How Come It’s Not In Focus

Posted: August 8, 2016 in Uncategorized
A few days ago 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 images with the same positive attitude as do the macro photographers. A few photographers responded saying 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“.
These are the thoughts of the majority of the people that view these out of focus images.
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 phone can get it all in focus.
They look at you like you have no 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 offered the soft focus 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 flowers 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 don’t care for these images, and I can accept it, and know that it is not something I’m doing wrong.

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Comments
  1. Paul ellis says:

    What’s not to like?
    I was in a specialists waiting room just now and there is a print on the wall of a few poppy seeds with only one seed’s top part in focus. The rest are all soft focus. This print covers the whole wall. About 4m high x 4 1/2m wide. Stunning!

  2. Carolyn Fletcher says:

    Two words…..Kathleen Clemons

  3. sydspix says:

    Hi Mike – My husband has some eye issues and he tells me that when he sees a soft-focus image, it looks like what he sees and does not want to see that. He really prefers a sharper image so he can see it a little more accurately. It seems as we get older we see things a lot differently.

  4. Jennifer Benton says:

    My late husband told me that he would not buy a photo unless it was all in focus. I told him, he would not be buying one of my photos. LOL

  5. The appreciation of art is subjective at best, and this is a great example! There is a fine line between a beautiful soft focus image and one that is simply out of focus. I’m just starting my exploration into this technique, and I think this differentiation the greatest challenge. While I appreciate people’s comments and compliments, the ultimate compliment is when they take a print home, my journey is about learning photography, not selling pictures. Thanks for the introduction to this technique, Mike, and everybody just do your thing and don’t get wrapped up in other people’s narrow views of art. Take a look at some of the crap that people call art and question their judgment anyway!

    Just my nickel – PHOTOROGR

    • Mike Moats says:

      Yes we are shooting for ourselves first, but as in all arts we should share our images just as all artist do with their work. We all want our followers and viewers of our images to like what we produce, as I can’t imagine any artist saying they want people to not like their work. So it is somewhat important to us that people like what we create. Everyone will not always like our work, but it’s good to understand why they don’t like it, and where they are coming from in their thoughts. So that is what this post is about, letting photographers that produce this style know that many people will not appreciate this style, and it’s not that we are doing anything wrong. You don’t have to be selling your photos to appreciate this post, it’s not only for those selling but for all people creating art and sharing it.

  6. Tracy Leigh says:

    Great article Mike. I shoot fine art macro with the soft focus and just love it. However, you are so right. Often not even other artists or photographers understand the work. I am studying photography at university in Australia and got marked down for one of my images because the front petal of the flower was not fully in focus “as I expect it to be” said the marker. Your comment ‘you are not doing anything wrong’ really resonated with me and restored my confidence. If you are in the photography business there are two (or more levels of work), what you shoot for yourself and what you shoot to sell. If you are lucky, they are both the same, but mostly not. As long as you enjoy both, that should be the aim. Thanks for all your insights Mike. I wish you could come to Australia and do workshops 🙂

  7. I keep telling you how glad I am I found you. I recently bought macro lenses for my iPhone. Well, surprise, they’re magnification lenses not macro lenses. But anyway, I’ve been having a blast with the 21x lens. But, yeah, all I get on Instagram is “it’s out of focus”. But, I just love what I’ve been finding. I’m so glad you have posted these two blogs. I love the soft focus and micro photos I’m getting. I’m an abstract artist, so of course, I would love these. Not a lot of people like my art because it’s not real. Their 7-year-olds could slosh paint on the paper like I do, right? I’m so glad you’re out there. Your work is fantastic. You’re a real inspiration to me.

    • Mike Moats says:

      Thanks Kerry, glad to hear I have helped you out. Yes I know how people will react to these images so I just show them to my macro friends on facebook and any other macro photo sites, and they get great reviews from those who understand this style. Just good to know you are not doing anything wrong when people question what you are doing with out of focus images, and you will never convince them to think differently, so don’t bother trying.

  8. Melinda says:

    Oh my goodness- this post speaks to me! I “discovered” soft focus flower images when I got my macro lens and fell in love with shallow depth of field- a sharp petal with the rest fading away into beautiful blur. A year later I discovered that it is indeed a “thing”. And some people do like it- and photography purists don’t. I now have lens babies and have been taking these kind of photos for 4 years. Now I have moved to Arizona and am in my first photo group- and have discovered the value that is placed on sharpness. Sharpness is the first requirement- no soft images! I am enjoying the group and am learning a lot- but don’t bring any soft images to the class. I am so glad that you brought this subject up. I think there is a significant number of people doing this type of photography- Interesting about it not selling. I will still keep creating these types of images- they feed my soul!

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