This winter, I’ve been becalmed photographically. Becalmed is sort of a peculiar word, because it sounds like it’s all about peace and tranquility. But the root meaning of the word describes a sailing vessel unable to move for lack of wind – and you can be sure that while the ship isn’t moving, the crew is probably tearing their hair out in frustration.
It’s not that I haven’t been trying. I’ve made exposures by the boatload. Despite my assertions that in many cases, it’s better to focus on quantity and not worry about quality, I feel like the past few months have netted nothing but ‘going through the motions’ photos.
But the weather is now changing, and the places I live in seem to be waking up from a nap. I’ve been out several times with the usual gear, and everything seems viscous and sticky, and although I can make exposures it doesn’t seem to help much. Even with the excitement of the seasonal change, there’s been no way to get up any steerage way, and it’s just been… frustrating.
So over the weekend, I decided to change gears. Thoreau told us “Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” I figured I could do the same thing photographically – instead of trying to handle lots of complex stuff, I’d work on simplifying the images – stripping away stuff as much as possible.
To that end, I took the 24-105mm off the EOS-5d – it’s the lens that lives on the camera almost all the time. The replacement was my old, creaky 100mm f/2.8 macro – not the modern USM version but the old, almost can’t auto-focus one. For all its lack of mechanical niceness, I’ve kept that lens because I just love the way to renders things at large apertures, even in non-macro use. So with that lens on the camera, and the aperture set wide, I went for a wander. My plan was to get up good and close, and let the lack of depth of field isolate things. More on this shallow depth of field thing later, perhaps. My big problem was resisting my nearly overwhelming desire to have everything in focus. I wasn’t entirely successful at suppressing that urge, but I did manage to make a little progress with it. I made some photos where only very small regions are actually in focus.
The interesting thing is that, as a way to get out of the doldrums, it seems to be working. Maybe the change is making a difference.
[obligatory side note: Thoreau told us to “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” It took geniuses like Strunk and White to remind us that if he’d been really serious about it, he’d have written “Simplify” and been done with the entire thing.]