Belying Apparent Simplicity

This image of Tulips in a Vase on White derives its power from its apparent simplicity. In fact, behind the scenes, I constructed the image with a certain amount of calculated deviousness. Let me explain.

Tulips in a Vase on White © Harold Davis
Tulips in a Vase on White © Harold Davis

Tulips in a Vase on White is actually two composited photos. The camera was fixed in position on a tripod for both exposures, and the tulips didn’t move between the photos. I used my extraordinarily bright 55mm f/1.4 Otus lens on a Nikon D800, and both exposures were shot at ISO 100.

Both captures were focused on the frontward tulip. One exposure was wide-open for minimum depth-of-field at f/1.4 (and 1/20 of a second). The second exposure was stopped down to f/16 (for high depth-of field). The exposure time for the second exposure was 1.6 seconds. Both exposures were made using natural light from the windows, with the vase placed on a roll of seamless white paper.

To make the final image, I used the low depth-of-field (f/1.4) exposure as the background. Using layers, a layer mask, and the Brush Tool in Photoshop, I selectively painted-in the tulip flowers (but not the vase or stem) from the in-focus, high depth-of-field exposure on top of the background.

The final effect, with the vase out of focus, and the rear flowers selectively in focus, is not optically possible in a single photo in the real world.

Fortunately, as artists we are not bound by the strictures of the real world. Part of my intent in constructing this image was to create something apparently simple and straightforward. The relative complexity of the construction—and optical impossibility of the results—should not be apparent to the lay person viewing my image.

Related images: Irises in a Vase (in Using Light for Emotional Impact) and Tulips on White (in We Happy Flower Few).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Maybe I missed it in your article but isn’t this selective sharping? I tried this then realized that it seemed familiar so I checked your book The Way of the…. That is a very neat way to use selective sharping. Thank you, I learned something today.

  2. Hi Bill, I’d say you are pretty much right—but focus is not sharpness, it is necessary but not sufficient for it, so really this is a selective focus mechanism more than selective sharpness, in some cases they can amount to the same thing! Very best wishes, Harold

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