How Come It’s Not In Focus

Posted: July 24, 2015 in Uncategorized
Yesterday I posted some of my soft focus flower shots for all my photog followers, and as expected, the response to these images was very positive. I mentioned in the post how the general public doesn’t view these same images with the same positive attitude as do the macro photographers. Some of the responses said they had the same experience with showing their soft focus images to friends and family, that they didn’t care for the soft focus look.
One of the artistic benefits we have as macro photographers is the extreme shallow depth of field that we produce while we shoot in very close to our subjects. It’s a benefit that no other style of photography can naturally reproduce without using a special lens like a lensbaby, or a software program.
In the macro photographer’s eyes, this soft look of the shallow depth of field has a really nice artistic look, and as one person wrote on facebook, “a calming feel”.
When we view the vast majority of photographs whether it be of the family get together, landscape photos, portraits of people, travel photography, fashion photography, sport photos, journalism, these are images that are all in focus or have at least the main subjects all in focus.
So now we come along with a flower shot that looks like it was taken with a shaky camera and try to pass it off as art.
We as macro photographers and artistic people understand what is going on here with these soft focus flowers, but you will never convince the non photographer, non artistic, general public that this is anything but an out of focus photo.
Here are two quotes from people I overheard talking in my art show booth.
I had two ladies viewing one of my soft focus flowers and the one lady whispers to the other, “look at this one, it’s all out of focus” and she didn’t mean it in a good way.
One guy was viewing a soft focus flower shot and whispers to his wife, “I don’t know much about photography, but at least I get them all in focus“.
This is the mentality of the majority of the public.
Our eyes don’t have shallow depth of field, we go through life seeing everything in focus, so images look a little abnormal when subjects are not in focus.
Most people own point and shoots, and camera phones, and what do they do best, they get everything in focus.
People will wonder why you can’t get the subject in focus with your expensive DSLR camera and lens when their cheap point and shoot or the camera in their phone can get it all in focus.
They look at you like you have know idea how to work your camera.
I’ve even asked art consultants who buy my images for their projects why they don’t buy the more artistic soft focus flowers. Although they do like these images, they do realize that they have an abstract feel that doesn’t work as well with most of their clients.
I’ve had many photographers tell me even in their camera clubs the other photographers that were not into macro didn’t care for the soft focus look, and even photogs told me that judges in their club competitions would critiques their soft focus images saying there should be more in focus.
I have had lots of learning experience about soft focus images through 7 years in the art show business. I averaged about 25 shows a years and the estimated attendance at those shows came to 2.5 million attendees.  I sold thousands of prints and talked to thousands of people each year, and found that the soft focus images were not appealing to the vast majority.  After a few years I only offer the images in the smallest print sizes because they didn’t take up much space in the booth and I did sell a few once in a while, but in the larger sizes I never sold enough of them to justify taking up the space where I could put print with everything in focus that would sell. It’s not that they never sold, just to little buyers of that style.
I shoot soft focus flower because I like the artistic feel of those images and most of my macro photographer friends online like them.  I understand were people are coming from that they don’t care for these images, and I can accept it, and know that it is not something I’m doing wrong, just something that many people don’t understand, and that’s okay.

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Comments
  1. Carol rasmussen says:

    Thanks Mike for your great insights as to why our soft focus photos are only liked by certain individuals.

  2. maeflower50 says:

    Interesting observation about the focus and the public. I have noticed that what the public likes in mine does different from what my photography friends seem to lean toward.

  3. Rebekah says:

    Wow, never having brought my work to an art show, and overheard public opinion of it, I’m a little surprised that you’ve gotten such negative feedback. I love the soft look you can get with a macro lens and my flower photography is NEVER tack sharp. Usually there is only one, tiny area of sharpness and everything else goes soft.

    I know that my father prefers to shoot his flowers from farther away, at like f/22, and I never understood why. That also means that background elements are going to be more apparent and take away from the subject in my opinion. I guess it’s just subjective, as is all art.

    I really appreciate you sharing this story, though, because it prepares me for the inevitable day I will overhear someone bashing my “out of focus” images. =)

    • Mike Moats says:

      Rebekah, at least when you show your soft focus images to people that don’t get it, you can kinda understand where they are coming from, so it doesn’t reflect back on you as a bad photographer because no one likes your images.

  4. Jayne says:

    Your soft focus photos were what caught my eye several years ago and led me to become a follower of your work. Still love soft focus.

  5. Douglas Berg says:

    Well said Mike. For me, I love the soft focus look. My photographer friends understand.

  6. Dennis says:

    Mike: You are a true artist not just a documentor! Keep up the great work. Dennis

  7. My experience also,Mike.

  8. Marilyn says:

    Funny that people will pay thousands of dollars for a painting of a bunch of squares, but reject the beauty of a soft focus flower.

  9. summitjim says:

    I love your soft focus images. Personally I prefer to have at least one point of sharp focus rather than the entire image being soft, as that sharp point draws a contrast and emphasizes the overall softness. That’s just me. That said, I love your art and the mood it conveys.

  10. Vickie says:

    Thanks Mike for your comments on soft focus. My first attempt at photographing a flower center was pretty soft, but I thought it was pretty. A senior photographer in our club told me not to bother with it because the judges wanted everything sharp. It was a long time before I gained enough courage to create soft images. It is a comfort to know that I am not alone.

  11. Paul Redman says:

    I have just entered two soft focus photo’s, of blossom, into a local exhibition in England to see how the local people feel about them. The answer was an emphatic they don’t like them. Was I surprised not really. The people here seem to always vote landscapes as the winning photo as they did this year. It is such a shame that soft focus images are under appreciated by everyone other than macro photographers. As a footnote the local people here don’t like butterfly macro images either, another area of photography that is under appreciated by the public. Why do they only see landscapes in good sharp focus as a good photo? Narrow minded? Will it stop me taking photo’s that I enjoy taking…. an emphatic NO!

  12. Cemal Ekin says:

    Mike, our eyes indeed have a very shallow focus. Only what you are looking at will be in focus with everything else out of focus. The reason we see our world always sharp is the speed with which our visual system can focus as we move our eyes from one point to the next. This probably creates the illusion that “our eyes don’t have shallow depth of field.”

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