Focus is an important topic in photography. The camera allows to either reduce focus, the zone of sharpness, to a pinprick or to extend it through most of a photograph. Lenses are often discussed based on the quality of the out-of-focus areas they are able to produce (the so-called “bokeh”) and reviewers can get quite lyrical about creamy or buttery bokeh. Many portrait photographers use this bokeh to highlight their subject by a steep falloff of sharpness from the subject to the background.
In contrast, the f/64 group of photographers, to which Ansel Adams belonged, chose their name from the smallest aperture a lens could produce, an aperture that would bring about no background blur, only relative sharpness throughout the picture. For them this was an expression of a radical realism in opposition to the intended softness advocated by pictorialism.
Our eyes, indeed, can’t do what most photographic lenses can do. In the center of our field of view the sharpness falloff is (with normal 20/20 vision) rather modest. Scenes seem to have always deep focus and we aren’t able to blend out the background like a lens with a large aperture could. What we, however, can do is to focus our mind. We can completely concentrate on, let’s say, a single flower and everything else seems fading away. I have from time to time recommended doing this so that we actually again perceive and observe what is outside of our mind. In addition, most serious endeavors in life need a lot of mind-focus to succeed.(more…)