Sharpen your view with blur
An out-of-focus wide angle – that sums up Ralph Koch’s preferred working method. For a long time he had been searching for a lens that would allow him to capture his view of the world in pictures. The Otus 1.4/28 from ZEISS exceeded his expectations.
In the opinion of Ralph Koch, the Otus 1.4/28 is a very uncompromising representative of its lens type: it creates images with details that have the highest possible focus – in every angle, with excellent radiance across the entire image, and with no discolorations at the edges of the image. “Something like that hasn’t been available on the market up to now,” states Koch who has amply tested the lens both inside and outdoors.
With its objective imaging, the most wide-angled Otus, also allows Koch to insert a maximum of subjectivity in his images. His signature style, and the hallmark of his photography for a long time now, is to consciously use a shallow depth of field. When Koch started out in photography 30 years ago, one good friend in particular inspired him. “He sharpened my eye for things that, only when you look at them very closely, become an exciting motif with a fleeting glance. The intentional play with focus and blur directs our eye to exactly those details you would normally overlook when viewing a motif,” says Koch before offering the following tip. “Try this: throw a few petals from some daisies onto a water surface. With a lens like the Otus 1.4/28 you can compose dozens of exciting shots from this one setting, simply by setting the focus differently.”
Ralph Koch’s commissioned work is wide-ranging. He takes pictures of all kinds of events, company profiles, family celebrations, cars, and also does very personal shoots following the client’s wishes. “To introduce a doctor’s office or law firm in pictures requires all my experience. I’ll take pictures of the building from outside and inside, technical details of the equipment as still lifes, then the different workflows, the employees at work and in portrait. For all these motifs, I use sharpness and blur to steer one’s view to the essentials.”
The first photo here, from Stuttgart’s city library, shows Ralph Koch himself. “During this shoot, I intentionally sought motifs that could be depicted with a low depth of field. But I wanted to disturb the library visitors as little as possible.” The photographer therefore took the picture with a self-timer. Radiance and the sharpness of details stand out clearly here, emphasizing what libraries are all about: books.
The second image of the library pleases Ralph Koch because of the sharpness of details across the entire image. “That’s why the 28 mm Otus is my first choice.”
Koch seldom works with additional lighting; however the motifs must be consistently illuminated. For this image, Koch had to wait a while until the library visitors had dispersed across this massive space in such a way that a “coherent symmetry” emerged. The image was taken with ISO 50 to achieve a long exposure time that would make the people in the images appear slightly blurred when they moved. To augment the aesthetics of the image, he slightly increased the contrasts of the spines of the books during editing.
The third motif from Koch’s tests with the Otus focuses on the “blue hour” – a term used not only in poetry. The blue hour, the time of dusk between sunset and darkness, provides photographers with numerous options for composing details or intense colors, thanks to the unique relationship of contrasts between brightness and darkness. “Depending on the time of year, the blue hour is around a half hour after sunset in our latitudes,” explains Koch, who always looks up the exact times on an agricultural website.
The long exposure time means this picture of the county administrative office in Tübingen comes to life due to the building’s interior, the lighting and the details of the rooms. “For a harmonious lighting situation you need to take the picture at the perfect moment to achieve photos like these,” says Koch. “Ten minutes earlier and the photo would have looked rather dull.” He also made the foreground slightly brighter afterwards. For this picture Koch also heeded another general tip that he follows for wide-angle shots: they need width and should be cropped afterwards. Too much sky or earth can “thin out” their dramatic effect.
This motif is the perfect example for Koch’s creed that “the conscious use of focus and blur directs the eye to the essentials.” A rather unspectacular day-to-day motif to be found in any front yard suddenly appears exciting when shot in this way. The open iris of the Otus 1.4/28 plays out all its strengths, inviting the viewer to linger a long time.
And finally: Blur in the foreground and background — a classic combination with which Koch likes to contrast youth and the decay of aging. The photographer intentionally chose a wide-angle lens so he could show the people he was portraying within their surroundings. “I placed something in the field of vision in front of the person to serve as a composition element,” explains Koch. The focus is on the eye of the young woman.
High resolution, outstanding focus and no image errors – these uncompromising qualities distinguish the Otus 1.4/28 and enable Koch to achieve his personal signature in photography: namely that you need blur to sharpen your view for the essentials.
About Ralph Koch
Ralph Koch is a trained printer and works alongside his father as the fourth generation in the 85-year-old family business. The company, which specializes in offset printing, has certainly sharpened Koch’s eye for photo motifs, for example for large-sized calendars. When he’s not in the print shop, Koch is out taking pictures for both business and private clients.