Camera Position 47 : Focus/Defocus/Refocus

In this episode, I talk about shallow depth of field as a creative tool and its use by several photographers who are using it in inventive and interesting ways. I also look at how focusing yourself on a project can help you be more creative.

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Photographs by Jeff Curto – Jeff Curto’s Website

Keith Carter Photograph 1 Keith Carter Photograph 2
Photographs by Keith Carter – Keith Carter’s Website

Keith Loutit Photograph 1 Keith Loutit Photograph 2
Photographs by Keith Loutit – Keith Loutit’s Website

Other resources for this Podcast:

28 thoughts on “Camera Position 47 : Focus/Defocus/Refocus”

  1. Jeff,

    great podcast, as usual. Thanks for aligning my “focus” :-).
    I love the work and idea of Keith L.
    Looking forward to your next podcast.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    I’ve been collecting some vintage cameras including a square format TLR. I also have a 4×5 view camera. And after using these different formats I’ve been wondering how what I see through the view finder or on the ground glass affects my compositions. I’ve heard of people using directors viewfinders that allow you to choose the aspect ratio and I think focal length before setting up the shot. Is that something you could cover in an upcoming podcast?


  3. Great show as always Jeff. Actually helped me out a bit, I’ve been in a photography slump of late.

    Bored with what I’ve been shooting, mostly bands and events, so I’ve decided to put together a project of all my work travels..though it’ll actually be of just the hotel rooms I stay in, instead of the usual city skylines and alike.

    Hopefully it’ll keep me out of trouble on my travels..


  4. Sorry to be critical, but surprised to hear that anyone is still impressed by the “miniature look”. It has been around for quite a while and, in my view at least, is no more than a gimmicky effect even reproduced with PS plugins. Whole Flickr groups are dedicated to it.

  5. PS: as for “camera position”, have a look at

    English comment here:

    “Pictures were taken by a large format camera (4×5-inch) at the area of mixture of residential compound with commercial neighborhood in Tokyo. I take pictures from emergency staircase of office buildings or apartment houses. Photographs are made not from the top of the buildings, but from the halfway height such as on the 14th floor degree from the 10th floor. “

  6. Dirk;

    Thanks for your comment. It raises an interesting point… does something that’s “been around for a while” no longer hold interest for someone who hasn’t seen it before? In other words, just because I am behind the times and wasn’t aware of it, does it cease to be useful to me visually?

    Another aspect that I was trying to get at in the podcast is that with any “technique-based” idea, there are some fairly different ways to go about employing it. One of the things I think is interesting about the images that I talked about in the podcast is that Keith Carter’s dreamy, romantic, memory-based images are so very different from the other photographers’ work.


  7. Jeff, of course it can be useful to you, no doubt (although you may have trouble finding others sharing your excitement).

    I have absolutely nothing against playing with focus and out of focus areas, don’t get the wrong. It offers unlimited possibilities and like highlights and shadows one our colours on the palette. In fact, moving the plane of sharpness is as old as the principles of the optical bench itself, and what can be wrong with that. Infinite possibilities for creative application. My own first steps with it here:

    Raising your viewpoint to an elevated position, then applying T/S onto a landscape or city scene only has one single outcome: the miniature effect. This is not very creative. I was also excited when I first saw it (in fact, I first thought it was a real model;, but the novelty (and it is a novelty) wears off fast, very fast. I have seen the Flickr groups, the technique used advertising and so on. To me it is a gimmick not unlike the prism filters from the 70s/80s. It is a visual fad.

  8. An interesting set of ideas…

    One of the ways I came to find photographs like these was the Photography Now, 100 Portfolios DVD that was published last year. This was “An International Survey Featuring 1200 Photographs.” This was published through Wright University and the jury was headed by Rod Slemmons, the Director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography. In that group of images was the work of Toni Hafkenscheid, one of the photographers I profiled in the podcast.

    So, if one of the most respected contemporary photography museum directors thinks these are interesting strategies, who am I to argue?


    What do others think here?

    Does the novelty wear off or is it something that useful and interesting?


  9. It plays with plane of focus, but in my view at least it does not get into the miniature look. Or does it? Perhaps not that much. This is getting very subtle now.

    The following one is already a little different again:

    The miniature effect seems to draw from the elevated view on the subject. Looking upwards seems to have a different effect.

    Hey, perhaps I am just splitting hairs, but it is important to explore these things in my opinion. Thanks for letting me share my views here.

  10. Hey… we’ve all got to look at things differently or it wouldn’t be a very interesting world, would it?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    And, I agree that your images don’t deal with the “miniature” aspect of things but are more like the way Keith Carter is looking at altering the focus plane.


  11. I like novelty. I think most of us do. But novelty can be a bit of a vice, and we all turn into ‘new fad’ junkies. And when people get stuck in an era or mindset, they get passed by.

    The quest for novelty has turned us into ‘passe snobs’ (I’m guilty), where we love to turn up our noses at what we already know, or have already seen. That’s kinda silly. (eg I’ve been a part of a camera club for several years, and there’s always someone new asking what “f/stop” means. I can sneer at the ignorance. Or I can listen intently and hear it described with a slightly different bent than I’ve heard before, and how it’s applied. For me, that’s a real discipline.)

