I've always loved this image. It's of the actor, Rene Zellweger long before she acted in her first movie. Probably shot in 1991 or 1992.
Of course I love the pose and the hands and the way the images falls off to black but I also love the look of the lens that was used to make the image. These days everyone is obsessed with absolutely sharpness above all things. Well, that's not entirely true......some amateurs are also obsessed by home many different focal lengths you can cram into a zoom lens. But most photographers love the process of quantification and measurement (I know I do....) and so DXO test that "objectively" measure overall quality reign supreme.
But what if you don't want pathological sharpness? What if you're looking for a softer portrait? A more subdued landscape? Are there other lenses that no one ever talks about.
I took this image nearly twenty years ago but it's important to understand that the EOS system was already on the market. In fact, the same lens mount is still in use and the lenses designed for the EOS film cameras are still around. I shot with some Canon EOS film cameras back then and in this instance I used a lens that I didn't appreciate as much as I should have. It was Canon's 135mm f2.8 soft focus lens. It had a setting ring on the front that would allow you to dial in three strengths of softness or use the lens as a very sharp optic with no "negative correction". I'm pretty sure it worked by introducing aberrations or softness by putting the elements at the "wrong" distance to each other.
At any rate, Rene and I were just messing around in the studio on a Saturday morning. Her right arm is draped over the back of an old wooden chair that I also neglected to appreciate enough. To her right (camera's left) I was using a 250 watt incandescent light bulb shining through a tattered and stained 40 inch umbrella. I had a stack of softboxes at the time but came to think of this umbrella as magic. I think I still have it....... The umbrella was as close to Rene as I could get the curved surface while the light was as placed to just evenly cover the edges of the umbrella.
I souped the ISO 50 Pan F film in Rodinal 1:100 for nearly 18 minutes and made the original print on a soft surfaced (G surface) Kodak paper. I've reprinted it many times but it just wants to be printed on a matte surface. The above image is a copy shot of the print. It conveys what I want you to see better than a scan of the un-interpreted negative would and retains the lower contrast feel of the paper.
That lens is long gone from my equipment drawer but every time I see this image, and others from the same day, I have a twinge of regret that stings just a bit. I let the momentum of the market push me onto a different path and spent years chasing sharper, sharper, sharper when I should have let the subject whisper to me just how it wanted to be portrayed.
There are other lenses that I regret selling. I'll try not to make that mistake again.......