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Does excessive bokeh make your eyes (actually) hurt?
Old 05-02-2019   #1
Dante_Stella
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Does excessive bokeh make your eyes (actually) hurt?

I think I have finally identified why I don't really like pictures that rely on razor-thin depth of field - aside from the obvious cliche and crutch-like nature of a lot of them, they tend to make my eyes "hunt" in trying to resolve the background. By virtue of being a flat image, that background can't be focused by the human eye the same way it could if it were a live scene.

In a real-world scene, your eye instantly refocuses as you look at different things, simulating infinite depth of field, even if the optics of your eye more resemble a Lomo than a Super-Angulon. Think about it: how often do you really see ultra-shallow DOF without a camera as intermediary?

Or am I off my rocker here? In a somewhat greater sense, the current pop aesthetic (vignetting, focus falloff, etc.) also seems to be (at least unwittingly) simulating age-related vision degradation - which might be driving a little of the generational difference in views of shallow DOF (and other optical defects/"character"). You can see why older people might not like it if at some level it simulates how doctors tell them things could look in real life.

https://themachineplanet.wordpress.c...-vs-eyestrain/

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Old 05-02-2019   #2
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you need a new rocker In reality you see the very shallow dof all the time, you just don't notice it. Any time your eye focuses on something your peripheral vision shows details very out of focus. Along with a hella much "distortion/aberration" in some cases. What you are thinking of, i believe, is the terrible blobs you usually see in highlight areas of out of focus shots. That don't happen in human eye/brain naturally. As our optics are quite superior to the soviet designs
Anyway, I much prefer very smooth larger format background blurs, especially combined with 3 dimensionality of the in-focus subjects. This usually happens at F5.6 though. EDIT* with the right lenses that is.
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Old 05-02-2019   #3
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There's a helluva lot of things in photography today that make my eyes hurt.

The obsession with bokeh makes pretty clear to me how unfocused most 21st Century photography really is. Those f/64 guys may have been onto something.
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Old 05-02-2019   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scapevision View Post
you need a new rocker In reality you see the very shallow dof all the time, you just don't notice it. Any time your eye focuses on something your peripheral vision shows details very out of focus. Along with a hella much "distortion/aberration" in some cases. What you are thinking of, i believe, is the terrible blobs you usually see in highlight areas of out of focus shots. That don't happen in human eye/brain naturally. As our optics are quite superior to the soviet designs
Anyway, I much prefer very smooth larger format background blurs, especially combined with 3 dimensionality of the in-focus subjects. This usually happens at F5.6 though. EDIT* with the right lenses that is.
No, I agree that with normal eyesight, we see shallow DOF all the time (and in fact a very small "good" area at a time too - only the center of the retina has color and definition). It's just that perceptually, the shallow DOF is trained exactly on what we are looking at in any given point. So in real life, everything looks like it is in focus simultaneously. That gets defeated when you smash the world into a flat plane like a photo.

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Old 05-02-2019   #5
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Agreed. Pleasing subject separation with a creamy background is one thing; razor thin DOF as the subject itself is quite another.
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Old 05-02-2019   #6
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Originally Posted by splitimageview View Post
... razor thin DOF as the subject itself is quite another.

A pet peeve of mine is Youtube videos filmed with razor-thin DOF.... The narrator is showing his camera, his new car, his guitar, his furniture, his dog, or whatever, but it takes forever to show the whole thing because we have to follow along as the "focus" moves back and forth across the subject. My own eyes don't focus that way, because as Dante said, we are constantly re-focusing all the time, so it seems kind of forced when its in a video.
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Old 05-02-2019   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dante_Stella View Post
I think I have finally identified why I don't really like pictures that rely on razor-thin depth of field - aside from the obvious cliche and crutch-like nature of a lot of them, they tend to make my eyes "hunt" in trying to resolve the background. By virtue of being a flat image, that background can't be focused by the human eye the same way it could if it were a live scene.

