Selective focus : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread


I have been wondering about this for a while now, and as you all are a fine bunch of people having a lot of answers for a lot of questions I'll fire this one off:

The photographer Keith Carter, to my knowledge no LF photographer, has made a lot of photos in his book Holding Venus with a kind of selective focus which I haven't seen before. Is this made in-camera, or at the printing stage? Or maybe in Photoshop?

Look at to see some examples of his photos.

Any ideas?

-- Jimi Axelsson (, May 08, 2001


I believe he uses a Hasselblad "Flex-body" camera which allows the lens stage to be tilted (and swung?) much like a standard view camera, thus achieving the strange focus effects. He's produced some very compelling images.

-- James Meckley (, May 08, 2001.

Who cares? Looks like pretentious crap to me.

-- Bill Mitchell (, May 08, 2001.

Carter's pictures have always been square so he's using an MF camera. I heard somewhere that the out-of-focus areas were done in the darkroom, but I can't vouch for the accuracy of that rumor.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, May 08, 2001.

Looks like he's having some fun with swings/tilts.

-- Michael Mahoney (, May 08, 2001.

It's always good to see enlightened and thoughtful commentary on a photographer's work posted on these pages. Of course sometimes we have to settle for a whole lot less.

-- Dave Schneider (, May 08, 2001.

Is it true he's going to do another series? This time with the lens swung about the vertical axis. (God, I hope not!) The puppeteer picture reminds me of that awful episode of Star Trek, you know, the one where you could see the strings on the aliens.

-- Pete Andrews (, May 08, 2001.

Well, Keith sure does get opinions on his photos in this forum, anyway... :)

I think his photos are good, but I shudder at the thought a the flood of photos from Carter-wannabes which might drown us in the future.

-- Jimi (, May 08, 2001.

In addition to the movements noted by the previous posts, he may be achieving these types of effects through filtration--either on camera or in the darkroom. It may be as simple as vaseline on a clear filter placed in front of the camera lens or below the enlarging lens. If I was going to mimic Carter's approach, I would prefer doing it through darkroom manipulation. This gives you a choice of printing a straight print or one with selective focus.

If you like Carter's work you will probably also enjoy Sally Mann's recent landscapes (Mother Land series) and the work of James Fee.


-- Dave Willison (, May 08, 2001.

We just finished a Keith Carter exhibition here at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre in Delray Beach, Florida. All of his images displayed were shot in 6x6 Hasselblad format.

I had a chance to speak with Keith about his images and his technique for a short while. Keith claims that he is using tilt to get the selective focus in the field and not in the darkroom. This has me a bit confused (not a new concept) because the area of selective focus is about a central axsis.

Is the Hassy Flexbody able to use both front and rear tilts? I think this would be necessary to throw both the foreground and background out of focus at the same time.

Also, I wonder if he is using another camera like the Linhof with a Hassy back.

In any event, I have to tell you that his images are certainly very compelling. They are superbly printed and received an enourmous response. Keith conducted a Q&A session at the Museum Show Opening and he was extremely cordial and a pleasure to listen to.

I found his images much stronger in person than in his books.


-- Mike Kravit (, May 08, 2001.

He uses either the H'blad Arcbody or Flex body.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, May 08, 2001.

Honestly, I like his images. Most of us LF users are so used to trying to get everything in focus, doing the opposite can be a challenging exercise. Using swings and tilts, the effect is easily achieved. The hard part, though, is doing it in such a way that it looks good, not cheesy or just plain stupid. Done right, I think the effect works, though certainly not for all subject matter. I've experimented with the technique, and while I like some of the images I've gotten, I've also gotten a lot of crap. Keith Carter's photographs may not be to the liking of everyone (as we have already seen), but at very least he does a good job with a deceptively hard technique.

-- David Munson (, May 08, 2001.

One other thing, Keith conducted a week long workshop for us a couple of months ago. The participants gave him rave reviews. They said it was one of the best workshops they had ever taken. Keith was responsive, genuinely interested and very giving. As a professor, I think this is a true credit to Keith.


Michael J. Kravit Palm Beach Photographic Centre Board of Directors

-- Mike Kravit (, May 08, 2001.

I have seen images from others with this type of effect before and found them to be much more interesting than these pics- I think you need a much more moody and directional light. sorry to say I now find this effect to be a bit tired and overdone. seems a little gimmicky.

-- mark lindsey (, May 08, 2001.

I have found one or two of Carter's selective-focus images to be compelling, but most seem too contrived. Many of his other straight images are absolutely brilliant. I have seen his originals in a gallery in Austin--no doubt about it, the guy really knows how to print and tone.

-- Ed Buffaloe (, May 09, 2001.

Keith uses a Hasselblad 500CM and Flexbody, and a Diana. his latest work 'Natural Histories' includes images from them all. clearly, these images are far deeper than the surface, and selective focus technique. the story within each image is so powerful. divorced from technique, these images are very compelling and shows what wonderful vision Keith Carter has.

to answer the question, Keith uses a Flexbody for his selective work. of course, any view camera with film-plane movements can achieve this effect. it does not require front and back movements at all.

'Holding Venus' gets my vote for photography book of the year, if not decade. if you don't *get* what Keith is saying, scratch deeper. your criticisms only underscore your ignorance. sorry .. but these images are amongst the most powerful and poignant images captured in silver.

-- daniel taylor (, May 11, 2001.


I agree with your views on the power of Keith Carter's photography. But to correct your statement:"... of course, any view camera with film-plane movements can achieve this effect. it does not require front and back movements at all." Film plane movements (specifically swing or tilt) are back movements. I'm pretty sure that the Flex body however has front tilt only (it might be rear tilt, I haven't looked at one recently) and you get swing by tilting the camera on it's side.

I think one of the interesting things about keit's technique is that he is handholding his flexbody and zone focusing. It breaks a lot of rules and that makes some people uncomfortable, but he is pushing at the limits of what we think photographic vision is or should be.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, May 11, 2001.


I have a Flexbody and trust me, it has only back film-plane movements. back tilt and back shift, no swing. your other comment is interesting too. using the back plane tilt, the focus plane essentially extends in a horizontal plane so focusing is not critical. what is critical, is positioning the focus plane accurately, and handholding is a hit-and-miss proposition. obviously, Keith hits more than misses, and if you notice, the focusing does have a hint of randomness.

with a homebrew viewfinder for aiming, hand-holding is not out of the question. very cool. I'll admit, to just use this technique with little thought other than as a gimmick would quickly grow old. the image 'Holding Venus' is so perfect, and the selective focus technique subtracts what isn't needed and elevates the central idea out of the noise.

-- daniel taylor (, May 11, 2001.

> it does not require front and back movements at all

this comment was related to a previous posting about needing both front and rear movements to achieve defocusing both foreground and background. I didn't mean to imply that no movements were required.

by the way, I'll be meeting with Keith for a week at the Santa Fe Workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I am very excited about this, and should also mention that though the workshop has been full since its announcement, there have been several cancellations. fortunately or unfortunately, it falls within the week of the 'Day of the Dead' ... so this might be a blessing or a curse. either way, it should be an enlightening adventure.

-- daniel taylor (, May 11, 2001.

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