Archive for the ‘focus’ Tag

Flow & Photography – A Summary   3 comments

Lizard tracks on an early morning jaunt across the dunes in Death Valley.

Lizard tracks on an early morning jaunt across the dunes in Death Valley.

It has been quite awhile since I’ve posted here.  I went off social media during the run-up to and then just after that weird thing that happened in the U.S. last Tuesday.  Been working a lot too.  By the way, although I literally felt sick to my stomach on Wednesday morning when I woke up (at 5 a.m.) and turned on the radio, I got past it and am now in the “this too shall pass” state of mind.  For those of you in other countries, just remember that most people here voted against the orange lizard, and that most of his supporters are not racist bigots, or anti-immigrant.

On the day after the election, I was kayaking and saw this bald eagle.  I took it as a sign that everything would be okay.

On the day after the election, I was kayaking and saw this bald eagle. I took it as a sign that everything would be okay.

I have another photography topic to dive into, but I’ll save that for next week.  Instead I want to wrap up the series on flow that was interrupted.  In fact, right now slipping into a state of flow is the best thing to do for those of us who cannot fathom the next 4 years.  If you haven’t been following along, check out the previous posts in the series.

The beginnings of winter, late fall in southern Utah.

The beginnings of winter, late fall in southern Utah.

An intimate scene in a cypress swamp: Florida.

An intimate scene in a cypress swamp: Florida.

WHAT FLOW IS (AND IS NOT)

Flow, or “being in the zone”, is a state of relaxed hyper-concentration where we do our best.  But unlike the way you will hear it often described, I don’t believe flow is limited to experts in their fields.  Flow is not when we do the best.  It’s just when we do our best.  The good thing about flow is that the more you get into it, the better you are at the thing you’re engaged in.

Flow is also not related to how active we are physically.  You could be in flow while writing, for example.  Your body is not active, but your mind sure is.  You can also be in flow while engaged in intense physical activity.  Climbing, whether on rock or snow and ice, is an example.  While in flow it’s common to lose track of time.  If you’re writing or doing something else that is physically more passive, you can concentrate for long periods and forget or forego mental exhaustion.  Similarly, in a physically intense activity, you seem to be able to ignore exhaustion when in flow.  Photography, depending on the kind you’re doing, may involve both the mental and the physical.  This is part of why I like it so much.

On the beach looking south at the very edges of an approaching hurricane, still more than a day away.

I think the key to being able to work through tiredness and to lose track of time’s passage is the fact that flow is conducive to relaxation.  Now hyper-focused action may not seem to go together with relaxation.  But when you’re in flow you’re relaxed in a unique way.  It’s not like lying in the sun on a beach with the soothing surf in your ears.  But it’s still a relaxed state.  It’s the kind of relaxation that comes when the mind and body work together the way they’re supposed to.

FLOW & BETTER PHOTOGRAPHY

As far as photography goes, flow is simply a way of shooting pictures that is conducive to a relaxed focus, a way that leads to more creative image-making.  For me, it’s difficult to recommend specific tips that will help you experience flow while shooting.  But then again it’s hard for me to be very prescriptive about photography at all.  It’s such a subjective undertaking.  But I do know when I see photographers who are taking it all too seriously, who are too tight.  Flow, to my mind, is an under-appreciated and major factor behind good photography.

Hot spring in Nevada.

Hot spring in Nevada.

I recommend just two things to those who have recently gotten into photography and want to progress quickly.  First, get the most basic stuff down.  Get to know how your camera works so you aren’t fumbling around.  Practice taking pictures and don’t worry about their quality so much.  The goal is to make settings and exposure adjustments second nature to you.

Second, before starting to photograph, get into a relaxed frame of mind.  Whatever you do to relax, whether it’s breathing or stretching exercises, or positive self talk, do it before you shoot.  Don’t make so much of taking pictures that you tense up.  Realize you’re there to make the most of your subjects, surroundings and light.  Some or all of those variables, such as natural light, will be at least partly out of your control.  What is in your control are the choices you make when you shoot.  Just do your best and don’t stress about the rest.

Thanks for reading, have a wonderful weekend, and have fun shooting!

A recent sunset, Indian River, Florida.

A recent sunset, Indian River, Florida.

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Friday Foto Talk: Photo Flow in Practice (Landscape & Architecture)   5 comments

Early mornings in beautiful places like Pintler Pass, Montana are tailor made for flow.

I’m liking this series on flow in photography.  Hope you are too!  Flow, or being ‘in the zone’, is a state of intense focus where you often lose the sense of time passing.  Check out the first two posts in the series for a background primer.  This and succeeding posts will go through particular examples to show how flow can help you get the best images whether you’re shooting a grand landscape or ducks in the park.