In a real-world scene, your eye instantly refocuses as you look at different things, simulating infinite depth of field, even if the optics of your eye more resemble a Lomo than a Super-Angulon. Think about it: how often do you really see ultra-shallow DOF without a camera as intermediary?

Or am I off my rocker here? In a somewhat greater sense, the current pop aesthetic (vignetting, focus falloff, etc.) also seems to be (at least unwittingly) simulating age-related vision degradation - which might be driving a little of the generational difference in views of shallow DOF (and other optical defects/"character"). You can see why older people might not like it if at some level it simulates how doctors tell them things could look in real life.

https://themachineplanet.wordpress.c...-vs-eyestrain/

Dante
Everyone gets to pick their own likes and dislikes as regards to stylistic approaches. The fact that something strikes a given individual as unpleasant is enough reason in itself to choose to exclude certain things from one’s life, without resorting to pseudo biology as a justifying rationale. My daughter is always asking me to give her a list of justifying reasons why I don’t like certain foods, e.g. kale. It’s always the same answer: “it tastes bad.” To me. Any explanation past that beside the point, and likely to miss the point altogether. For some people, the current overabundance of photos where only one fingernail is in focus is like chalk on a blackboard. Maybe it’s a bad photo, that’s enough.
“Bokeh” photos are a stylistic approach like any other. Most of the photos taken in, mimicking, any style are not worth looking at, but any style, including razor thin depth of focus, and LF f/64 can be used to good effect. Or overused during fads, like neck tattoos, by photographers who on any given day might not be as relentless in culling as one might wish, just like anything else. I’ve seen 50+ photos of somebody sticking one finger at the viewer where only the finger tip was in focus, I don’t need to ever see another one, I get that. But, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

FWIW, my eyes have never done any of the things mentioned above when looking at any kind of photograph. There is no physiological reason they would. They just look, register, and either move on or linger depending on the quality of the photo. Also, being one of the “older people” alluded to above, one who happens to now have retinal issues also alluded to, I can state, as an unfortunate expert, that the effect of these issues has absolutely nothing in common with the look of bokelicious photos. I wish it were that simple.
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Old 05-02-2019   #8
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You're not off your rocker Dante, and I love good bokeh, but I'm not sure that this is a physical thing. It's probably more mind/psychological stuff. Our eyes work very much like a camera lens, and the iris will close down and open up just like aperture blades. Good bokeh is soothing usually. Maybe you're looking at Helios lens shots

https://www.umkelloggeye.org/conditi...ts/anatomy-eye

It's awfully hard to catch this, but if you look at a near object your eyes will actually work like a lens to focus sharply on that, and the background will not be sharp. When we try to actually see this happen in real time, as soon as we take our eyes off that near subject and look beyond it they almost immediately make that new item of attention sharply focused. Our mind assembles what we see from bits of information based on our present physical and mental state, our memories and emotions, our two dissimilar viewpoints and images from the left and right eyes, and most deceiving of all, our past and future expectations. What we say we see is exactly that, and no more than that. It's not what's there.

