interesting form in itself.  Her images are not overtly sexual, which whilst not ignored, is not the intention of her photography.

In contrast, the photographer Rineke Dijkstra, has taken nude images of women who have recently given birth.  The images, in The Photograph As Contemporary Art, are far removed from the mysterious sensuality of Kuhn’s imagery.  Dijkstra takes full length portraits of her subjects with full depth of field and straight on.  There is no suggestion or attempt to portray sensuality – instead she show s an “unsentimental approach to maternity” that portrays the reality of the impact of pregnancy on women, yet also shows the instinctive protective and nurturing care towards their newborn children.

The different use of depth of field by each of these photographers creates a very different experience for the viewer.  Both techniques are creative but I wonder whether as a photographer they are mutually exclusive, but which I mean do you have to choose one path or the other or is it possible to use both techniques within a single voice?

Below is a photograph I took some years ago of my then very young daughter using an old Pentax ME Super film camera.  I remember the shot was taken on a 50mm lens at f1.7 (the maximum aperture).  The negative was then scanned. This uses a shallow depth of field for maximum effect!


Images

  1. Mona Kuhn, Evidence portfolio courtesy of https://www.monakuhn.com/portfolio/works/, accessed February 2018
  2. Mark Owen-Ward (2007)

Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, pp.48-51
  2. https://www.monakuhn.com/portfolio/works/, accessed February 2018
  3. http://issuemagazine.com/mona-kuhn/, accessed February 2018
  4. Cotton, C (2004), The Photograph As Contemporary Art, Thames & Hudson, pp. 112-113

Exercise 2.7

In contrast to exercise 2.6, this exercise is about maximising depth of field with wide angles lenses. I have not included the metadata for these images as they were all taken with my Fujifilm X-T2 with my 16mm (24mm equivalent) lens at apertures of f11-16 to ensure front to back sharpness.

I have tried to include foreground elements to pull the viewer’s eye through and into the image.


Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.47

Exercise 2.6

Exercise 2.6 is about use of short focusing distance, wide aperture and longer focal lengths. Depth of field will be limited and the effect of the background must be considered as part of the composition.

I started this exercise with 3 separate images which include metadata showing the wide aperture of f1.2-1.4.

The first image is fairly flat and the out of focus sky does not distract from the subject of the photo. In the second image I am using selective focus to pick out one element of a fence panel using the rest of the fence panel as the background.  The image is very abstracted and difficult to understand. The third image has a busier background and detracts from the integrity of the subject.

In the second sequence I look at changing the point of focus from the left (or front) of the receding fence to the centre and finally the rear (or right) of the fence to see the impact on the composition. This is a second take on the image above of the fence panel.  This time I have selected a metal fence and provided more context to the image.

I find the central image where focus is just left of central the most normal composition.  The left hand image where focus is hard left is more dynamic but the background is distracting as the leading line of the fence leads the eye to more and more out of focus areas.  In the third image the leading line also leads you into focus and this is my preferred treatment of the three images.

Next I attempted a “contra-jour” image using a wide aperture and sunlight heading towards the lens, being careful not to introduce accidental flare.  The colour of the bokeh in the sun, echoes that of the rust on the fence post and the softness of the background complements the soft shape of the post.

My final image introduces a human element, the shallow depth of field puts the eye out of focus, yet it still remains a strong element of the composition.


Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.47

Exercise 2.5

This exercise looks at the same scene using different points of focus looking at how the depth of focus changes depending on where the focus point is set all other things being equal, ie, ISO, aperture, camera position. Both images were captured at ISO 200. f1.4 and shutter speed of 1/450 sec on a 24mm equivalent lens.

The symmetrical framing and close focus of the first image makes the composition clearly focused on the iron railing and the textures of the metal – the background is out of focus to the point that it doesn’t attract too much attention. The depth of focus is very shallow barely extended beyond the front fence.  In the second image the depth of field extends from the distance to very close to the fence although the fence itself is not in focus.  This centres the composition on the graffiti which is framed by the out of focus fence posts. The industrial nature of the bridge and fence complements the graffiti and the fence posts provide a degree of compression to the image giving more power to the graffiti.


Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.46

Exercise 2.4

In this exercise I have to taken a straight portrait with good light, a simple background, a wide aperture and a telephoto lens about 4-5′ from the subject. I have chosen to photograph my daughter at home using natural light – in the back of my house there is a lot of light so I have used natural light which comes in from a window at the left of the subject (right for the viewer) and also a top light window.  To the left of as you view the image, there is a white wall.  Overall there is a lot of soft light bouncing around.  I used my medium telephoto (85mm equivalent) at f1.2, ISO 200 and the shutter speed was 1/180 sec. I focused on her right eye.  The depth of field is very shallow at this wide aperture and close focusing distance. Whilst her right eye and the tip of her nose are in focus, her left eye and chin are out of focus. This shallow focus gives a dreamy look to the portrait and the eyes really stand out.


Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.45

Exercise 2.3

This exercise requires the use of a wide angle lens from a position below the subject preferably looking up from a close low viewpoint.  Whilst not specifically requested I decided to take a portrait using this “not ideal combination of focal length and position.  However, I have seen this style used for dynamic portraiture, particularly by Lee Jeffries.  He describes his work as “neither journalism nor portraiture” though the images are clearly portraits.  The wide angle lens he uses and level to low position he adopts, occasionally higher, adds dynamism and drama to what are already difficult images to view.

 

The image above, taken from below waist image shows clearly distortion in the arm length and see of hands – it adds to the grotesque power of the image which is still one of the easier images to view by Jeffries.

With this in mind and a much less distressing image set in mind I took a photograph of a friend who enjoys martial arts.  He is wearing gloves which partly conceals the distortion of his hands.

Distortion is apparent but the image lacks impact.  I tried again with him looking away from camera and added grit and contrast to enhance the mood of the image.

While the lens choice and position is not ideal, I think this treatment slightly enhances the portrait although the chosen context is clearly completely wrong, the exposure is suspect and the composition is not good!


Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.44
  2. http://leejeffries.500px.com/home – accessed January 2018

Exercise 2.2

This exercise looks at perspective by keeping the subject at the same size within the frame while changing focal lengths.  Unlike the previous exercise, this will require changing camera to subject distance and this will change the perspective within each shot.

The first image requires a medium distance portrait taken with my longest focal length.   Of my three lens, the 56mm (85mm equivalent) is the longest and is a classic portrait lens, a short telephoto. The ISO was 800, the aperture f8 and exposure was 1/125 th of a second.

The second image is taken with my shortest focal length of 16mm (24mm equivalent) at ISO2 200, f1.6 and the exposure was 1/1250 th of a second.

 

The images look strikingly different. The distortion in the face and hat is noticeable and the difference in angle of view has introduced elements of sky which were absent in the previous image.  In the first image I was standing about 8 feet away and in the second about 2 feet.  Despite the difference in aperture, the background is out of focus in both images although the light out of focus branch in the first image is distracting  The lighting is similar but it does show how perspective distortions can radically affect the appearance of a subject.

Martin Schoeller manages to combine the use of a mild telephoto with proximity to dramatic effect in his portraits, “Close Up” being a very famous project.  Despite using a 140mm lens on his 6x7cm Mamiya RZ67 (it’s field of view is 35˚, equivalent to a 72mm lens in 35mm terms or mild telephoto) he still manages to induce distortion and an almost uncomfortable sense of reality due to his relatively close proximity to his subject (4-5 feet).

Used carefully, this provides a spectacularly alternative take on classic portraiture which is compelling to view, especially when the images are printed larger than life size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Images

  1. https://martinschoeller.com/WORK/Close-Up/18 – accessed January 2018

Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.43

Exercise 2.1

This is the first exercise in Part 2 of the EYV course, Imaginative Spaces and we are now using the camera in Aperture Priority mode, meaning I can select the aperture but the camera will select the shutter speed and ISO.  This exercise requires finding a scene with depth and from a fixed position taking a sequence of images shot at different focal lengths without changing viewpoint.

I own three prime lens only ,so showing 5-6 focal lengths isn’t possible for me, but the effect is still visible. To make up for only having 3 focal lengths available, I have repeated the exercise.

My lenses

  • a 16mm f1.4 lens, equivalent to a 24mm lens on a 35mm camera with an angle of view (diagonal) of 83 ˚
  • a 35mm f2 lens, equivalent to a 53mm lens on a 35mm camera with an angle of view (diagonal) of 44˚
  • a 56mm f1.2 lens, equivalent to an 85mm lens on a 35mm camera with an angle of view (diagonal) of 29˚

Image set 1

What these images show is a changing angle of view, however the perspective has not changed in these views which I can demonstrate by cropping the first two images to give roughly the same image as the third, see below:

Although these images all have slightly different apertures, f13, f11 and f5.6 respectively, bar any distortion in the lens and slightly off centre cropping we can see that the perspective in each scene is the same.

Image set 2

In the first set of images I maintained my viewpoint by leaning against a traffic signpost.  In this second set of images I used a tripod to keep the point of view absolutely fixed.

In both image sets it is clearly the central image which most closely accords to the perspective of the human eye, however the field of view is definitely much wider and taller than even the widest lens used here.


Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.41