Friday Foto Talk: Depth of Field II   19 comments

Sometimes quick off the cuff shots are the best. At a small rodeo in Oregon, not only the perfect depth of field, but the expression on this rider’s face was perfect as he looked respectfully at the bull that’d just “had fun” with him.  180 mm., 1/2000 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 200.

This is the second of a three-part series on depth of field.  Take a look at my 1st one, where some basics are covered.

Depth of field plays a big part in how most images look. Thus it’s important that you are deliberate. I’m not saying be rigid; experiment with different apertures, focal lengths, etc. in order to get different looks. But when it comes time to select your best, when it’s time to decide which pictures you will put out there as representative of your subjects and your photography, then I think you need to take a more conscious approach.

It’s a fact that your choice of depth of field will influence the impact each of your images have. But your choices will also help to set the tone for each of them.  And what’s more, your choices will to some extent collectively influence your photographic style.  It’s like a sort of flow where you select and filter on the way to your unique identity as a photographer.  How you use depth of field is simply one aspect of that.

Along the Kafue River in Zambia, this black-backed barbet had some personality, so I went for shallow depth of field.

Along the Kafue River in Zambia, this black-backed barbet had some things to say, so I went for shallow depth of field.  400 mm., 1/640 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.

Who needs shallow depth of field when you place your subject at the entrance to a relatively dim barn.  This is Gold Dancer, apple of my eye for 8 happy years, who I just had to sell last week.

Who needs shallow depth of field when you place your subject at the entrance to a relatively dim barn. This is Gold Dancer, apple of my eye for 8 happy years, who I just had to sell last week.  121 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.

Honey-sellers in Ensenada, Mexico pass the time playing cards.  I wanted to put them only slightly out of focus.

Honey-sellers in Ensenada, Mexico pass the time playing cards. I wanted to put them only slightly out of focus.  28 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 160.

Whatever you do, you should not think of a particular aperture or depth of field as being right or wrong as judged by some imagined body of photography “experts”. It’s not even strictly right or wrong for your subject and conditions.  Rather, it can only be right or wrong based on your particular interpretation of the subject, light, mood, etc.  Trust your instincts and tune out the noise on Facebook etc.

That said, there are some general considerations:

      • Shallow depth of field is used most often to isolate a subject. The photographer wants the viewer to put maximum attention where the focus is and nowhere else. Along with relative brightness, focus is a great way to force a viewer’s eyes to go where you want them to go.
      • Large (deep) depth of field is used to show the whole story. In fact it’s known by many as a “storytelling” aperture. I’m not so sure that you can’t tell a story with an image that has shallow depth of field, but in general giving everything equal weight, focus-wise, facilitates movement of a viewer’s eyes through the scene. How you guide that eye movement is a big part of the art of composition.
      • Moderate depth of field is used when you don’t really have a good reason to go either shallow or deep. When everything in your frame is roughly the same distance away or when your subject is set against a featureless background, you might as well shoot at a medium aperture like f/8. The aperture at which most lenses are at their sharpest is in the f/5.6 to f/8 range.
Two Nicaraguan vaqueros, one of whom I wanted to focus on and the other not totally blur out.

Two Nicaraguan vaqueros, one of whom I wanted to be the focus while the other a supporting character (thus not totally blurred out).  127 mm., 1/250 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 200.

 

When a large male great curassow stepped out of the jungle at Tikal, Guatemala, I didn’t worry about the fact that I had a messy background that was too close to blur no matter how shallow I went with depth of field.  I just thanked my luck and snapped the picture.  200 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/5.0, ISO 200.

With this brown pelican in Sian Ka'an, Yucatan, I didn't need to go shallow with depth of field because the sky is featureless and would not distract.

With this brown pelican in Sian Ka’an, Yucatan, I didn’t need to go shallow with depth of field because the sky is featureless and would not distract.  200 mm., 1/2500 sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 200.

There are many ways to play around with depth of field, many ways to create a variety of looks in your images. Add to that all the additional control afforded by post- processing software, where you can simulate any lens effect and more, and you have a plethora of options.  Take it slow is my advice.

It all starts with the capture, and this is where the decisions you make regarding depth of field will make the most difference.  As I laid out in the 1st post in this series, aperture, focal length, positioning and lens choice are all worth adjusting and playing with in a wide variety of photographic situations. Soon enough you’ll know what works for you, and getting the look you want will become quicker and more unconscious.

But don’t let it become too automatic. Depth of field is too important a part of your photography to put on autopilot. Instead it should remain an integral part of your photography’s growth. Learn by shooting and making mistakes, by thinking and reevaluating, by questioning assumptions and yet going with it if it feels right.

Thanks for reading!  Next time we’ll look at an example or two.  All these guidelines are well and good, but how are decisions about depth of field actually applied while shooting in the real world?  Stay tuned.

Mount Hood Oregon and a blooming blue dick, and no way to possibly put them both in focus (without blending 2 shots), so I played around with different depths of field and selected this one.

Mount Hood and a blooming blue dick, with no way to put them both in focus without blending 2 shots.  So I played around with different depths of field and selected this one.  100 mm. (macro lens), 1/20 sec. @ f/32, ISO 160.

Monument Valley's Totem Poles at sundown.  This shot was all about maximizing depth of field.

Monument Valley’s Totem Poles at sundown. This shot, with elements I wanted in focus from the bushes a few feet away all the way out to the moon at a quarter million miles, was all about maximizing depth of field.  28 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100.

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19 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Depth of Field II

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  1. Fine series, I love the landscape from Monument Valley – a magic place, which I still remember as one of my best travel spots (was there in 1995)….

    • Thanks. I had some nice light there, my first time. I love how it’s pretty big and easy enough to photograph different sorts of compositions than the ones you usually see. My experience with the Navajos was also very good, so I’ll be back.

  2. Glad you are closer to replacing your gear. DoF is something we all know about but sometimes don’t add into our composition workflow. I have a DoF calculator that I often use to work out best aperture and focusing point.

  3. Pingback: Friday Foto Talk: Depth of Field III | MJF Images

  4. Reblogged this on Travel with Intent and commented:
    This is a very helpful post on depth of field. If you are interested in photography, it is worth checking out the other posts in this series too.

  5. As always stunning photos and valuable advice. Thank you. Rosemarie

  6. Gold Dancer is georgeous!! Very sad that you had to part with him, hope he found a loving home.

  7. This is great and just in time for my going to the Oregon Garden for 3 night for us to celebrate our 33rd anniversary. t In the last year I been increasingly interested in depth of field. Before everything had to be clear. So next week in the garden I suspect I will have even more fun because of your great info. LOVED the photos you presented to us.

  8. I agree with you when you say, “don’t let it become too automatic”, that is a very good point and it is easy to always shoot in a certain way.

  9. I like the variety subjects and composition in this set of images. But I also like that nature prevails in most of your work.

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