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  • Writer's pictureJean Linville

Walden Pond & the f/64 Principle

The other day I was cleaning out some papers and I came across a page that I had pulled out of a National Geographic Magazine from July, 2016. The page discussed how the observations that Henry David Thoreau made at Walden Pond over 160 years ago have helped make a case for the realities of climate change. This has come about primarily through the work of Richard Primack, a biologist at Boston University, who has compared Thoreau’s notes on the bloom times of plants and trees to current bloom times. The comparative data is amazing and shows that bloom times are occurring two to three weeks earlier than in the 1850s and that the average temperature has risen by 5℉.

I have included a link to the page so that you can read it first hand. Simply click on the image of Walden Pond.

For me, the takeaway is that one person’s careful observations can not only serve the time in which they are made, but also the future. Sometimes the smallest things show us and teach us the most.

This leads me to, what I call, the f/64 Principle. This principle is rooted in photography, specifically the aperture openings of lenses. The short explanation is that the larger the lens opening (f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0), the less that is in focus. So if you are using an aperture setting of f/2.8 and you are focused on a flower head, the background will be blurred. Inversely, the smaller the aperture opening (f/11, f/16, f/20), the more that is in focus. In the example given above, now the flower head and the background would both be in focus. Even smaller aperture openings exist on medium and large format cameras, including f/64, which was utilized by Ansel Adams. Although Adams was born forty years after Thoreau’s death there are some pretty interesting parallels to the work that both men did.

Thoreau used the microcosm of Walden Pond for inspiration for his observations, writings and the development of the Transcendentalism, which valued and exalted nature. Adams also used the a microcosm to become an important advocate for land preservation, the limiting of land development and the loss of habitats. His microcosm was not a place, but was the smallest of camera aperture setting, f/64. He used this setting in order to capture the overwhelming majesty and beauty of nature. He also formed a group of anti-pictorialist photographers who became known as Group f/64. This amazingly talented group included Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham among its ranks.

So Thoreau, Adams and f/64, what does it all mean for us today? I believe it shows that each one of us can make an impact even with the smallest of actions. The question is, what will each of our "f/64 windows" be and how in the world should we go about figuring it out?

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