Archives for posts with tag: blurry

(Now there’s a title. I could have called this “Look at the Pretty Sparkles!” but that would not have made me seem learned and scholarly and a big ol’ smartypants and stuff.)

At the Wynn Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, the entry area from the main valet area outside features a large glass dome. Just past the dome is a foyer with tall glass doors that open from the domed space on one side and tall glass interior domed skylight at Wynn Hotel & Casinodoors opening into the casino lobby on the other. The casino lobby itself features a large skylight (also featured are enormous balls of dried flowers, but that’s neither here nor there), so the overall effect is to brightly illuminate the foyer through the doors. On either side of the foyer, perpendicular to the doors, are two tall niches, each featuring a bronze statue. Behind the statue (and yes, we’re finally getting to the point of this little architectural tour), the niches, or alcoves, are lined with tiny mirrors (remember, this is Las Vegas, where most surfaces (and many of the people as well) are gold-leafed, shiny, sparkling with sequins, or sprinkled with buglebeads). The mirrors are rectangles, each about a quarter inch by a half inch.

And it is here, boys and girls, that our story begins. Because Your Intrepid Narrator spent a great deal of time standing a few inches from those little niches, focusing and refocusing and trying various techniques to capture the lovely display of light and color and reflected illusion of depth that was created on the surface of the mirrors as mid-afternoon sunlight streamed directly through the dome into the foyer, and the doors around me opened and closed and people walked past. The play of light and shadow and color and reflection on the little mirrored tiles was, well, pretty astonishing. What’s more, because the niches were pretty much semi-circular concavities, they not only reflected the light and people passing by, but the grid of mirrored tiles reflected itself as well. The result was an illusion of layers and depth, and the creation of really interesting light effects in my Nikon.

Here, for instance, the angle of the light passing through the doors as they swung open (or closed, I wasn’t paying attention), plus the concavity of the niches, and whatever objects were passing by, created what I swear look like disco balls, which were not there at all. (You can also make out bits of a door handle on the lower right, and a clear reflection of the corner of a curved wall on the lower left.)


The same surface took on different coloration and character, depending on how the doors were swinging open or closed, whether the mirrors picked up glimpses of lobby foliage, or what outlandish costume someone was wearing as they staggered into or out of the Wynn. It was mid-day, so only about a third of the passers-by were staggering, of course.

So that’s all, really. I just thought they were really pretty pictures, which the sort of blurry, focusless mottling that I usually assume is achieved largely through over-indulgence in Photoshoppery. Here, though, these photos are pretty much fresh out of the Nikon, with only modest Photoshoppery for croppage and clean-up.

I think the title of this blog may, in fact, be longer than the blog itself. And for that, I apologize. I also apologize for permitting something that happened in Vegas to, in fact, leave Vegas. So here I am, feeling very bad about it all:

Me, reflecting on my wicked ways.

I love bokeh. Well, really, who doesn’t? Bokeh is a term derived from the Japanese boke-aji (ボケ味 for those of you who read Japanese), which translates as “blur-quality.” Not to be That Way, but seriously: leave it to a culture that finds serenity and beauty in raked gravel to notice that the out-of-focus is often more lovely than the actual subject of a photo. Partly intentional, largely accidental, bokeh refers to the wildly and often beautifully out-of-focus background effects achieved when one part of a photograph is in focus and the rest is not.

That’s the important part, that first phrase: “partly intentional, largely accidental.” So much of bokeh depends on a fairly precise and unpredictable (at least for me) interaction of lens, focal length, light, weather, and probably the phases of the moon and alignment of the planets that it’s almost magical. It’s an effect that, to me, is like a little extra prize I discover when I first open the photo files. Oh sure, I may have had some idea that the close-up focus of a photo will likely result in interesting background effects, but I, at least, can’t accurately predict it. (If other, more clever, photographers have this whole “creating bokeh” thing down to a science, please don’t tell me; I’m perfectly happy with the “almost magical” thing.)

It’s the unpredictability of bokeh that makes it so appealing, I guess. I can plan and control and manipulate to my heart’s content, but I still can’t do everything. Bokeh is like a lovely little reminder that I do not control the world. (That I need lovely little reminders that I don’t control the world is, I suppose, an issue I should be exploring in more depth, perhaps with professional assistance.) I’ve included some of my favorite examples of bokeh from my photography here, because I can.  This is, after all, my blog. You want your bokeh samples shown, write your own blog about it.

 In any case, the bokeh becomes at least as important as the main subject, providing a flat and abstract background from which the focal subject emerges. Bokeh is a function of light and lenses that transforms an otherwise good image into art. Recently, I’ve been obsessing with the fish in the new little ten-gallon aquarium I put in my kitchen. Earlier, I know I said I’ve been obsessing with the snails, but I’m also obsessing with the fish. (The plants and bubbler seem safe from obsession for now, but I make no guarantees.)

I’ve been using a macro lens, as I’ve also mentioned before: a 105mm 1:2.8 Sigma DG Macro lens, and various manual and pre-set settings on a Nikon D90. For my through-the-glass-and-water aquarium shots, I’ve been using only the camera’s built-in flash, although I’ve also played around with supressing the flash and using only ambient light from the kitchen fluorescents and the little bulb in the aquarium top. The trouble with those shots, of course, is that the exposure times are longer, and the goldfish tend to move around a bit more than the snails do. More rapidly, at least.

So here are two examples of what happens when a macro lens is focused on a goldfish. Remember, we’re interested here not just in the fabulously captured little fishly faces, but in the blurry background as well, and how nicely it all works together.

 Close-up of a calico fantail goldfishclose-up of a calico fantail goldfish

What I really love about these is the way the fish blend into the background, the way their already-colorful bodies become part of a big, abstract, kaleidoscopic flatness. It emphasizes the clarity of the bits that are in focus (their eyes and mouths particularly), and manages at the same time to transcend the banality of “oh that’s blurry” by virtue of the extensiveness and drama of the blur. I suspect that the action of light through the water that’s behind the little fellas, and the motion of the water itself, plus the motion of their fantail fins wafting about all work together to contribute to the overall effect. In any case, it’s not just out of focus; it’s beautiful.

It’s not just macros of goldfish where this can happen. Here are two other examples of what I tend to think is pretty remarkable bokeh. One resulted from the interplay of late afternoon sun and leafy trees (using a Sigma DG 70-300mm lens), the other from focusing close-up on something other than a fish (in this case, molten glass in a glass blowing demonstration at the Orange County Fair, with a Nikon DX 18-105mm.

 ball of molten glass at glass blowing demonstrationShirtless young man walking out of a clearing

I’d love to take credit for it, but the effect took me by surprise when I downloaded these from the Nikon. Oh, wait a moment.

Er, rather, I mean: The bokeh effects were totally planned by me, using expert care and skill, and I could do it again any time. If I felt like it. Really.

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