Creative Collective 006: Blurry Bokeh Balls As Abstract Art

Bokeh Abstract – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Retro Gold” recipe

Bokeh is an often discussed aspect of picture quality. A lot of people use the term, but I don’t know how commonly it is understood. Bokeh is a misspelled Japanese word that means fuzziness. In photography, it is used to describe the out-of-focus portion of a photograph. Good bokeh simply means that the quality of the blurry part of an image is pleasant. Obviously what is “good” is subjective, as different people have different tastes. When there are bright points (such as lights) that are out-of-focus in a picture, the camera will render them as blurry orbs, which are sometimes called “bokeh orbs” or “bokeh balls” or “bokeh circles” (depending on who you ask). Sometimes when people discuss “bokeh” they’re specifically talking about these orbs and not the rest of the blurry part of the picture, even though technically all of it is bokeh, and not just the bokeh balls.

In this article we’re going to purposefully create blurry bokeh balls as abstract art. We’re going to do some things in the name of creativity that might seem photographically unusual or even outlandish.

Hold on tight, because things are about to get fuzzy!

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Art & Photography

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Pas Une Abeille – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2

Photography is a form of art, or at least it can be. Discussing art is kind of a dangerous proposition because it’s subjective, and you are bound to step on someone’s toes. I think it’s important to talk about art, and, even if someone might be offended, it is beneficial to have some understanding of what it is and how it relates to photography. I’ll make an attempt at defining art and demonstrating how it relates to you.

Most photographs are not art, which means most people who snap pictures with a camera are not artists. Most people who have a paintbrush in their hands are not artists. Most people who sing aren’t recording artists. Not all people who whittle are wood-carvers. Not all people who draw letters are calligraphers. You get the idea. Just because something is similar to art, does not make it art. There is something that separates actual art from facsimile “art” that’s not really art at all.

Before jumping too deep into this, I want to clarify that it is perfectly fine that most photographs are not art. There are many different purposes for the photograph, and art is just one of them. There is nothing wrong with pictures that aren’t art, as they have their place, just as photographs as art also have their place. Just because one uses a camera doesn’t mean that person must be or should be an artist. You may have little to no interest in art at all, but you love to photograph, and there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

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Curtain Abstract – Mesquite, NV – Fujifilm X100F

Webster defines art as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination.” Oxford defines it as “the expression of human creative skill and imagination.” Both of these explanations are similar and describe the two critical components for determining if something is art or not: skill and imagination. If something is created skillfully but not imaginatively, it’s not art. If something is created imaginatively but not skillfully, it’s not art. It must be both skillfully and imaginatively completed in order to be considered art.

People have different levels of skill and creativity. You might be very skillful but only marginally creative. You can be highly creative but only marginally skillful. Either way, you can still create art, and you can work to improve your shortcomings. You can become more proficient and increase your creativity with practice. Obviously you want to be very skillful and highly creative if you wish to be an artist photographer. That’s a life-long process, and there are no easy one-size-fits-all instant answers. Just continue to work hard and be persistent.

Aside from knowing how to use your camera gear to achieve your desired results, and having imagination enough to know what you want the results to be in the first place, I think that there are a few more aspects to art that should be talked about. Look again at what Webster said of art, paying particular attention to the phrase, “conscious use of…” in the definition. You have to know what it is that you are creating. You have to be able to define it. You should be able to explain it to some extent. If you can’t, it’s not likely art that you’re creating.

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Ethos – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X100F

I used to show my photographs to people and they’d say, “Oh, that looks nice!” Or, “What a pretty picture!” Then one day someone asked, “What does this picture mean? What is its purpose?” I had no answer because I had never thought of that before. I really didn’t know what to say, and it was kind of embarrassing. I realized that I needed to have an answer for all of my photographs–I needed to know the purpose and meaning of each–but the answer needed to be made prior to exposure, not after. If I’m trying to make it up after the fact it will typically translate as artificial and weak. If a photograph is art, the photographer should be able to give a clear and concise explanation of the image. It doesn’t necessarily have to be profound. It doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious to the viewer. But the photographer should know clearly in their mind why they created the image and what the meaning of it is. And it’s okay if the viewer doesn’t see it the same way that you see it, it only matters that you know why you created it.

