Out of focus flowers – an experiment

Some time ago, I made this image of a flower – a carnation I think, but don’t hold me to that. My aim was to get a small point of focus where the detail was sharp and use the shallow depth of field to surround this point with a pleasing composition of blurred shapes.

I liked the result, but I couldn’t help wondering whether the image might have been more pleasing if nothing had been in focus, so that the entire image was just a composition of blended shapes and colours.

I decided to use this idea as a starting point for creating photographs that offer a purely visual experience. Flowers seemed an obvious place to start. Firstly because that’s where the idea originated from, but also because getting close up to flowers makes for interesting abstract images in any case. Photographing them out of focus theoretically adds another layer of abstraction, removing any recognisable concrete subject and leaving only the shapes and colours.

From a first attempt with some different flowers, these are the images I liked most.

These are roughly what I was aiming for, but something’s not right and they don’t quite work in the way I’d hoped.

I found when I was photographing them that I needed to hit a very specific sweet spot of focus – too close to being in focus and the image ends up looking like incompetent camera use rather than intentional. Too far out of focus, though, and the whole thing becomes so blurry that there’s no structure to the composition at all. The images I’ve picked out above are around this sweet spot, but I think there’s another problem.

Our brains are very good at processing shapes, light, dark and colour, so that we can easily interpret vague shapes as an object – just think of how we can see shapes in clouds. In these out of focus images, focusing at what I considered the sweet spot left the subject too recognisable so that my attempt to remove the concrete subject is thwarted by the brain’s spectacular interpretative skills.

This is going to need some more experimentation.

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