The Power of Focus

Spicy Coppa on Butcher Paper — “normal” shot at f/11, with a Nikon 105mm macro lens

I've been focus-stacking recently and really enjoying the resulting clarity. Over and above providing more visual detail, focus-stacked photographs have a completely different emotional tone than photographs in which the background is allowed to go soft.

This difference really jumped out at me in this recent shot of slices of spicy coppa (thank you, Marché Provisions) on butcher paper.

I don't dislike the out-of-focus background--not at all. It just feels like it was shot in a whole different world. A photo that goes soft feels a little sentimental, maybe, while the focus-stacked imaged is arguably more dramatic.

Spicy Coppa on Butcher Paper - the final focus-stacked image, 22 separate photographs

Big Chocolate

Chunks of Callebaut milk chocolate block

White chocolate with chocolate fork

Three chocolates: White, Milk, and Dark

One Whiskey, Four Ways

Tincup Whiskey photographed on brass background

Tincup Whiskey photographed on copper sheet

Tincup whiskey bottle photographed on old sheet metal

Tincup whiskey bottle photographed on black background

Words About Pictures

My mentor and photography coach extraordinaire Don Giannatti has given his new students the assignment of writing a vision statement for their work.

I'm not in that group--I'm an old student--but I'm playing along anyway.

It's hard. I get trapped between poetic words and their literal meanings.

For example, I started off writing something about distilling a strong liquor of emotions out of an image, a scene, a set, a view. But then I looked up the actual definition of distilling, and it turned out to mean vaporizing and separating. 

Not what I had in mind.

I really mean something more like reducing a sauce: If you cook, you know that simmering intensifies and concentrates the flavors of a liquid.

I love that. But saying I'm trying to reduce images to emotions just doesn't have the right poetic ring to it.

Now that I've been working with perfume, I think I might find a good analogy there. A strong image is very much like a well-constructed fragrance: The notes of a perfume elicit memories, desires, and feelings, all by relying on associations and sensual responses--a kind of instinctual code, more powerful than language, even.

It Isn't What It Is

This commercial fuel stop is right at the edge of town; just a half mile north of here, the busy industrial road becomes a rural highway that winds through Oregon's wooded hills and farmlands. 


This is the first picture I took at the station, back when I was a shy photographer who didn't know how to sneak around. It's the view of the mill to the east of the station. I stood on far edge of the property, trying to conceal myself in the grassy field between the tarmac and the fence. I was too chicken to walk around the tarmac itself.

I worried about being watched, being asked what I was doing, being told to leave. Now I'm an old hand at getting kicked out of places at night, for reasons I would never have guessed when I was a teenager.

In a previous life I might have been a long distance trucker, or a lonely traveling salesman. Scenes like these, in which (for example) a bare bulb glares into the indifferent night, make me yearn for experiences I don't even want in this life, but which I somehow feel can--must!--connect me to the cosmos, and to the true meaning of everything. Is this what the Germans call Sehnsucht

Light Nerding

The problem isn't finding interesting subjects, it's being alert to interesting light. 


Fortunately for photographers, interesting light happens every day, everywhere you go. Even when you're waiting for your order of chicken wings to arrive.


Never hesitate to arrange subjects to capitalize on an interesting light situation in progress. Even if your in-laws look at you funny (they're going to anyway, admit it).