I believe that if something is art it should convey something to the viewer. It might be a strong and obvious message, it might be a subtle concept, it might be an emotion–there should be some kind of nonverbal communication, whether clear or vague. The photographer must decide what it is that the picture will convey, and then make decisions prior to exposure that will most strongly speak it. The Oxford explanation of art uses the word “expression” which can be defined as making one’s thoughts and feelings known. When you are an artist photographer, that’s exactly what you are doing. You are expressing your thoughts and/or feelings to others through your pictures. You are giving the viewer a glimpse of yourself through your photographs. Art is self expression. How you do this is entirely up to you. What glimpses you give of yourself is entirely up to you. You have to make those decisions, then skillfully and imaginatively create something from it.

Not everyone will appreciate your art. Not everyone will get it. In fact, if you are truly expressing yourself, you should expect criticism. People have opinions that are different than yours. People have experiences that are different than yours. People see the world through different eyes than yours. Strangers will look at something that you think is great and they’ll think it’s terrible. That’s completely okay, and you may not realize it, but you do the exact same thing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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Snake River Fog – Grand Teton NP, WY – Fujifilm X-E1

If you are an artist photographer, you have to expect that criticism will come. Take it for what it’s worth, and, most likely, it’s not worth much. Listen to people who you trust, and take their criticism to heart. They mean well with what they say, and they’re just trying to help you. For everyone else, give the criticism a listen, but don’t put much stock into it, and don’t let it bother you. If you’re not getting any criticism at all, it’s most likely because you are not creating art, and you are not expressing yourself through your photographs enough.

Not everyone is an artist photographer, and not every artist photographer is always creating art. Photography as art happens when someone consciously expresses themselves in a masterful and creative fashion. It happens when the photographer communicates thoughts or emotions through pictures. I’m constantly striving to be an artist photographer. Sometimes I think I’ve succeeded, other times I feel like I’ve fallen short. But I keep at it, never giving up, always striving ahead.

The takeaway that I’d like to most impart is that you and I should continuously be working towards becoming more skilled with our gear and we should daily be practicing creativity. Constantly take baby steps to become a better and more artistic photographer. Even if things are slow developing or mistakes happen, don’t give up but instead keep moving forward. Be persistent. Tomorrow’s photographs can be better than today’s.

Multiple Exposure Monday, Part 2: The Treachery of Images

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Pas Une Abeille – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm – double exposure

In the late 1920’s, Belgian painter Rene Magritte shocked the art world by painting a realistic pipe for smoking, printing underneath it, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” which is French for, “This is not a pipe.” You look at it and ask, “If it’s not a pipe, what the heck is it? It sure looks like a pipe to me!”

Factually, his painting, entitled The Treachery of Images, is not a pipe, it’s a painting of a pipe. A picture is never the object that is represented on it, but a facsimile of that object. Rene said of his painting, “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture, ‘This is a pipe,’ I would have been lying!”

This is an important point for photographers. No matter how real an image may look, the fact is that it is a photograph and not the actual scene. It’s a likeness, and a heavily biased one at that. The photographer makes all sorts of decisions before and after opening the shutter that effect the outcome. Whatever it is that you are photographing, you could print underneath it This is not a [insert name of scene being photographed] and you’d be absolutely right. As a photographer, you are making a one-sided representation of a scene. It’s not possible for the viewers of your image to step into the scene and touch things or move stuff around. It’s a picture, and that’s all.

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Not A Light – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm – double exposure

This revelation is liberating! Because it’s not possible for you to photographically make whatever the scene is, only a biased portrayal of it, you can make it look however you wish. You are the artist and you get to decide everything. You are not merely capturing, you are interpreting. You are creating something unique. You are communicating through the picture your thoughts and emotions about the scene in front of the lens. There is no need to be accurate, unless that’s what you, the artist, wants. More important than accuracy is having something interesting or important to nonverbally speak to the viewer.

I copied Rene Magritte’s idea, and made double-exposure photographs that say, in French, “Not a [name of object in the picture],” to remind myself and others of his imperative point. This was a very simple in-camera combination. The first exposure was of black paper with white writing and the second exposure was of the object itself. I did give the photographs some post-processing because, straight-out-of-camera, they’re a little flat.

This was an interesting project that I did over the course of a couple of days. What I appreciate about it is the message. The pictures are nothing more than representatives of the objects, so how I compose, what my settings are, and how I edit are my prerogative, and if you don’t like it that’s fine. I’m the artist, not you. I’m simply communicating through my pictures what I think or how I feel about the object in the picture. Those are my thoughts and my feelings, and I’m allowed to have them. I’m free to create pictures that express myself through them, things that I might have a tough time communicating with actual words.