Landscape Flow

I’m not surprised that I more easily enter flow while alone and shooting landscapes.  I love being in nature and almost always feel relaxed away from civilization.  I don’t think we can assume, however, that flow in nature photography is always a piece of cake.  Often it’s when we’re alone in a beautiful setting that those oddly irrelevant thoughts enter in and distract us, taking us right out of the moment.  And being in the moment, fully engaged with your subject, is the entry point to experiencing photo flow.  External factors may get in the way of flow too, as the following example shows.

Though I'm not as much into shooting the stars as I used to be (too popular), I still love stargazing: Snow Canyon, Utah.

Though I’m not as much into shooting the stars as I used to be (too popular), I still love stargazing: Snow Canyon, Utah.

EXAMPLE – Rain at Panther Creek Falls:  Here’s an occasion where I got into flow despite challenges related to weather & terrain.  Although it’s a bit overexposed and popular with photogs., I’d been wanting to shoot at Panther Creek Falls in SW Washington.  To my surprise I was alone.  The fact it was rainy may have had something to do with that, but I wanted to shoot it in a rainy period, for the atmosphere and green of the vegetation.  I spent a lot of time wiping water from my lens, as much from the spray as from rain.

I wacked through wet brush on a very steep slope, approaching from the opposite side of the canyon than the viewpoint and trail is on.  This waterfall gets its unique character from a large spring that floods out of the steep hillside, and I wanted to see that up close.  As I always do with popular spots, I was going for completely different points of view than most every other shot at Panther.  I stayed for nearly three hours, working the subject mercilessly.  Getting to interesting viewpoints in that terrain was slow going, and all the lens-wiping took time too.

Panther Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

Panther Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

Despite all the distractions of weather and terrain, once I was soaked and didn’t need to worry about getting any wetter, I entered a state of flow.  The image above wasn’t the best of the shoot.  The horizontal version probably is, but I’ve posted that before.  I squatted very close to the water and under the log.  The main falls is in the background.  There are two lessons here:  First, only on a misty rainy day is a shot like this possible; you can’t really simulate it very well with software.  Second, flow by its nature means ignoring discomfort and overcoming challenges.

At Monument Valley, Utah, sand and the light at dusk create a peaceful scene.

 

Architecture Flow

To me landscape and architecture are similar in many ways.  By the way, I plan to post soon on the different types of photography and how to use their commonalities to more effectively “cross-train” your shooting.  You are much more likely to be around other people when shooting architecture, but flow still feels similar to landscape.  Capturing the character of a building, as with mountains, is more likely when you are in the moment; when you carefully observe the subject, its surroundings and the changing light.

A building on Portland's industrial eastside.

A building on Portland’s industrial eastside.

EXAMPLE – Portland Eastside:  I was just walking along on the east side of Portland, Oregon, close to the river.  Many of the older warehouses and other unremarkable buildings in this area have been spiffed up in recent years, and are now occupied by various upscale tenants.  It was dusk, my favorite time to shoot architecture.  I forgot about judgments and started noticing the more subtle features of the buildings.  This is what flow can do, allow you to notice everything around you.

A big challenge for this image was one that is common with architecture: point of view.  In order to get the right angle and show off the gentle curve of the building as it follows the curving street and sidewalk, I needed to stand in the middle of the street.  Because of the low light, I also needed to be on a tripod.  After several unsuccessful tries where I was chased back to the sidewalk by traffic, I was able to get the shot during a lull.  I don’t think I was in flow while running for my life.  But I was for the important part; that is, finding the subject & composition.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Grand Canyon’s North Rim Lodge reflects warm light from the setting sun at Bright Angel Point.

Friday Foto Talk: Focus   4 comments

Dawn at the salt flats: Death Valley National Park, California.

I’m feeling a little guilty about skipping a couple weeks of Friday Foto Talk.  My excuse is that I was mostly away from the internet, camping in the desert.  I think I’m about ready to collate all of these into an e-book (or two!).  Looking back I’ve poured a lot of my knowledge and experience into these Friday posts.

Last time we looked into a fairly subtle topic (subjective vs. objective approaches), so this Friday let’s get back to basics.  Achieving good focus, and the larger issue of getting sharp photos, should be one of the first things you get good at, from a technical point of view, when learning photography.  This post will focus on focus!  It won’t go into the other things you need to do to get sharp images, which I’ve discussed in past posts.

A blooming creosote bush at dawn in the sand dunes at Death Valley.

A blooming creosote bush at dawn in the sand dunes at Death Valley.