Personally and scientifically, looking at a lot of electronic, inferior, ersatz simulations of photographs (this stuff on the screen ain't real folks) on a computer monitor is bad voodoo in lots of different ways........eye strain, loss of attention, nervousness, carpel tunnel syndrome, messing up our backs and posture from sitting down so long. More better to stand often, move around, grab the camera and head out the door.
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Old 05-02-2019   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve M. View Post
Personally and scientifically, looking at a lot of electronic, inferior, ersatz simulations of photographs (this stuff on the screen ain't real folks) on a computer monitor is bad voodoo in lots of different ways........eye strain, loss of attention, nervousness, carpel tunnel syndrome, messing up our backs and posture from sitting down so long. More better to stand often, move around, grab the camera and head out the door.
And walk around squinting through a tiny viewfinder...
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Old 05-02-2019   #10
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That's OK. I live in New Mexico, the Land of The Sun, so squinting comes naturally. There ain't no other way to get the shots but to head out that door and take a look see. In fact, it's sunny, warm, and clear out, so I'm off to the bosque for a hike and photography.
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Old 05-02-2019   #11
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Hurrah,
I understand that it is a matter of taste, but I hate out of focus areas in an image. I am an f8 photog also for this reason. I guess I have never taken a photo wide open.
However, I never dared to say so here, because I am an amateur and, moreover, I was afraid that my position would be considered heretic.
For what is worth the reason I don't like bokeh is exactly that expressed by various posters above, it appears to me to be an artifact, that has no counterpart in our visual experience and most often produces a bad taste image instead of an improvement.
Sometimes extremely shallow depth of field, as in portraits where one eye is sharp and the rest of the face is not, produces to my eyes the dreadful look of something (in this case a face) emerging from the water.
When I cannot get deep enough DOF, I tend to plan a background redo. And I am comfortable with smaller sensors that give deeper DOF.
I guess that the bokeh mania is also pumped by manufacturer that make bigger profits selling expensive very fast lens.
To sum up, Dante, I really appreciate your post. It is refreshing for me
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Old 05-02-2019   #12
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Incidentally, is it not one of the reasons for using LF and standards movements, the possibility of getting everything in focus?
So it is funny that there are photographers that want everything in focus and others that like to have as little as possible in focus
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Old 05-02-2019   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pistach View Post
So it is funny that there are photographers that want everything in focus and others that like to have as little as possible in focus
Variety, I think that's what they call this. aka The Spice of Life.
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Old 05-02-2019   #14
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Actually, an image with moderate amount of background blur corresponds closely to my vision as a short sighted person. (Around -6,5 on both eyes) Without glasses or contact lenses, sth. close to me is sharp and the rest is blurred. What I try to get at is this: to me that is one reason to be intrigued by images with shallow depth of field and not find it painful to look at ;-)

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Old 05-02-2019   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dante_Stella View Post
I think I have finally identified why I don't really like pictures that rely on razor-thin depth of field - aside from the obvious cliche and crutch-like nature of a lot of them, they tend to make my eyes "hunt" in trying to resolve the background. By virtue of being a flat image, that background can't be focused by the human eye the same way it could if it were a live scene.

In a real-world scene, your eye instantly refocuses as you look at different things, simulating infinite depth of field, even if the optics of your eye more resemble a Lomo than a Super-Angulon. Think about it: how often do you really see ultra-shallow DOF without a camera as intermediary?

Funny enough, this is an argument that goes back to the 1800s. The solution then? Pinhole photography. The idea was not to get the sharpest possible image, but to make the whole image the same sharpness. So the slight softness of a pinhole photograph didn't matter because the DOF was practically infinite. An interesting argument, but obviously one that didn't stand the test of time. Interestingly this soft-focus in the pursuit of realism later proved inspirational to Pictorialists who cared little for realism at all.


In any event, the function of shallow DOF for a photographer is to isolate the subject matter. It's just another framing technique. Trying to make out details in the OOF background, to me, seems about as silly as trying to peer around the edge of the frame!


Edit: I just had a thought about seeing shallow DOF in real life. I'd guess that a photographer specifically, does more than most people, because whether you're working in a dark room or at a computer, you're in situations where the far reaches of environment will almost always be out of focus while you're working. Perhaps a subconscious influence? Besides that every time one is out scouting scenes, lifting the camera to their eye and putting it back down, your eye's focus is yo-yoing constantly.
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Old 05-02-2019   #16
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Some lenses have awful bokeh. Like those with swirl.
Some makes bokeh the subject at its own. It means no difference from looking at f5.6 to f 1.2-1.5 images.
I really miss f1.2 bokeh of Canon 50L EF. It was rendering like LF on portraits.
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Old 05-02-2019   #17
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interesting read. The take away here seems to be that photography is at its best when the photographic process doesn't intrude too much--isn't too obvious. Shallow DOF, fisheye lenses, extreme panoramas, unrealistic exaggerated color saturation. More is less.
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Old 05-03-2019   #18
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Personally I like to shoot landscapes and like to have as much depth of field as possible. But when I'm shooting things closer up I might want to make them pop out of the background a bit, especially if the background is a bit dull.

