Of Vision and Perception

a mushroom

Sometimes it is not how much you can see, but how you take it all in that counts.

When I do close-up photography, my preference is for using a focus so shallow that only a few details stand out in sharp relief from a softly flowing foreground and background, making it very abstract.  When I show them, I often get asked why everything is so blurry and my usual answer is, “that’s how I see things.”  No, I don’t need glasses.  My vision is fine.  What makes the image decidedly unclear is where I concentrate my attention.  What I choose to perceive is only a small portion of what I could actually see in the frame at the time.  Sometimes, it is not how much you can see, but how you choose to take it all in that counts.

Think about how much you actually notice when you are looking in a particular direction.  Depending on your vision, you should be able to see your hands at the edges of your vision of you hold them straight out to the sides.  However, you probably aren’t paying attention to your peripheral vision while you are reading this.  You probably aren’t even paying attention to what is around the screen.  That is where selective focus comes in – you choose what of the things you can see you would like to attend to at the moment.  The details you notice in front of or around you are a matter of how you perceive them. 

Ever hear the expression that someone can’t see the forest for the trees?  That’s because he’s paying closer attention to the details than the big picture.  Turn that statement upside down for a moment.  If someone is always looking at the bigger picture all together, how much detail do they perceive?  It will be rather difficult for you to read this post while looking at the entire desk because you’re taking in the

Now, think about putting the details you want on a two-dimensional surface and trying to get the viewer to see it the way you did.  In the case of the mushroom picture above, I was wholly focused at the time on the softness of the snow around this tiny mushroom and the its delicate place in the woods.  I used an extremely narrow aperture for a shallow depth-of-field to focus attention on just the mushroom, giving the snow, ice and surrounding moss a soft feel.

Changing angle and how much is in focus can radically change how we perceive a scene!

In the circular landscapes, I played around with how I and the viewer would look at the scene at the center of the circle.  In one, I wanted to emphasize a detail in the landscape while still showing where it was, to give the idea that this was a small detail easily overlooked by the grander scene.  So, I used a very wide aperture and a very wide-angle lens to get in all the details, as far away as they may be, and got really close in on the flower to make it the most important part of the scene.  In the other, I took the scene more at face value.  And the circles and halos?  Just to add a little mystery!

About heather

A third-generation, informally trained photographer, Heather Siple has been taking pictures since she was old enough to hold a point-and-shoot steady. Her work has appeared across the US and internationally in museums, galleries and publications. Siple is the founder of the photo group ArtLane PCG .
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