WHAT IS FOCUS

The best way to understand this is to play with lenses (free of cameras, eyeglasses or binoculars) and a blank wall or white sheet of paper, with a strong directional light source.  You probably did this in high school science class, drawing light ray diagrams like the one below.

Light rays (which can also be understood as waves) travel roughly parallel with each other as they travel from where they were reflected off the subject to your camera lens.  They are bent inwards by the lens, coming together into a focal point.  From the center of your lens to the focal point is the focal length, usually expressed in millimeters.  Just behind the focal point sits your sensor (or film), the focal plane where an image is formed.  By changing that distance between sensor and lens you bring the subject into focus.

A convex lens like that in a camera brings light rays together and an image into focus.

A convex lens like that in a camera brings light rays together and an image into focus.

It’s important to realize that once you have a subject in focus, it is sitting in a “plane of focus” (which corresponds to the focal plane inside the camera).  Things above, below and to the side of your subject that are the same distance from your lens also sit in that plane, and so are in focus as well.  Things that are off the plane of focus, either closer or further from your lens, are technically not in focus.  But hang on!  They only get blurry gradually as the distance from the plane increases.

What this means for a photographer is that, depending on your depth of field, much of the image (even all of it in many cases) can appear to be sharp & in focus.  This is despite only a small part of the image being smack dab on the focal plane.  It’s a case of having a sufficient depth of field.  If you go for shallow depth of field, only what is on or very nearly on the focal plane will be in focus, with the rest of the image being blurry.

I found this bighorn sheep skull far up a canyon in Death Valley. It sits on a blanket of mud and debris brought down in the flash floods that struck during heavy storms last fall.

I found this bighorn sheep skull far up a canyon in Death Valley. It sits on a blanket of mud and debris brought down in the flash floods that struck during heavy storms last fall.

GETTING FOCUSED IMAGES

Now that we’ve done a little optics 101, let’s get into some practical tips on how to achieve good focus.  Most of what follows applies to whatever DSLR you may be using.  It’s even mostly applicable to mirrorless cameras.  But since I use a Canon, there are a few things that you’ll need to translate to your camera’s specific controls.  Which leads to the first point:

  • Know your camera.  You should be able to work the controls that affect focus (and exposure) without looking, and really without thinking.  Most DSLRs allow you to change which buttons control focus and exposure.  The default setup that most people use is where shutter button controls both auto-focus and exposure.  A half-press of the shutter button starts autofocus and also forces the camera to take a meter reading, fixing exposure.  Full press takes the picture.
A purple mimulus (monkeyflower) blooms in one of Death Valley's canyons. Getting at least two of the blooms to line up on the plane of focus was key.

A purple mimulus (monkeyflower) blooms in one of Death Valley’s canyons. Getting at least two of the blooms to line up on the plane of focus was key.

  • Be flexible in how you use auto-focus.  There are several ways to go about shooting with autofocus.  As you get better as a photographer you’ll realize that where you focus is usually not the composition you want to shoot.  There are three basic ways to approach this using the viewfinder (see below for further options using LiveView).
    • You can point the center of the frame at your subject, half-press the shutter button to get focus, then move the camera to the composition you actually want.
    • It can be easier and more accurate to frame the composition you want first, then change the autofocus point to the one that covers your subject.  On Canon DSLRs, there’s a little button on the top-right that you press with your thumb.  Then you work the joystick on the camera back to change the AF point.
    • A third option is to just focus where you want the focal plane to be, for examples 2/3 into the frame for a landscape where you don’t have important elements that are very close to you.  Then switch your lens to manual focus and shoot away, concentrating on composition and exposure without worrying about focus.  This can be a quick and easy way to go if you’re doing several shots of the same general scene.
In this diagram what they are labeling focal plane I call the "plane of focus", to distinguish it from the actual focal plane, which corresponds to the camera sensor. Click image to visit source page.

In this diagram what they are labeling focal plane I call the “plane of focus”, to distinguish it from the actual focal plane, which corresponds to the camera sensor. Click image to visit source page.

  •  Depth of field and focus go hand in hand.  The diagram above shows depth of field in the simplest way.  And it really is simple in concept.  But the devil is in the details as they say.  How adept you are at working depth of field and focus directly affects how many good shots you get, especially in dynamic, rapidly changing circumstances. 
    • Focal length matters.  You probably already know about how aperture affects your depth of field (how much of the field of view is in focus).  What many novices don’t appreciate enough is how big an influence focal length is on depth of field.  The shorter the focal length (wider-angle of view), the more depth of field you have.  As you zoom in to longer focal lengths, you lose depth of field and need to stop down in aperture (higher f/ numbers) to maintain depth of field.  With some very wide-angle lenses, everything will be in focus for any apertures above f/5.6 or f/8.
    • Lens matters.  In a similar way to focal length, each lens has its own focus characteristics.  While it’s often subtle, some lenses tend to give better depth of field than others.  And of course some are sharper than others, but that’s really separate from focus.  Learn how your lenses render subjects in terms of focus and depth of field.
In Death Valley N.P., California, charcoal kilns leftover from the mining era high up in the Panamint Range offer a spectacular view of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada.

