The Necessity Of Narrow Focus

When I began this blog some 18 months ago, I had the intention of sharing both photography and writing.

Not just writing reviews about cameras and lenses, but writing that was interesting and thought provoking within itself, regardless of the surrounding images on the page.

I feel I’ve drifted somewhat from that original aim.

So I plan to become more focused in the writing part of 35hunter. Starting now.

A little while back I talked about five reasons I love shooting film and found that using digital cameras with the same lenses offers much of the same appeal.

The top two reasons were irrelevant to the film or digital format and were at a much deeper level – the freedom and the immersive experience.

So I got to thinking about why these two in particular were – and still are – so important to me.

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This also ties in with how I’ve tried to narrow my collection of photography kit.

When I started a Flickr album about five years back to share photos of the cameras I’ve had and used, I remember writing about how my collection would be limited to a dozen cameras and if a new one came in another would have to go out.

The peak of my “failure” in this end came in early 2016 (maybe not coincidentally very soon after starting 35hunter), where I had over 50 cameras, nearly half of which I’d not even run a roll of film through.

I’ve realised I can’t collect in the way that my fellow photographers Paulo or Jim do.

It just makes me anxious – the antithesis of the feelings I seek when I’m out in nature with a camera. (This extends to virtually all of my life – I probably had more cameras at that point than items of clothing.)

Simplifying the equipment (and the quantity of it) then is of significant importance to me.

And in truth, I would estimate that of the last 2000 photographs I’ve shot in recent weeks, about 1900 have been either with my Pentax K10D or Samsung GX-1S with vintage lenses, usually Takumars.

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For better or for worse, shooting film has almost disappeared as part of this simplification too, for now.

Returning to the other aspect of narrowing focus – to heighten that freedom and immersion I seek. 

Why are these important?

Because, as greatly blessed as my life is, I still just need time away from everything. Back amongst the trees, or in a meadow, or a tranquil rural churchyard.

As I’ve grown older (four decades in I’m still waiting for the day I think I can legitimately call myself a “grown up”!), I’ve realised what makes me stressed and anxious in the day to day.

Noise, mess, rushing.

Escaping with a camera gets me away from all of these things. 

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But it also does something more – something that without a camera I might not be able to be so conscious about and aware of.

Again it’s down to narrowing focus.

I could walk into a summer meadow and see a dozen beautiful flowers in touching distance and not know where to look first. So I might instead just walk through not seeing any of them. Not properly up close appreciating them.

But when I have a camera in my hands, I’m constantly seeking out tiny rectangular frames that make me feel joy and awe.

Looking at petals a few centimetres away through a viewfinder – that by definition blocks out everything else that isn’t within its four straight edges – heightens my senses and raises my appreciation of what’s right there in front of me.

Because it’s the only thing in front of me, the only thing in the whole world, at that precise moment. 

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This value of the viewfinder is also the reason my otherwise amazing Sony NEX has been gathering dust on a shelf since I got the two Pentax K DSLRs. I can’t get that immersion and appreciation when I’m holding a device at arms length squinting at a screen.

I’m reminded of a quote from a strange and interesting film, worth watching (well it was for me) for the performance of probably my favourite American actress, Meryl Streep. In Adaptation, Streep’s character is a journalist writing a story on a guy who’s obsessed with orchids.

In wondering why he’s so obsessed she ponders – “The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility”.

I’ve loved this idea from the moment I heard it, and realise it’s a mantra for how and why I photograph, why I need that narrow focus.

Looking through the viewfinder of a camera, focusing the lens and adjusting the aperture gives me such a thrill.

Though the equipment has evolved in the last few years, the process and the final image are much the same. This shot taken from six years ago could have been taken yesterday.

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And if I didn’t practice this approach regularly, I wouldn’t see the detail and the beauty right under my nose.

More crucially, maybe without this kind of narrow focus, I just wouldn’t be able to function day to day at all, there would be just too much chaos and mess and racing and noise, too much world to try to wrap my brain around.

Narrowing focus then, camera in hand, for me, is utterly essential. 

How about you?

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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27 thoughts on “The Necessity Of Narrow Focus

  1. I don’t have half the cameras on my blog’s list anymore. I’ve sold them or given them away. I think I prefer giving them away.

    I will forever love the experience of trying a new-to-me old camera. But I no longer want to own so many cameras. It’s just stuff I have to drag around. I want less stuff.

    But I want more experiences. So I keep buying gear to experience it. But unless it, or the results I get from it, create a deep emotional reaction in me, the gear doesn’t stay.

    1. “I want less stuff… But I want more experiences” – Yeh me too, I love this Jim.

      What if we stopped trying different stuff though and used, say, just a Spotmatic F with a Takumar 55/1.8 for a month. How much more of a deep emotional reaction might we get then? : )

  2. “As I’ve grown older (four decades in I’m still waiting for the day I think I can legitimately call myself a “grown up”!), I’ve realised what makes me stressed and anxious in the day the day.”

    I can totally relate to this, I am growing older but have trouble seeing me as old… there’s going to be a nasty surprise there some day I think!

    As for narrowing focus, it’s the same for me. Camera in hand I see frames, I see the pictures. It makes me feel good, even when I’m down. Now the problem is to find the force go out and walk the streets and lanes…

    Call it laziness, call it whatever, these last days I have been unable to grab a camera and walk about.