Besides, this was a fun project and I find photography in general to be fun. If it’s not enjoyable, then why do it? I get a lot of satisfaction from creating images. I hope that others like them, as well, but it’s alright if they don’t, because that’s not why I created the pictures. I hope that my intended message is meaningful to you. I hope that you appreciate these photographs as much as I do. It’s alright if you don’t because it’s not a pipe and you are entitled to your opinions. Sometimes there aren’t any right or wrong answers, and sometimes what seems untrue is actually true and vice versa. Simply put, create what you want to create how you want to create it, and don’t worry what others will think or say about it.

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Not A Camera – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm – double exposure

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Pas Une Fleur – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm – double exposure

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Pas Une Feuille – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm – double exposure

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Not A Bird – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm – double exposure

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Pas Une Montagne – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm – double exposure

See also: Multiple Exposure Monday, Part 1 

Multiple Exposure Monday, Part 1

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My Mourning Essentials – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F – double exposure

I’ve been doing multiple exposure photography off and on for a long time. It seems as though every year or two I get a short-lived urge to be creative in that way. I’ll make a number of multiple exposure photographs over the course of a few weeks, then I’ll stop until that urge returns in another year or so.

This type of photography can be done in-camera on film, in the darkroom on paper, in-camera digitally, or with Photoshop or some other similar software. At one time or another I’ve done it each way. I think in-camera on film has the best potential for great results, but it can be very tricky, requiring great skill and great luck. Getting good results in Photoshop can be tricky because, most often, it’s easy to spot when one has done that technique. I find that in-camera digitally is a good method, not quite having the potential that film provides but not producing obviously fake results like what one often sees when done with software.

Here are some examples of multiple exposure photographs that I’ve done in the past:

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Ghost Garage – Redlands, CA – Pentax K-30 – double exposure

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Photography Is A Drug – Stallion Springs, CA – Sigma DP2 Merrill – triple exposure

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I Am Nature – Ogden Canyon, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 – double exposure

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Preserved Steam Wheel – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 – double exposure

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Preserving The Library Stairs – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 – double exposure

The bug to create multiple exposure pictures bit me again recently. Last week I used my X100F and X-Pro2 to capture several double exposures. I looked around for interesting opportunities to combine scenes. One difficult aspect of multiple exposure photography is combining two exposures in a way that brings new meaning, that changes what both scenes are about. It’s definitely abstract in nature, but there has to be a point to it other than just abstract, or else why do it?

Fujifilm makes it pretty easy to do this type of photography in-camera because you capture the first image, then it superimposes that onto the second as you are capturing it. You can see exactly what the results are going to be. Typically, even with highlight and shadow set to +4, the straight-out-of-camera picture looks flat, so some post-processing is required, although I try to keep it to a minimum.

Hopefully I will have some more opportunities to create even more double-exposure pictures coming up in the next few days. I have a number of ideas floating around inside my head. I hope you enjoy the ones that I captured below.

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Yearning – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2 – double exposure

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Not An Entrance – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X100F – double exposure

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Blue Diamond – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F – double exposure

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Abstract Rectangles – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F – double exposure

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Trade Tools – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F – double exposure

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Two Tone Carts – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X100F – double exposure

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Lens Target – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X100F – double exposure

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Double Shot – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X100F – double exposure

The Artist Photographer

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White Glove Art – Edmonds, WA – Fujifilm X100F

Discussing art is kind of a dangerous proposition because it’s subjective, and you are bound to step on someone’s toes. I think it’s important to talk about art, and I think, even if someone might be offended, it is beneficial to have some understanding of what it is–to define it–and how it relates to photography and to you, the photographer.

Most photographs are not art, just like most people who have a paintbrush in their hands are not artists. Most people who sing aren’t recording artists. Not all people who whittle are wood-carvers. Not all people who draw letters are calligraphers. You get the idea. Just because something is similar to art, does not make it art. There is something that separates actual art from facsimile “art” that’s really not art at all.

