Monday 19th February 2018,
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Blurring the Boundaries – Focusing Techniques for Photographers

Blurring the Boundaries

by Leon Ridyard

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I’ve been taking photographs most of my life. My photos and paintings have always been about contrasts – light and dark areas, light and dark colours, complex and simple textures, large and small shapes. It’s taken quite a few years to realize that these were the things that fascinated me and interested me when I was a teenage boy, lying in a wheat field taking pictures of the clouds or spending hours in my dad’s shed taking photos of the shadows cast by tools hanging on the sunlit wall. It will always be an exciting an liberating experience for me to go for a ride on my bicycle with a camera and escape the concrete jungle to some woodland or fields, no matter what the weather. Taking photos has always made me feel completely relaxed and when i’m happily snapping away I completely immerse myself into another world.

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I have always kept in mind that my photos are not the end product, that I will use the images as a starting point for sketches or paintings. I record the interactions of  the environment around me via the camera then try to translate it onto paper. With this in mind I enjoy taking photos in early or late sunlight, misty mornings and even on dark rainy days wearing waterproof clothes. I look for textures or colours caused by the weather; Landscape features that remind me of effects I can achieve in colour pencil or paint. These textures often come in the guise of acid green moss hanging off a wall, rusty looking lichen on a trunk or weak sunlight through shrubs and undergrowth.

To get painterly effects I often select the wrong lens for close up shots to deliberately create blurred areas in my images.  If  I stand close to the subject matter,  use a 50 – 700 mm zoom lens and keep it on Automatic Focus, the camera struggles to focus on certain areas. I’m going against what I have learnt, but I like to experiment with what the camera Lens can and can’t do.


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Something that I wasn’t aware of  until recently was the professional term for blurred or hazy areas. The Japanese word ‘Bokeh’ or ‘Boke’ relates to a blurred area that is pleasing to the eye.  I find this inspirational because I develop ideas around the way paint behaves when it comes into contact with water. Reflecting on this, when a camera is pointed at a given place, the picture is a record of how the Lens behaves when put into contact with an image.

As I write this I’m reminded that my first ideas at Art college were based around trying to achieve the effect of rain on a window by using ink on paper. I remember staring at a window one night, watching the drips fall and studying what happened when one drip meets another. I took some photos of what I was seeing and the next day created a series of experimental studies to try to recreate that window on paper, the ink being the rain. Recording the interactions of  the environment around me via the camera then translating it onto paper.

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The camera I use is a Cannon EOS 405D. I’ve had it for about 4 years and it has served me well.  Many a time I’ve shied away from carrying a bulky digital SLR camera case in favour of a compact Lumix camera when I’m riding my bike. Although it comes with the convenience of  being able to carry it in a pocket, I feel that the compact has a couple of drawbacks. Shots taken using various mode settings have too much noise, appearing grainy when enlarged. The compact fails to capture subtle or bright colours like a Taupe hedge in the distance or yellow sunlight on grass. On the other hand some of the images I get from the Cannon so crisp that I feel they are taken in a studio, lit by professional lighting and not in the middle of a woods somewhere.  I now tend to take the bull by the horns and carry the bulkier camera when out and about to get superior outcomes.


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