A clean 3flip from Ben Campbell in Downtown Los Angeles. Shot on digital.

Finding Missed Focus

Nick Ahrens
4 min readOct 5, 2018

It’s all too easy to obsess over the details. In fact, it can be the most rewarding part of putting yourself into something. But what happens when the details break or fail to live up to our expectations? Do we start over? Try to fix it? Or just leave it as is?

Truth be told, the answer to all of those question for me is a pretty easy Yes, but knowing when to ask which one at any given moment is the real trick. And it applies well beyond photography and flows into daily work life or even at home when, say, modifying a kitchen cabinet to function a bit better at the expense of a bit of cosmetic trim. The door on said cabinet now has a slick bi-fold design that frees up a ton of space but shows an exposed edge that clearly looks out of space (if not a bit sloppy).

I recently got a text message from a close friend asking for a large print of a photo had taken recently. We settled on 36" on the long side to fit his space of choice perfectly — the bigger the better with prints. It wasn’t until I really started to really immerse myself in the details of the photo as it was prepped to go off the printer did I notice that the composition’s focal point, a talented skateboarder named Ben Campbell, was out of focus. Instead, the entire cement wall behind him was tack sharp. It was late into the night and a flood of emotions hit. It wasn’t just the motion blur from the trick being performed but genuinely out of focus. There were test prints already made at home at various sizes and it just went unnoticed.

I was so upset with myself. After capturing a screenshot of the issue zoomed in, I started a needlessly long draft of a text to explain what was going but suddenly fell in love with what had just given me complete anxiety moments before. This is quite rare as I’m constantly at odds with whether or not any of these photographs are really any good or if that even matters. It turns out the emotional, insecure side usually wins out. It was too late though, the send button had already been pressed. I was then scrambling to justify why it was a good thing (mostly to myself). Of course, it didn’t matter in the end and he didn’t lose an ounce of enthusiasm.

Karly in Malibu. Shot on film.

Reflecting on this has been interesting because over the last year or so, a random portrait shot a few years ago on film has slowly become one of the best photos I’ve taken. It’s soft and partially out of focus (not to mentioned rushed). And yet, something about it exudes exactly what I want to get out of photography. All the rules or lessons in the world just never really prepare you for the search of Why. It’s not to say that taking a laissez-faire approach to photography is some hidden key to making art but rather remember to just focus on the Why before the How. We’re constantly bombarded in photography these days with hyper-technical cameras and focusing systems and comments about inaccuracy being unacceptable and the gear, or worse, the photography has failed to be perfect.

An explosion of energy at my sister’s wedding. On the right, my other sister is partially cutoff. This photo went from basically ignored to a point of pride over the course of many years. Shot on digital.

I’ve never really tried to articulate the Why in words before but it really all boils down to that cliche moment in time and nothing else really matters. I mean the other stuff does matter, but only about as much as good soil matters for a farm. What you grow or more accurately, when and where you choose to stop time is the real thing we chase. Games played at my sister’s wedding or a city at the perfect time of day. That’s part of the reason these very imperfect photos appeal to me more than the rest. Missed focus, tension on the frame, whatever, at the end of the day it’s something to chase. I chase, anyway.

As for that newly-modified kitchen cabinet, I’ll be adding a new piece of clean trim to it this weekend.



Nick Ahrens

Fine art photography and growing up. Executive Producer at Night School / Netflix. Former journalist turned former art pusher. @robotpants on Insta/Twitter.