As much as I try to know my gear and what it will do, this image was a delightful surprise.
I think of my lenses — almost all prime (not zoom) and manual focus, often vintage — in two broad categories: Zeissy or Anti-Zeiss. As I may have mentioned before the Zeissy lenses are aggressively sharp and contrasty, often generally at the expense of smooth rendering. I’ve been surprised before, as in the success of this image of lights in a botanic garden at night. But generally the Zeissy lenses are not what I think of when I want something smooth and dreamy.
I was out on errands, and my bag had only these sharp and aggressively contrasty lenses in it. On this rainy dreamy day, I found myself in the soft light of a greenhouse and wanted a rather dreamier rendering. I tried a lens I’ve had for about four months, and I thought I knew it. It’s an old Zeiss Contax G film-era lens, which, in my experience, is one of the sharpest and most aggressively contrasty lenses I own. I decided to try it at wide aperture and hope for the best. The viewfinder looked good.
When I looked at the file, I was surprised at the smooth dreamy rendering. In fact, I liked the image so much I decided to go back to this and other greenhouses with some of my “bokeh” smooth lenses to get an even better image. I may have managed that; maybe not. I think for what I wanted of this image, this old lens pulled through surprisingly well!
About this time of year, about this kind of weather. Yes, late November has its own beauty. That year, 2013, there was more ice on our pond though. This year, 2016, of course has been record warmth, and that seems to be continuing.
This image is funny, because its big sister has been out in the world catching eyes for some years now.
It has sold prints, gotten into juried exhibitions; it is even collected by a museum. But somehow today’s image, made at the same time, never caught my eye until now. In part this appreciation has come about with a shift to the full frame digital camera a year ago, and the use of premium vintage lenses with nice bokeh over the last six months. Which is to say that I have a greater appreciation for areas of an image that are not in focus, not covered by the depth of field. I like images with shallower depth of field a lot more than I used to, and in fact I’ve been making images with razor thin depth of field with beautiful bokeh as a lot of my work these days.
I guess I thought the not-quite-sharp foreground and background were more of a problem with this image than the other one. Glad I didn’t delete the file. We don’t always appreciate the best until we evolve, sometimes. Not positive, only time will tell, but I think it’s as good as its companion, in a different way.
This image is available as a print here:
It’s always a mysterious process how I end up creating and selecting what may be the best of my photos (or the mystery may in fact be so deep that the best ones go unpublished). Sometimes everything just comes together — bam! — the way people think photography works. “I just go click.” Umm, not so often, but sometimes sorta, if I’m well prepared.
In this case I had a concept in my mind, which of course made everything hard. I had seen that Japanese Iris blooming on the bank of the pond, so big and saturated and dancing in and out of dapples of light. Of course I photographed it. But when we had a stretch of rainy weather in June, I got this idea. I don’t know if the composition is really influenced by Ukiyo-e (Floating World) woodblock prints of Japan. I’ve spent lots and lots of time viewing those prints, online and in person, and I think I’ve internalized some of the style.
So, unfortunately, I had something in my mind as I kept going back and squatting in the weeds in the rain and just-after rain and trying different lenses and apertures. I made a lot of exposures, and a lot of them were good; though there were many flavors of the composition — different rain and different depth of field and lens character.
Here are two of the many, the same scene, different flavors. After the rain
These images can be viewed in a cleaner and higher resolution presentation, and they are for sale as prints:
Japanese Iris in Rain