Who’d guess that a switch in cameras could teach an obvious truth: a slight change in focus is all it takes to make the world seem different, better even.
A favorite camera died in the line of duty this summer. For the past five years that little Fujifilm Finepix E900 documented a range of events, captured favorite people, and chronicled travels throughout the United States and several foreign ports of call. The camera’s small size made it easy to tuck into a handbag or a coat pocket. But, it had its limitations. The best photos came from conditions that would only please Goldilocks: Everything had to be just right. Good lighting and medium ranges. Nothing too far or too close.
Without the beloved E900 to rely on, I’ve become completely dependent on a rarely used camera I’ve had for a couple of years, another Fuji, but one with far more robust features. In order to learn how to use this camera well, I’ve had to change the way I look at an object or scene. More time is needed to set up a shot because the camera demands thought to use its full capabilities and get the desired result. Sometimes photos don’t turn out, but now and then I get something amazing.
All summer I’ve practiced, although there’s a long way to go before I can pronounce mastery. One of my favorite places to experiment is at the Denver Botanic Gardens. A true urban oasis, it offers an abundance of diverse subjects. On a visit this past Tuesday the designated lesson was to play around with the camera’s macro function. When I reviewed the day’s harvest of images, they had incredible details that the other camera wouldn’t have been able to capture. Yet, in focusing closely on the details, the backgrounds were blurry. Look at the flying insect clasping the end of a branch. (“Flying insect.” How’s that for definitive entomological identification? If you know what kind of insect it is, let me know.) Or, look at the clear image of the butterfly on a zinnia while the zinnia next to it is blurry. Even the macro photo taken from behind falling water plays with focus.
I’ve been playing with focus in my life these past few months, with changing views on life’s circumstances. Sleepless hours in the middle of the night are filled with problems and at times skewed perceptions that emerge in the dark. During the day, the same situations seem different. I’ve gotten expert at seeing most angles of a situation. But, at times I’ve focused on minute details to the point that I have lost a sense of the overall setting, of how the present fits with a bigger picture. It’s been easy to lose a sense of scale, to make small details seem far bigger than the really are. Not unlike those close-ups taken Tuesday.
As much as it would be nice to have life (and photo conditions) just right, life doesn’t work like that, at least not for long. A full range of capabilities are necessary to see situations clearly, even if it takes a lot of practice to get what you’re after.