    1. Frank for a long time, and before I really got into photography even, I’ve had this enduring vision (I think it came from a dream actually!) of walking through a forest and there being ornate gold picture frames hanging everywhere high and low, and when I got close to one and looked through it I would see the most beautiful scene. That’s led my photographic adventures, using my camera to try to find those invisible gold picture frames already there waiting for me. Glad you feel a similar thing on the streets.

      What about just walking around without camera – just using the one in your head?

      1. Nothing, I just used to have a lot of dreams, and kind of adapted my sleeping patterns so I did so. At the time I was far more of a writer than a photographer and it served to fuel my ideas…

      2. Dreams are something! The best ones I have are when I am (at least feeling) half awake and I seem able to give direction in some measure to the stuff happening….

      3. Absolutely. That’s what I used to try to engineer, setting an alarm to wake me earlier than necessary so I could keep drifting in and out of that elusive space between sleep and wakefulness…

  3. I tend to go through phases with shooting film or digital. I went to Japan recently and shot loads of digital, just because I wanted to be sure I had the photos I wanted to take while I was there. But I also brought my Pentax SLR and took a few rolls, and the pictures came out so well that now I’m back on board with film again. I also travel a lot and the smaller film cameras are great, they fit in my work bag and I can take them anywhere.

    Like you say the joy of just capturing moments is always there. I like street photography, something some people find a bit intimidating, but looking though the viewfinder you just forget that anything else is happening in the world other than what’s in the frame.

    1. Sam that thing about the whole world being right there in the frame in that moment is huge for me. There are very few other experiences I’ve discovered in life that give me that intensity of escapism yet simultaneously a (spiritual?) connection with the world as I’m seeing it in that moment.

  4. Yes, I can relate to a lot of your article. My family don’t like me taking a camera other than a phone when we’re all out together cos off I go looking for angles, shadows and light. I tried explaining that in someways to me taking a photo was like painting with light. I wanted to practice to getresults that pleased me more and I get pertrfied that I’ll miss something. I to can’t manage without a viewfinder. I have a Nex 3 about to be sold with only 5000 clicks on. I can’t be doing with just a screen, I just don’t compose the same…..btw an Sony a3000 body only goes for about £60-70 on you know where, they aren’t perfect but I have an A7II and can’t justify £200 on a second hand Nex 6. To the extent I stuck a hotshoe on an old Ricoh R8 with epoxy resin so I could mount a viewfinder. Film I am still just descovering and need to get my own scanner, I think you wrote an article on redscale diy film? It inspired me to get adventurous. I have now modded a compact successfully to expose sprocket holes, and unlike most medium format mods it’s longitudinal. My lenses I have slimmed down to SMC K-mount all but 5 and no focal length duplication. But then I stared modding lenses for E-mount, I have 3 or 4. On top of that 5 film SLRs, 9 fixed lens range finders 15 compacts, 3 half frame cameras and a partridge in a pear tree!

    Well you did ask!

    1. Toby, the whole thing is so addictive and I struggle with containing that, though it is much easier now. I also like and admire your adventurous spirit and experiments!

      Film I was devoted to maybe 18 months ago. But since finding those Pentax DSLRs with the CCD sensors combined with vintage glass, it’s been so much easier to let go of film.

      By the way, I’ve never had on of those Partridge cameras, would you recommend? : )

  5. I’m with you on a lot of this, when I have my camera in my hand I am more focussed on what’s around me and take so much more in by framing things that come into view. In fact I find that if I just stop where I am and sit there, more and more angles and images come to me without moving; strolling around seems to blur things and make it more difficult to find that frame.

    1. I really like walking so usually don’t sit around for long when I’m with camera, but based on what you’ve just said I think I might try it more. I like that challenge of finding a number of interesting angles and compositions without physically moving your feet.

      1. I’m surprised sometimes at what I see when I just have to sit for a while somewhere. At first I think there’s nothing to take but as I sit there and have no option but to look I start to see things in more detail and start to see interesting shots. I may make some kind of a series out of it perhaps 🙂

      2. I’ve read a number of times that in a square metre of typical English meadow in full bloom, there are something crazy like 40 different species of plant and creature. So with a decent macro lens you could literally sit in the middle of a meadow without moving and get dozens, or potentially hundreds of photos, if you stayed long enough and looked hard enough. Kind of my rural take on your scenario!

  6. Dan and silver fox, I wish I could share photos on here, I was in a meadow doing something similar 2 weeks ago. Like being a kid in a sweet shop.

    1. Toby I think if you just paste in a link to the photo it will show it here in the comments. Do you have any examples on Flickr for example you could share in this way?

      1. The Facebook photos also show when you click through, thanks again for sharing. That phone box reminds me so much of one I shot in Wales and shared in my When Nature Reclaims post! Love how the weather gradually and relentless destroys paintwork like that…

  7. You’re welcome. No idea why they don’t show properly. I posted the phone box cos I had seen yours, love the textures from layers of peeling paint. The notion of each layer being a bit of history.Thats shardlow lock on Derbyshire Leicestershire border. The meadow is a Derbyshire, a place called Shipley country park.

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