Before jumping too deep into this, I want to clarify that it is perfectly fine that most photographs are not art. There are many different purposes for the photograph, and art is just one of them. There is nothing wrong with pictures that aren’t art, as they have their place, just as photographs as art also have their place. Just because one uses a camera doesn’t mean that person must be or should be an artist. You may have little to no interest in art at all, but you love to photograph, and there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

Webster defines art as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination.” Oxford defines it as “the expression of human creative skill and imagination.” Both of these explanations are similar and describe the two critical components for determining if something is or is not art: skill and imagination. If something is created skillfully but not imaginatively, it’s not art. If something is created imaginatively but not skillfully, it’s not art. It must be both skillfully and imaginatively completed in order to be considered art.

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Curtain Abstract – Mesquite, NV – Fujifilm X100F

People have different levels of skill and creativity. You might be very skillful but only marginally creative. You can be highly creative but only marginally skillful. Either way, you can still create art, and you can work to improve your shortcomings. You can become more proficient and increase your creativity with practice. Obviously the place you want to be if you wish to be an artist photographer is very skillful and highly creative. That’s a life-long process, and there are no easy one-size-fits-all instant answers. Just continue to work hard and be persistent.

Aside from knowing how to use your camera gear to achieve your desired results, and having imagination enough to know what you want the results to be in the first place, I think that there are a few more aspects to art that should be talked about. Look again at what Webster said of art, paying particular attention to the phrase, “conscious use of…” in the definition. You have to know what it is that you are creating. You have to be able to define it. You should be able to explain it to some extent. If you can’t, it’s not likely art that you’re creating.

I used to show my photographs to people and they’d say, “Oh, that looks nice!” Or, “What a pretty picture!” Then one day someone asked, “What does this picture mean? What is its purpose?” I had no answer because I had never thought of that before. I really didn’t know what to say, and it was kind of embarrassing. I realized that I needed to have an answer for all of my photographs–I needed to know the purpose and meaning of each–but the answer needed to be made prior to exposure, not after. If I’m trying to make it up after the fact it will typically translate as artificial and weak.

If a photograph is art, the photographer should be able to give a clear and concise explanation of the image. It doesn’t necessarily have to be profound. It doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious to the viewer. But the photographer should know clearly in their mind why they created the image and what the meaning of it is. And it’s okay if the viewer doesn’t see it the same way that you see it, it only matters that you know the purpose.

I believe that if something is art it should convey something to the viewer. It might be a strong and obvious message, it might be a subtle concept, it might be an emotion–there should be some kind of nonverbal communication, whether clear or vague. The photographer must decide what it is that the picture will convey, and then make decisions prior to exposure that will most strongly speak it.

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Preserved Steam Wheel – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

The Oxford explanation of art uses the word “expression” which can be defined as making one’s thoughts and feelings known. When you are an artist photographer, that’s exactly what you are doing. You are expressing your thoughts and/or feelings to others through your pictures. You are giving the viewer a glimpse of yourself through your photographs. Art is self expression. How you do this is entirely up to you. What glimpses you give of yourself is entirely up to you. You have to make those decisions, then skillfully and imaginatively create something from it.

Not everyone will appreciate your art. Not everyone will get it. In fact, if you are truly expressing yourself, you should expect criticism. People have opinions that are different than yours. People have experiences that are different than yours. People see the world through different eyes than yours. Strangers will look at something that you think is great and they’ll think it’s terrible. That’s completely okay, and you may not realize it, but you do the exact same thing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If you are an artist photographer, you have to expect that criticism will come. Take it for what it’s worth, and, most likely, it’s not worth much. Listen to people who you trust, and take their criticism to heart. They mean well with what they say, and they’re just trying to help you. For everyone else, give the criticism a listen, but don’t put much stock into it, and don’t let it bother you. If you’re not getting any criticism at all, it’s most likely because you are not creating art, and you are not expressing yourself through your photographs enough.

Not everyone is an artist photographer, and not every artist photographer is always creating art. Photography as art happens when someone consciously expresses themselves in a masterful and creative fashion. It happens when the photographer communicates thoughts or emotions through pictures. I’m constantly striving to be an artist photographer. Sometimes I think I’ve succeeded, other times I feel like I’ve fallen short. But I keep at it, never giving up, always striving ahead.

The takeaway that I’d like to most impart is that you and I should continuously be working towards becoming more skilled with our gear and we should daily be practicing creativity. Constantly take baby steps to become a better and more artistic photographer. Even if things are slow developing or mistakes happen, don’t give up but instead keep moving forward. Be persistent. Tomorrow’s photographs can be better than today’s.