Suspicious lens-fu.
July 19, 2008 9:02 AM   Subscribe

There's a photograph of a Persian gold finial resting on a highly patterned cloth on p. 56 of the August 2008 National Geographic (directions to find it online inside). The finial is in tack-sharp focus with significant depth of field while the entire cloth is pleasantly blurred. Shenanigans? I would love to know how this photo was taken.

It's the tenth photo in this annoying Flash presentation of Simon Norfolk's photos. If you page forward once using the >| button it's the first photo on that page.

I'm kind of hoping that the composition is due to ninja lens technique, but it really looks photoshopped to me since the finial's shadow is almost in focus while cloth details intersecting the shadow boundary are much more blurred. Can any 5th dan photographers comment?
posted by mindsound to Technology (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure that's photoshopped.
posted by Class Goat at 9:25 AM on July 19, 2008

Ack- I can't see the gallery- are we sure the link works?
posted by pjern at 9:26 AM on July 19, 2008

Direct link
posted by smackfu at 9:37 AM on July 19, 2008

Yup, has to be photoshopped.

Either that, or he got a zen master of weaving to weave a 'blur' pattern perfectly into the cloth corresponding to where the camera put the cloth in focus...
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:43 AM on July 19, 2008

No 5th dan needed. That's PhotoShop 101 Gausian Blur.
posted by dws at 10:09 AM on July 19, 2008

Yeah, looks photoshoped to me. I mean, obviously how could you get the entire object in focus even though it's at an angle to the camera, and none of the cloth? And the shadow looks pretty fake as well.

The only other possibility is the cloth itself was blurred, which seems unlikely.
posted by delmoi at 10:14 AM on July 19, 2008

Or the gold filial is resting on a piece of glass, allowing for some distance to the cloth and hence the blur.

But then the shadow would not be as dark?
posted by sd at 10:20 AM on July 19, 2008

I'd assume it's digitally edited, just because that'd be the easiest way to make this image. But I have in my mind somewhere that National Geographic has a very strict policy about photo editing. Anyone know? I couldn't find anything quickly.

how could you get the entire object in focus even though it's at an angle to the camera

A tilt/shift lens will do that. It's the sharp shadow against the blurry ground that is the hardest to explain. But it could be a visual trick that we're just not quite seeing.
posted by Nelson at 10:25 AM on July 19, 2008

IANAP (I Am Not A Photographer), but my wife is.

I recently bought her a Lensbaby Selective Focus Lens (at her request, obv.)

AFAIK, this type of photo can be taken with a selective focus lens. You can look at the product photo galleries and decide for yourself.
posted by Argyle at 10:34 AM on July 19, 2008

I'm certainly no expert, but it might have been able to be achieved using tilt-shift photography.
posted by maxpower at 11:19 AM on July 19, 2008

I am also NAP, but the thing that rules out the Lensbaby for me is the fact that nothing but the object and its shadow are in focus. I've never used one, but I recall from photo galleries that there's usually a circle of focus surrounded by the out-of-focus rest of the photo.

Does anyone else recall a recent controversy where a National Geographic cover featuring a zebra herd (or something similar, taken from above) was Photoshopped to be more symmetrical? This seems less bad to me, since it's just photographic style and not reality that's been altered.
posted by dondiego87 at 11:23 AM on July 19, 2008

It doesn't have to be Photoshop - it could have been shot on a view camera or other equipment capable of movements (ie, tilt-shift lenses, Lensbabies, etc.). The relevant optical effect is called the Scheimpflug Principle.
posted by bradbane at 11:50 AM on July 19, 2008

I've taken and exhibited many Lensbaby shots, and I'm virtually certain this wasn't taken with one. I would also guess tilt/shift lens or some other camera with movable elements. Look at the 14th photo of the six-toed woman. I would guess this one is made with something movable. In both of them, the shot is so tight that the background may be set up in a way that's difficult to visualize but would give the shot we see.

If you're really interested I'd say email the editors. I think they'd be pretty forthcoming. Or, wait, here's the photographer's site:

Simon Norfolk. You can email him directly.
posted by sevenless at 11:55 AM on July 19, 2008

Nelson - here is the National Geographic incident you speak of. Don't know anything abot zebras though.
posted by Kiwi at 2:15 PM on July 19, 2008

One way to achieve this would be to put the object on an out-of-focus print of a Persian rug or somesuch. Possibly with a piece of glass between the object and the print (which would explain some of the shadows). Why one would do this, I don't know since it's kind of bizarre, but you wouldn't need post-processing to get that look.
posted by chengjih at 2:28 PM on July 19, 2008

But, the edges of the shadow are sharper than the weave of the cloth the shadow sits on. That says Photoshop to me.
posted by johngumbo at 4:50 PM on July 19, 2008

The photographer could also have very carefully smeared a lens or mirror with vaseline to blur all but a well-defined region in the photo.

But this would be much easier to do in Photoshop.
posted by zippy at 9:33 PM on July 19, 2008

My vote is for Photoshop. I'm certainly no expert, but I haven't seen any tilt-shift photographs where you would get something like this where the object and shadow are in focus, and then you have ultra-blur right next to the crisp line of the shadow.
posted by bjrn at 4:57 AM on July 20, 2008

This is a shop. I can tell from the pixels and by having seen quite a few shops in my time .
posted by tomble at 5:10 AM on July 20, 2008

This morning, I discussed this with my previously mentioned, photographer wife.

I showed her the image and she demanded to know what camera and lenses were involved. I shrugged my shoulders and she rolled her eyes at me...

At first she said, yes, a Lensbaby could shoot it with the proper 'plane of focus' along the gold finial, as it is in a straight line.

Then she looked a little closer and said there was Photoshop involved since the cloth also in the plane focus was blurred.

She then began to go into detail about optics and focal whatsits and depth of whositis and so on and so on with her hands moving in the air like a fighter pilot describing a dogfight. I said, "This must be what you feel when I talk about computers..."

Then I kissed her and we went back to drinking coffee.
posted by Argyle at 9:45 AM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

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