In Death Valley N.P., California, charcoal kilns leftover from the mining era high up in the Panamint Range offer a spectacular view of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada.

 

The narrows of Marble Canyon in Death Valley are one heck of a great hike!

The narrows of Marble Canyon in Death Valley, one heck of a fun hike!

  • Lens calibration.  Some lenses arrive to your door with their focus needing to be calibrated with your camera’s auto-focus system.  A lens may actually focus slightly in front or in back of the focal plane, where your camera says it is focused.  Most DSLRs have the ability to calibrate the auto-focus for quite a long list of lenses.  So check out your owner’s manual and Google to see how to check focus for new lenses.   I’ve only had to calibrate a couple of mine.  Most good lenses, especially when they come from the same company that makes your camera, seem to be spot on in focus.  But all it takes is one to mess up a lot of pictures, so it’s a good idea to check each lens.

 

  • Know when to switch to manual focus.  When light is dim, or when contrast is low (such as in foggy conditions), it’s time to think about manual focus.  Sometimes what you’re shooting is dim or low-contrast, making your camera search for autofocus.  Sometimes I point your camera in another direction, at a subject that is about as far away as my intended subject.  Then I turn off autofocus and switch back to shoot my intended composition.  Or if everything is pretty dim and/or low-contrast, I will go to manual focus.  When I’m working close-up, especially with a macro lens, I almost always switch to manual focus, often setting the distance and moving the camera back and forth until I get good focus.
Because of low-contrast, it can be tough to use auto-focus in foggy conditions. Shot this morning.

Because of low-contrast, it can be tough to use auto-focus in foggy conditions.  Shot this morning with manual focus.

  • Manual focus is often better.  For some shooting manual focus is actually easier and more precise, especially with macro as mentioned above but also with landscapes.  Your camera has ways it will tell you when something is in focus.  Let’s say you change the switch on your lens to MF (manual focus).  If you point the center of the frame (or your selected AF point) at your subject and then rotate the focus ring, a green light is visible in the viewfinder to let you know you’ve achieved focus.  Also if you have it enabled, an audible beep sounds as well.  I have a couple lenses that are manual focus only.  For those I use the focus confirmation light nearly all the time, unless I’m using LiveView (see below).  I don’t like beeps so I never have that enabled.

This kind of shot demands focusing very closely and upping depth of field as much as possible by using a small aperture and as short a focal length as possible.

  • Using LiveView to focus.  When you switch to LiveView, where the image is displayed on the LCD screen on the camera back, you can do everything that you normally do, including focus.  The ability to magnify the image makes LiveView a good way to achieve precise focus.  There is a little white square that shows which part of the image you will magnify, and you can move that white square around.  Normally the white square also is where your exposure is read from too.  Once you have your subject magnified, you then turn the focus ring slowly to get perfect focus.  Then you can move it around to check out how much of the rest of the scene is in focus.  By the way, you can also use autofocus with LiveView.  In that case the white square becomes your focal point, and lights up green when focus is achieved.

 

The low light of evening can make auto-focus difficult. Happy-green mesquite border the sand dunes at Death Valley.

The low light of evening can make auto-focus difficult. Happy-green mesquite bordering the sand dunes at Death Valley.

 

  • Use the depth of field (DOF) preview button.  If you’re using LiveView in the manner above, the DOF preview button comes in handy.  It will show you what is in focus in front or behind your focal plane.  Some cameras don’t have one, so for them you’ll need to shoot and review to zero in on your shot.  When you press the DOF preview button your lens stops down to the aperture you have set.  This allows you to see exactly how much of the frame is in focus, and how blurry the rest is.  You don’t have to be in LiveView; the button works through the viewfinder too.  But with LiveView’s magnifying abilities you can see a lot better.  Remember: whether you’re looking through the viewfinder or on LiveView, what you’re seeing is the view at the largest aperture your lens has (f/4 or f/2.8, for example).  It isn’t showing you the scene at the aperture you have set, and what the picture will be captured at.  If you’re at f/11 for example, you’re seeing more blurriness than the picture will have, unless you press the DOF preview button.

