Learning Photography: When a Scene Works Best as Out of Focus Blurred Background Bokeh

When I started going for walks on my terrace this week, I discovered that it has a lovely view of the sea to the West, filled with low red and white buildings and lush green and yellow trees, if I ignored the tall buildings to the sides, and the construction equipment at the edge of the sea. I didn’t know how to photograph this sliver of the sea, though, because in the absence of a kaleidoscopic sunset on a clear evening, there is no focal point of interest in the scene.

When I am photographing the sea at the promenade on Marine Drive, I feel the same, except that it’s worse because there are no pretty trees or low buildings in the foreground, just an expanse of sea and sky, with a somewhat boring skyline of buildings in the distance. If the sky is a soft washed out blue-gray, there’s nothing to photograph.

What I like to do in such situations is to find a subject to focus on in the foreground, with a shallow depth of field, and blur the background into soft, out-of-focus bokeh. In this photograph, that subject is a crow. A pigeon or a parrot would have been better, a cat or a dog perched on the parapet would have been ideal, but a crow it is. With the focus on the crow, the background becomes a soft blur of pretty reds and whites and greens and blues, and all the distractions dissolve into the blur.

I tried a few different compositions as I walked closer to the bird with my 75mm lens. In all the photographs, I placed the bird at the bottom right rule-of-thirds intersection. I quite like the geometry of the yellow pipe and the yellow parapet against the blues, but I prefer the simplicity of the last two compositions, when I am closest to the crow, the background is the softest, and the distractions are all out of frame or out of focus. I cropped them both so that the diagonal line of the parapet ends pleasingly at the bottom corner, and chose the photo with the crow facing left because it opens up the composition.

You might be amused that I am thinking (and writing) about so many small details in what is obviously not the most compelling photograph; I am also amused. I think of learning photography in quarantine as an opportunity for deliberate practice. In the absence of the opportunity to take panoramas of majestic landscapes, or portraits of beautiful people, or snapshots of vibrant street scenes, photographing crows on my terrace parapet is the equivalent of learning chess by practicing the end game with only a few pieces, or learning music by practicing the scales on the piano, or learning yoga by practicing the surya namaskar again and again and again, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. As it turns out, it’s quite an effective way to learn.

More tomorrow.

By Gaurav Mishra

Learning to see the #beauty, #play and #vitality in #quarantinelife, mostly by learning to make photos and learning to write about them.