    I think something like the trick in question is another arrow in the quiver. I wouldn’t want to dedicate the rest of my life to this kind of photography, but knowing about it, and the basics of how to achieve it is valuable. There might be a project in my future where this is perfect. And regardless, it’s pretty cool to look at.

    BTW, Jeff, this was the first I’d heard about this kind of miniature look, so you’re cutting edge to me. 🙂

  12. Thank god, the play with focus/out of focus/depth of field is not only about the “miniature look”. Here’s another photographer that uses shallow depth of field and large out of focus areas in a way that inspired me a lot:
    Mona Kuhn (
    Look at her “Evidence”-series!

  13. Kai;

    Mona’s work is very, very interesting… I’d not seen it before. I love the way her shallow depth of field is used to heighten our awareness of the objects that are *not* in focus. I am especially interested in the way the bodies become almost outlines as they fall farther and farther out of focus.

    Thanks for posting this!

  14. Jeff,

    I totally agree. In many cases, the main subject in Mona’s photos is in fact in the out of focus area. I think her work is so fascinating because it leaves much room for imagination; which is also the case with the images of Keith Carter that you presented in your podcast.

    Here is a recent example of my experiments with shallow depth of field:
    Well, not really at the level of Mona’s work, but I like it. It’s from an ongoing project about the Botanic Garden here at the University in Mainz.

    BTW: To me, one of the biggest limitations of digital photography is that a shallow depth of field is so hard to achieve (at least with normal or wide-angle lenses in an affordable price-range) because of the small sensor format of most cameras. For the above photo, I took out my good old medium-format Rolleiflex TLR again…


  15. In my half hour with Keith Loutits pics, I must say i was blown away! Such a change from anything i’ve ever seen. I found it hard to believe they weren’t models, but then i thot that no one would spend that long making so many intricate models…

    All these ‘novelty’ techniques tho, it’s about mastering the technique then applying it to something that matters to u.

    Some guy making a pic that looks like toy town – nice enuff. But looking at a whole section of his city thru making it look like toy town interest me much more. plus i’m assuming the seasons will change of the year!

    This podcast really made me think more about using photos as part of a group and how to theme the group. What i am i interested it?! 😀

    Many thanks Jeff!

  16. Hello Jeff,

    just a quick greeting from Germany! This was my first podcast and I really enjoyed it very much. I love shallow DOF, I have a lensbaby but my favorite is the Leica Noctilux. I am still in the early stages of discovering what photography can do, but DOF has a very strong emotional pull on me.

    The artists you presented are very inspiring, will certainly take the time to look at their websites.

    Thank you


  17. Jeff

    I’ve only recently begun to listen to (and to watch podcasts). In the past few weeks, I’ve listened to several of your History of Photography classes and at least in a dozen Camera Position podcasts. I’m really glad to have found these great sources of clear, imaginative, engaging thoughts on photography.

    One of the things I’ve found somewhat disconcerting when listening to professionals of various kinds is the tendency to obfuscate issues by using technical language and jargon making listeners feel intimidated and hesitant. Your approach is completely opposite of that kind of egotistical posturing. You discuss and teach meaningful subjects that clearly many people find to be worthwhile and interesting.

    Depending upon someone’s experience level in photography, design, history, etc., some of your discussions may appear “too basic” but I am glad you’re able to discuss a wide range of topics and issues without being condescending.

    I’ve long been fascinated by large format tilt-shift cameras and have gained a bit more appreciation for them from this episode and others you’ve produced. I suspect my interests in perspective, manipulation of viewpoint, appreciation for space and light, etc., have all contributed toward my having become an architect. I’ve recently started to become more deeply engaged with photography due in large part to the ease and economy of digital cameras and the tremendous power offered by Photoshop and other such programs.

    Keep up the good work. You’ve earned a devoted listener here in Saint Louis.

    ~ Andrew Raimist

  18. Andrew;

    Eschew Obfuscation, I always say!


    Thanks for your kind comments and I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcasts. Thanks for listening and thanks for stopping by to leave a comment.

    I’ve just spent some time taking a look at your architecture blog… very cool. The Noguchi pieces took me right back to my art school days. Great stuff on your Flickr site, too…

    Thanks again,


  19. Hi Jeff: I’m new to your cast and just happened to listen to three back-to-back. Fun stuff!
    Interestingly, the first was about your first or renewed efforts with serious portraiture of the 97 year old man in tweed, the next was this one about torqued (and twisted) depth of field.
    And the final one was the latest of the carnival/fiesta in the town in Umbria, many almost abstract forms of people, kids, fet-ing (which I had to re-see a few times to appreciate, frankly, really confusing to me due to a lack of depth of field). I must say I see a call to portraiture developing in your work/interest. Or maybe just the use of some of its elemental precepts in your architectural form work? Who says it all has to be in sharp focus? I think depth of field, like light, is a wonderful tool to move the eye and to create interest. No reason not to employ it. Unless, of course, you choose not to.
    If you tie together the three casts (capturing documentary likeness, focal plane/depth of field and compositional form) the vain would- and does- serve as a very intuitive and illuminating portraiture class.
    I want to listen to the rest now. Back in a week.
    Thanks for sharing this,

  20. Wick;

    Thanks so much for your great comments! It’s really fun to see you putting some pieces together out of these things…

    Let me know what you think when you’ve heard some more…. I really appreciate hearing from folks who are out there listening and finding some points of interest.


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