Worst thing is the swirly bokeh. I've got a 25mm f1.4 C-mount CCTV lens somewhere, and adaptor for MFT, which I picked up cheap several years ago. It vignettes badly even if cropped to 1:1, but the worst thing is the swirl effect when shooting fairly wide open.
I've had people tell me they couldn't look at the picture as it made them feel sick.

Which is why I'm posting a link rather than an image.
https://flic.kr/p/7PyNkD
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Old 05-03-2019   #19
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To my mind focusing on bokeh is like someone gives you a present and you love the wrapping paper and keep it instead.
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Old 05-03-2019   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dante_Stella View Post
I think I have finally identified why I don't really like pictures that rely on razor-thin depth of field - aside from the obvious cliche and crutch-like nature of a lot of them, they tend to make my eyes "hunt" in trying to resolve the background. By virtue of being a flat image, that background can't be focused by the human eye the same way it could if it were a live scene.
In my opinion, the problem with the ring picture is not necessarily the bokeh per se but the fact that the background is clearly more interesting then the foreground. If I was interested in the ring, I'd prefer to see a close-up of it. In this image I'm more interested in the figures in the background that fill most of the image but the shallow dof forces me to look at this tiny detail (which is too small to be examined properly anyways). The girl's looking at the boy's face, the boy is looking directly into the camera, nobody's looking at the ring, so why am I forced to just see the ring? So for me it's less about my eyes hurting and more about a frustrating viewing experience. In the picture with the ring I don't feel like the subject is isolated, I feel like the subject is out of focus.
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Old 05-03-2019   #21
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Harsh, swirly bokeh is very distracting and does my head! I want to concentrate on the picture, not "special effects"!

I usually prefer all my images to be sharp from front to back, but not always. On the occasions when I want narrow DOF, I expect my out-of-focus areas to be gently blurred, so the viewer focuses on the stuff in focus.

Here's a couple of rare instances (from my Insecta project) where I used narrow DOF. These were both taken with a large aperture using a shift-tilt lens, so the in-focus area is not only narrow but twisted, placed very exactly so that only the things I want sharp are in focus...



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Old 05-03-2019   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joe bosak View Post
To my mind focusing on bokeh is like someone gives you a present and you love the wrapping paper and keep it instead.
not really, i don't think so. background in a picture (be it photograph or painting) is part of the picture. Whether it is blurred to a dizzying bokeh or as sharp as the foreground, still part of the image.
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Old 05-03-2019   #23
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In my opinion, the problem with the ring picture is not necessarily the bokeh per se but the fact that the background is clearly more interesting then the foreground. If I was interested in the ring, I'd prefer to see a close-up of it. In this image I'm more interested in the figures in the background that fill most of the image but the shallow dof forces me to look at this tiny detail (which is too small to be examined properly anyways). The girl's looking at the boy's face, the boy is looking directly into the camera, nobody's looking at the ring, so why am I forced to just see the ring? So for me it's less about my eyes hurting and more about a frustrating viewing experience. In the picture with the ring I don't feel like the subject is isolated, I feel like the subject is out of focus.
I think the picture brought up works but only with the first pic next to it, as a pair.
It's not abut the ring itself, and not about the boy or girl in the background, it's a little story of a boy proud of his ring. It's kinda neat how on the 2nd shot they are out of focus just enough to be still recognizable and visibly proud of the ring, like he tells us, look what i got LOOK HERE what i got so you are forced to look there. So you say Jamie you are forced to look at the ring but that is exactly the point, to look at what he (the boy) wants you to look at. Complemented by the 1st pic where they both first examine it, a sharp boy and a sharp girl looking at something but you don't yet know, at what.

Not all pics work as a single pic, and they don't all have to.

