Fiddling with Focus

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is to tinker with focus.

Is the focus just how sharp and clear an image is, or is it about more than that? Focusing manually on part of an object to separate it from the background and emphasize it is a technique I go back to again and again. I was thrilled when I first got my hands on a camera with manual focus control.  And digital processing adds another dimension to what can be done with focus. You can sharpen or blur certain areas but not others, or with Lightroom’s clarity tool you can intensify contrast, giving the appearance of sharper focus, or decrease the clarity for a hazy, soft effect – again, either over the entire image or on part of it.

And of course you can draw the viewer’s eye to what interested you – get them to focus on it – in many more ways, using composition or color for example.  So focus is a big topic, but here are a few images I fiddled with this weekend, during (and after) a trip to the local botanical garden.

Smoke trees seem to beg to have their soft, airy panicles contrasted with the details of  the tiny, subtly colored filaments. Manually focusing in does that, and a relatively wide aperture helps keep the background soft. Later, adding a pale halo (a vignette) around the edges of the image further emphasizes the soft-focus aspect of the plant and draws attention towards the details.

It seemed a good idea to do something similar with Angelica plants that are coming into full flower and driving the bees mad these days, so I focused on just a portion of the flower head and used a fairly wide aperture when I took the picture. But I decided to play with it some more in Lightroom, using the clarity tool selectively to increase blur towards the back of the flower and increase contrast just a little in the foreground.

Just for fun I thought I’d capture some of the color and form of the garden by using the manual focus again, but winding it completely out of focus (sometimes I feel like I’ve done that to myself!).  I find photos like this hard to look at and unsatisfying somehow  – I want to settle my eye somewhere.  But I like trying to abstract my surroundings, and I think if I keep playing with this I may get an image I really like.

And that’s what the Photo Challenge asked of us – to play around, to tinker, to fiddle with focus.

Hundreds of other responses to the challenge can be found right here.


  1. I love the first two, of course, especially the first one with its pale tones, but the last out-of-focus one I find hard to look at. We all want to focus on something, I think. I think if even maybe one small thing was in focus, it would work. 🙂


    • Thanks for your comment – I will still play with taking a photo totally out of focus once in a while, just to see if there’s a way to make it work – but I know what you mean and appreciate your comment..


  2. BB – Love your experiments with your camera and the subtle effects used in Lightroom .
    Particularly like the Angelica flower … do I spy a little ladybird …


  3. Interesting experiments. I think the last photo needs either one very small element in sharp focus (to emphasize the contrast) or you need to get in closer to concenrate the attention on the ‘blocks’ of colour – possibly cropping to a square format and saturating the colours a little. It could be fun playing a little more!


    • You’re right about the last one, Louis, and I appreciate your time here as always. I was thinking about the color too – wishing I’d captured more colors and thinking that would have helped – and not sure a crop will do it but I should try.


  4. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge- Focus | anniesshowroom

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