Twin Terrors

If you’ve been browsing the internets very long for photography related…well anything really, you’ll have seen the terms “bokeh” and “low light” all over. As a photographer, it’s rather disappointing to see so much emphasis being placed on these two aspects which really only have application for a limited percentage of one’s time shooting.

Let’s start with “bokeh.” By definition, the qualitative rendition of areas of the image which are out of focus. Unfortunately, in internet land the concept is almost always accompanied by the idea that the more out of focus the background is the better, and disregard of foreground defocusing. Limiting one’s depth of field is a useful creative tool, but it is not something to use on every single shot and not the great secret to “pro-like” photography. Greater depth of field is as often an advantage as a disadvantage.

Next, “low light” performance. There was a time when ISO 200 was considered high speed film. There was also a time when a little grain was more part of the aesthetic and (again) a creative option instead of a great evil which must be purged lest everyone view the image at 100% and see the noise. I use sarcasm here not to be cruel, but to attempt to show that it’s not that big a deal usually. If you’re printing billboard size, it’s more of an issue, but that’s not an every day occurrence for most.
I’m going to venture into odd analogies: it’s like making jello. If you add just the right amount of water, it tastes good and the texture is right. Too much water and it’s just syrup (over exposed images); too little water and not everything gets dissolved leaving grainy jello (yum…). The point? If there’s not enough water, add more water. If there’s not enough light, add more. I know that’s not always an option, perhaps shooting a wedding in a dark church and flash is forbidden or a sports game at night, but often it’s a definite option. Instead of that f1.2 lens, get the 1.8 version and a flash. You’ll have more creative options and still come out cheaper.

I hope that challenges you to see more options and creative possibilities. Unfortunately many get sucked into the hype and buy the biggest, brightest lens they can with the highest ISO “full frame” sensor so their images will “look professional,” (an idea I must say I never heard in any of my photography or design courses as an actual aesthetic principle). You don’t need a super expensive body or an ultra bright lens unless you’re shooting in extremely challenging situations all the time. You just don’t. Focus on the photography, not the bokeh. Learn to find good backgrounds, not just blur them away. Learn to find or make good light, not just shoot at 50,000,000 ISOs and hope. Don’t get caught up in the hype and catch phrases and fads. Focus on photography; study the classics. Your art will thank you and stand the test of time (rather than looking dated in 6 months). Your clients will thank you. You will thank yourself.

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