By Matt Weiss
I've always liked Japanese art and the Japanese aesthetic, and since I was required to take classes outside my disciplines of business and biology at college, I figured I would give Japanese Art History a try. Through this class, I became more familiar with the Japanese aesthetic principles that value open space and simple or plain objects. The idea that the space created around compositional elements is just as important as the elements themselves fascinated me, and the simplicity of some of the Japanese architecture, paintings, and rock gardens appealed to me.
I was taking this class just about the same time I started underwater photography. Like many new underwater photographers, I was dissatisfied with my initial macro images, and so I decided to draw some inspiration from my studies. Unfortunately, we never covered photography, but I figured there was a way to incorporate this Japanese minimalist aesthetic into underwater photography.
That's when I discovered bokeh.
Bokeh, pronounced BOH-kay, is a Japanese term used to describe the aesthetic quality of the out of focus areas of an image. Through the use of high magnification lenses and low apertures, you can create an visually appealing blurry area in a photograph (Read the full techniques piece to learn how to create bokeh images with macro lenses) . Similar to principles I learned about in my class used for more traditional art forms, bokeh valued the negative space surronding the subject as much as the subject itself. The simple background in bokeh images is an essential element, not just an after thought, which inherently makes the subject stand out, like a rock surrounded by sand in a rock garden.
And so armed with a 105mm Nikon macro lens I set out to try bokeh.
Four years after I took the Japanese art class I am trying to take a true bokeh image -- a shot where the out of focus negative space is as visually appealing as the subject itself. And so, every dive with a macro lens I look forward to images at f5.6.
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