633 – Undecided

Cameras have a stunning potential to show us a world beyond our experience, yet we are so used to this fact, that it is interesting news to many people, when you tell and show them, that some of what they see on images can’t be seen through human eyes. Much of Susan Sontag’s collection of essays “On Photography” circles around this very topic of convergence between our perceived reality and the world of images.

One of the main culprits is the shallow depth of field that photographers can use to isolate their subject. The result can be everything from looking perfectly real, via deeply surreal, to completely abstract.

Shallow DOF is an effect that I absolutely enjoy using. Probably I should take my time and label all those images on the blog. I suspect they will amount to something between 50 and 100 by now.

I have long wondered about how to title this Image of the Day. For me it is somewhere in that surreal middle ground. The point of view is so low, that there is some aspect of being caught inside. I am not sure if this is positive or negative. Then there is the vaguely recognizable row of windows, quickly fading into a nondescript mist. There is a kind of gray warmth outside, but it does not give me a cozy feeling. Uncertainty? I don’ know. I am undecided.

The Song of the Day is the old Jazz standard “Undecided“, and the only version I have is on the 1993 Natalie Cole album “Take a Look“. Hear another version by a Czech Jazz band on YouTube. Not bad. Not at all bad 🙂

5 thoughts on “633 – Undecided”

  1. Dear Mr. Manessinger:

    I read your blog every day and want to ask you what you studied to perfect your compositional skill. Today’s picture is another masterpiece.

    I always assumed that narrow DOF appealed to us because it matched human selective perception. Don’t we selectively focus just like in your image? I think this IS my experience. No convergence is needed — or is that the point?

  2. Lewis,

    Thanks for the compliment. Much appreciated 🙂

    So what did I study? Probably the most important source is The Radiant Vista and Craig Tanner’s “Daily Critique”. Well, it’s not so daily any more, and at the moment there is only one issue online for free download, but Craig’s critiques are easily the best thing you can get. Sure, they reflect the judgment and taste of one particular photographer, but firstly it’s a damn good one, and secondly the big gain lies in hearing him reason about images. Do yourself a favor and dig into that resource.

    They used to have extended download access in their shop, but obviously something is going on. Maybe they open up their archives for free again. I don’t know. In any case I’d follow the site.

    As regards books, I have read a lot, but I’ll recommend only one: Freeman Patterson’s “Photography and the Art of Seeing“. It’s less about technique, it’s more about openness and letting things happen, much like Craig’s teaching.

    Well, that’s it. The rest is work. You can’t make good images without making images. Go out, do it, expect to get better with practice, but don’t ever expect to be satisfied with your skills. At any stage there are things that you can’t yet do, although you already can imagine them. That’s a good thing 🙂

    Regarding shallow DOF, no, our eyes don’t see like that. Human eyes have very much depth of field, and the way the brain uses the raw information from the eyes further increases the perceived DOF. Have you ever noticed how your eyes are always in motion? Sampling one point and then the next? Constantly adjusting focus all the while? That’s one of the reasons.

    Believe me, when you think that my image of today looks natural, then you are victim to the exact phenomenon that I have written about. Maybe I should suggest Susan Sontag as further reading?

    Thanks, Andreas

  3. I might suggest that what we capture in a photograph isn’t so much a vision as a memory? And while our eyes have a remarkably flexible DOF, our memories tend to have a much greater selective focus.

  4. We capture memories and they have a selective focus? I like that notion. Great thought! Thanks.

  5. From “Popular Photography.com”:


    In principle: With a focal length of about 22mm and a field of view of almost 180 degrees at its extreme, our eyes are capable of f/3.5 at wide open. Then, only the 2 degrees in the center of the retina, an area called the fovea, is sharp.

    In practice: This may be why shallow depth of field is so visually appealing. So use it to draw attention straight to your subject. Extreme depth or shallowness can also introduce an element of surprise to your photo.

    See “The Photographer’s Guide to the Eye” by Neal Matthews

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