The progression that is the discovery and appreciation of photography is a journey unique to the voyager. Whether the path is walked through a textbook, an online forum, or alone, there is no two that are alike.
Being self-taught, I found myself obsessing with the technical side of photography to a degree that the artistic side was an afterthought. At first, it was just grasping the concept of 18% gray. Then it was learning the stop reach of my sensor. Then it was getting rid of depth of field only to bring it back in later years.
So, it’s a little ironic that I craved bokeh so much when young and now I cringe whenever someone uses that word in a conversation.
Back in 2003, I found myself with a lens line up that from 24mm to 200mm, all faster than f/1.8, so to say that I enjoyed DoF isolation was an understatement. However, there was a part of me that thought the 85mm f/1.2 just wasn’t shallow enough. I had tubed the thing beyond its nodal point reach to where the minimum focus point was behind the front element. However, a part of me still felt there was less depth to be achieved.
This quest impacted my grades as I would often sit in Italian classes trying to calculate the angle of light conversion for a lens instead of paying attention (2 years of Italian and all I know is how to say “my name is cheese”). Being a true photo geek at heart, I listed lenses by absolute aperture size in mm rather than stop (this is before I learned the factoring of minimum focusing distance, but that is a function or mid to rear elements).
Fortunate for me during this time, there was an industrial factory that did X-ray analysis that had gone under and surplussed it’s equipment. I called them up and offered to buy all their lenses for cheap, as I intended to mount them to a Canon 1D.
The lenses that came in the box ranged from 110mm to 50mm and had aperture values of f/1.1 to f/0.50. Unfortunately, they were made for industrial X-ray machines, so mounting them would not be easy. Some had nodal points that wouldn’t work with a mirror, and others had rear elements that wouldn’t support the lens. None of them had focus rings, and the fact that there were no chips meant that the truest form of manual exposure would be required as most cameras aren’t set for f/0.50.
I eventually mounted some of the lenses with cut body caps and others with plumbing tubing with a CD case. Minimum focus distance was very minimal, often only a couple inches, but DoF is a function of distance as it is a derivative of iris, so this was a plus. There wasn’t a practical use for the lenses, but there was learning to be had in their use.
I taught myself lights change and DoF relevance on it. Texture was important and the quality of the images that came from the lenses was often determined by the progression from focus to out-of-focus rather than the quality of the blur itself. At the end of the day, I never really showed the images all that much and sold off most of the lenses I had made.
Like so many other aspects of photography, I was merely looking to show myself that I could do it.
About the author: Blair Bunting is an advertising photographer based out of Los Angeles, California. You can see more of his work on his website, blog, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.