So I told you I'd spend a little time behind the scenes from my bokeh shoot from last week. There's not that much to tell, really! Still, I'm in a self-indulgent mood, so I thought I'd take you through my thought process much like we went through the more technical aspects of bokeh last week. First though, let's get technical. For all of these photos, I shot using Big Daddy (duh) and my 50mm 1.8. I like to call it El Cheapo. We tend to name things around here. Can you tell? Annie asked a really good question last week in the discussion in the comments that just made my heart melt with happiness: Is a 50mm (35mm equivalent) prime lens better than using my zoom lens at 50mm? Can someone tell me that? Am thinking of getting a 50m lens as you all talk about how great they are but just wondering why I can't use my zoom on 50mm. Well, hm. Adorama has a highly technical explanation about they whys and why nots here, but frankly, I didn't have it in me to get all the way through it. I skimmed. What I will say is this. For Nikons and Canons at least, the 50mm lenses can get you much lower (wider) apertures than your kit lens can. Therefore more light and more bokeh. Plus, for me at least, prime lenses are just fun!
Much like Erin said in the comments from that same post, I tend to like to shoot wide open (lower aperture number), but I'm trying to train myself not to do that all the time. Also, some lenses have a sweet spot, where their images just look so, so good. For some it might be at 1.8 (the widest mine and Erin's will go), but for mine, I'm starting to think it might be closed down a little (or a higher number), like at 2.2 maybe. The photo above was shot at f/9 because I was shooting from above and trying to get most of the shot in focus. Am I losing you?
This photo, for example, was shot at 2.8. See all the creamy bokeh? Nice huh? Those small apertures give you a teeny-tiny focal plane from front to back, so when your number is small and you're wide open, you only have a small slice of the image that will be in focus. Limiting? Yes. Challenging? That too. But fun.
To give you some context, I wanted to show you a quick shot of my tiny studio. I have two places in the house where I really like to take pictures. One is on our living room coffee table. You'll likely see some shots from there tomorrow. The other is my studio. Less than ideal, but it's mine. It's my office too. The original Blue Rain Room, first name of this blog. To take this picture, I'm standing at my desk, where my lap top lives. To camera left are the doors into our bedroom (an addition, this used to be a bedroom at the back of the house, and now it's a pass-through room). To camera right are bookshelves with props and yarn, and to the right and just behind me is the door to the upstairs landing/hall. That window you see is the only window in the room. As you can see, it's not ideal, but it's a mostly dedicated space and generally a Tim Gunn moment: Make it work, people. Would I love a dedicated space that was a bit larger and had more light? Well of course? If our sunporch didn't house an air hockey table, three dogs and soon-to-be Neel's seed factory, that might work, but for now, this is very good.
For the shot just above the studio shot and for this one (as well as the one I submitted for the P52), I had the white sheet you see hanging there pulled down, to diffuse the bright light shining in that day. As I went about my work that morning, knowing that I was going to set up the bokeh shoot that day, I let my mind play around with different ideas for the still life I wanted to do. I hadn't been feeling well, so I thought it would be nice to do a shot of a mug of tea. I quickly abandoned the idea of trying to capture steam rising from the tea as too complicated to take on for that day. Technically I wanted to play with bokeh, and also some of the things we're working on for our class, like spot metering and back button focusing. What did I want the shot to represent? Comfort. Warmth and well-being. As I gathered props, I knew I wanted the "L" mug I got from Anthropologie because I thought I would look pretty in the bokeh. I thought with a mug that vibrant, you'd still get a sense of a mug of tea, even blurred. I thought a lot about my mom and how she used to make me tea and toast every morning before school. Constant Comment. So a teabag, some lemon. Toast. I wanted a sense of rising up from a breakfast table or afternoon tea. I spent a lot of time playing with the metering and the aperture and that warm, diffused light. Then I got antsy.
Perhaps a little tired of bokeh. (Remember, shot at higher f/stops for focus of more items in the shot.)
When I pulled up the sheet and snapped this shot and others like it, I was happy. The bright light presents a whole host of challenges because it's pretty harsh, but happy me! The clarity of light is really appealing. It's the kind of light I like to use. When I shot using the sheet as a diffuser, I had the light behind the scene, and once I lifted the sheet, I turned my table so that I was side lit. Just to give me some more flexibility.
I tried to embrace the harsh lines and shadows.
Through out all of the shots, I tried to view them as a tablescape someone just stepped away from. As if you've just pushed away from the table. Perhaps your phone rang or your child called or you realized you were running late.
Ultimately, I'm not entirely sure if I executed my vision. The ones I ended up loving had very little to do with a clarity of light or bokeh. Just a mug of tea. But as exercises go, it was a good one. Envisioning a shoot from start to finish. Concept to completion. These are the photos I love to take. The ones that take an ordinary moment and turn it into something quite otherwise. Something extraordinary. Something that makes you think, yes, I know that moment. Or, yes, I want that moment for me.
And when I got upstairs to clean up, look how much the light had changed.