What is in focus is that which the focus is on. I prefer on focus.
When I look at Ansel Adams' Clearing Winter storm I think "Wow, nice background!"
When I look at Ansel Adams portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox I just think "Wow!"
Yeah, the subject matter is different. But, as truly good and really honestly special as the former is, it is still very much like looking out a window. The latter really gives me something to look at.
Lest you think it is purely a bias toward portraits, http://www.flickr.com/photos/vishal_mathur/2802653820/ That shot gives me something to look at and keeps my attention better than Clearing Winter Storm. As does this http://www.flickr.com/photos/8703006...in/photostream
For a photo to keep me interested, it has to give me something specific to look at or I lose interest.
Similarly, when someone says "Wow, you really nailed the focus/exposure/made a great print." It is a compliment about my skill with my tools and I do appreciate those comments. When someone says "wow great shot" and they ignore the print quality I feel I have done much better.
Ok so here's a shot that I think would be ruined if it were fully sharp http://www.flickr.com/photos/27386920@N06/3907107381 and this idea is what I think ms. Cameron was talking about.
This was helpful as it explains how you look at photographs, which I appreciate. I guess I just look at things differently. I think where we are most different on this is when you say a photo must have something specific to look at to maintain your interest.
Regarding what you said about viewer impressions, I agree. I would much rather someone just liked one of my shots (or not) rather than simply complimenting me on technical quality, sharpness etc. I include compositional tools, selective focus etc. under the heading "technical" though. Perhaps some would disagree with me on that extension.
Glad that helps Michael.
I agree that the tools of the trade are technical, part of our craft. The application/ideas they express are not though, that for me is where the art resides.
Isaac Asimov's triple pun: "Three brothers went out West to establish a cattle ranch, but couldn't think of an appropriate name for it. So they wrote to their father back East, and he replied, 'Call it Focus, for that's where the sun's rays meet.'"
I have a John Sexton print on my wall. It is all in sharp focus. I find my eye directed initially to the light colored stones in the middle of the river. But as I look closely at the image, my eye wanders and I discover additional, interesting elements. The way three trees in the background stand out, the reflection of the trees on the water and how the reflections plays with the rocks, the texture of the flowing water... This photograph works for me because once I am initially drawn into the image, I can walk around in it and make new discoveries. This image would be diminished if only the rocks emphasized by sharp focus. Likewise, I think most of JMC's images would be diminished if the were shot with a f64 aesthetic.
To me, focus is only one way to give the viewer "something specific to look at." Leading lines, light tones juxtaposed against dark, placement of the subject with in the frame, etc. are ways to direct the viewer's interest. I often find selective focus images to be one trick ponies--here's the subject, look at it, now move on. But, when used effectively, I can look at such an image for hours.
I guess tis is why art is so interesting, both viewing art and creating art.
Allen it is absolutely true that focus isn't our only tool and I'm not against all in focus subject matter
I find Karsh's portrait of O'Keefe a print that I wander into then around and eventually to even the texture of the wall. Karsh gives us detail to find but it's the bright antlers catch my eye and Georgia that keeps them interested. As I wander I get to know her and the big icons of her world but there is nothing else, nothing extraneous, in that portrait and each in focus element is intended to be there and clear as a bell. It s only where we look "outside" that we are given less detail. This is a truly formal posed/contrived/controlled portrait.
O'Keefe isn't a typical portrait sitter, IMO her wrinkles, as much as her antlers, were part of her "brand". A more typical sitter is not normally so proud of her wrinkles.