Is it a cartier-bresson? perhaps not, but to say it hurts your eye or it is useless blurring or that a frustrating viewing experience, that's way too far.
But we're all different of course.
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Old 05-03-2019   #24
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Eyelash thin focus. Just another over cooked fad. Won’t be the last.
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Old 05-03-2019   #25
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Razor thin depth of focus? It's a phase. They'll outgrow it eventually.
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Old 05-03-2019   #26
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Originally Posted by Pherdinand View Post
So you say Jamie you are forced to look at the ring but that is exactly the point, to look at what he (the boy) wants you to look at. Complemented by the 1st pic where they both first examine it, a sharp boy and a sharp girl looking at something but you don't yet know, at what.

Not all pics work as a single pic, and they don't all have to.

Is it a cartier-bresson? perhaps not, but to say it hurts your eye or it is useless blurring or that a frustrating viewing experience, that's way too far.
But we're all different of course.
My point wasn't actually a critique of the picture or it's merits. I was a direct answer to the OP's theory (for a lack of a better term) that excessive bokeh makes your eyes hurt because your eyes try to focus on the out of focus area. My proposition was that maybe it's not the bokeh in and of itself that is 'painful' but that it can become visually frustrating when the subject of a picture is forced upon the viewer by technical means and the viewer still finds her/himself focused on the blurry parts of the image because what they conceal seems to be more interesting than what's in focus.

But whatevs.
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Old 05-03-2019   #27
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It's definitely not just you, Dante! Years ago I did some work in a lab that studied stereoscopic imaging, specifically for 3D feature films. Their research showed that in order to avoid eye strain for the audience, films needed to be shot and edited using a different set of rules than most directors and cinematographers were used to.

Specifically, they found that it was best to avoid shallow depth of field, since it forces your eyes to work harder to try and get the out-of-focus parts of the image in focus - which is impossible, of course. They also recommended using looser compositions and wider lenses, in order to help enhance the illusion of depth.

Most of this has gone out the window now that most 3D films are shot in 2D and converted in post, rather than on complex 2-camera stereo rigs. However, I would not be surprised if these findings had an impact on traditional stills imaging as well, if only to a lesser degree!
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Old 05-03-2019   #28
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I like bokeh when the model is in focus and the background is not. I don't like bokeh with the model's eyes are in focus but the chin is not.
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Old 05-03-2019   #29
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Quote:
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My point wasn't actually a critique of the picture or it's merits. I was a direct answer to the OP's theory (for a lack of a better term) that excessive bokeh makes your eyes hurt because your eyes try to focus on the out of focus area. My proposition was that maybe it's not the bokeh in and of itself that is 'painful' but that it can become visually frustrating when the subject of a picture is forced upon the viewer by technical means and the viewer still finds her/himself focused on the blurry parts of the image because what they conceal seems to be more interesting than what's in focus.

But whatevs.
I have to admit that I found the "subject isolation" photo annoying as hell. I was indeed switching back and forth between the ring and the out of focus children. Physically painful? No. The OP's theory that there's causation between bokeh and headache or that some photographers are consciously emulating degenerative eye diseases as an effect to affect an emotion is just plain silly, IMO (sorry, Dante) However, I think we can all agree that bokeh is currently way overused and has become quite cheeky. There are other ways to create a better separation between the subject and the background. Creative use of lighting, leading lines, framing, and contrast produce more powerful separation than bokeh, IMO. But good bokeh can be wonderful.
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Old 05-03-2019   #30
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Bokeh can be a good tool, but can be over used for sure. @RichC 's images are not painful to me at all, in fact I see the subject, and the softly out of focus parts of the image offer me further context without being distracting. I actually do not mind the linked image in the OP either, especially as @Pherdinand says, with both images presented together.
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Old 05-03-2019   #31
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I don't get the fad comments... shallow DOF has been a fact of photography since the 1830s. Indeed, we see it a lot less in contemporary photography than we would have 100 years ago. Feel free to look up the work of Lewis Hine, just for example.

Aside from the brief popularity of pinhole photography in the 1800s, it wasn't until miniature formats and high speed films were on the market that we got used to seeing images with an extreme depth of field.

Of course for the most part, this was a result of what could be done with what was available. It wasn't the result of people buying a noctilux so they could photograph wine glasses in low light and get the shallowest DOF possible...
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