Whew!  That’s enough for now.  Practice makes perfect, so play with all the different ways to get your camera to focus where you want.  Use manual focus and LiveView, auto-focus points and the DOF preview button.  Change composition while fixing focus (and exposure) where it needs to be to get the focus and depth of field right for your images.  Have a great weekend and happy shooting!

A storm blows into Death Valley last week. Dramatic Tucki Peak stands eternal guard.

A storm blows into Death Valley last week. Dramatic Tucki Peak stands eternal guard.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Overcoming Obstacles – Background   2 comments

Morning sun and a rare full water-pocket in Utah's Snow Canyon State Park.

Morning sun and a rare full water-pocket in Utah’s Snow Canyon State Park.

On your way to great images, you’ll need to overcome a lot of obstacles.  You can instead think of it as doing the right things.  But what is right and what is wrong can be a subjective thing in photography.  So at the risk of appearing negative, I like to think of it as avoiding those things that keep you from capturing pictures you can be proud of.

Last Friday was all about finding the right subject, one you find interesting.  But you can’t discuss subjects in photography without mentioning backgrounds.  So that is what this week’s topic is.

The moon & Black Butte form the background to these burned trees while skiing above Santiam Pass, Oregon

The moon & Black Butte are a strong but supportive background to these burned trees while skiing above Santiam Pass, Oregon

FINDING SUITABLE BACKGROUNDS

If your background is in decent focus it needs to be interesting as well.  It needs to support not clash with or overwhelm your subject.  As long as you’re using a small aperture with good depth of field, thus emphasizing the background as much as the foreground and subject, try always to think about how the two complement each other.  If they clash make sure they contrast with each other, make sure they do it in the right way.

For example, a soft and beautiful model against a gritty industrial background, while a bit cliche, is the right kind of contrast.  It adds interest.  Conversely, there’s not much point in shooting an interesting subject/foreground with a boring, in-focus background (or vice versa).  In that case you’d want to use a large aperture and put the background out of focus.

And there are cases where you may want something in between.  In the image below, the jars of miel (honey) are dominant, but the honey-sellers playing cards are in partial focus in order to give them an important but still subordinate role.

Raw miel (honey) for sale on a Mexican street.

Raw miel (honey) for sale on a Mexican street.

As another example, let’s take night photography, starscapes in particular.  Many people (including me) have photographed the Milky Way as background for many different subjects.  I’ve gotten away from that in favor of more subtle star fields, where foreground subjects have most of the attention.

Super high ISOs are used to make the Milky Way appear very bright & detailed.  For me that’s usually too much brightness & detail to work as a proper background.  Of course that doesn’t stop hoards of photographers from going out and replicating images they’ve seen.  I still shoot the galaxy occasionally.  But I usually strive to make it appear much as it does to the naked eye, in order to work as a good supporting background.

Orion the Hunter plus Jupiter highlight the background at Turret Arch, Arches N.P., Utah

Orion the Hunter plus Jupiter highlight the background at Turret Arch, Arches N.P., Utah

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.

Weekly Foto Talk: Depth of Field I   8 comments

 

California poppies bloom in an impromptu roadside wildflower garden.

California poppies bloom in an impromptu roadside wildflower garden.  65 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

Depth of field is one of the most important elements of photography. For most of your captures, you’ll need to more or less consciously control depth of field. You probably already know that aperture is the way to do that. You may also know that it is not the only tool at your disposal. This post will briefly summarize the art of controlling depth of field, then I’ll discuss some of the factors you should consider when choosing depth of field for your images.

What is depth of field? A good working definition goes like this: The extent to which parts of an image are in focus from front (near the camera) to back (far away) is that image’s depth of field.  As you can see it is rather subjective.

Depth of field is often confused with depth, which I posted on awhile back. Giving your images a sense of depth, though related to depth of field, is quite different. Depth is the degree to which you foster the illusion of three dimensions in your two-dimensional pictures. A photograph with good sense of depth, for example, can have a depth of field that is shallow, deep or somewhere in between.

In the northern Guatemala forest, near the ruins of Tikal, a young brown basilisk posed for me while I worked out a good angle for the background depth of field.  200 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/8, ISO 320.

In the northern Guatemala forest, near the ruins of Tikal, a young brown basilisk posed for me while I worked out a good angle for the background depth of field. 200 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/8, ISO 320.

A hoary marmot high up on Mount Rainier, Washington.

A hoary marmot high up on Mount Rainier, Washington. 280 mm., 1/1600 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200

I wanted this young Himba in a Namibian village to be the star of the picture, but I also wanted the village to be noticed too, so a moderately shallow depth of field was necessary.  68 mm., 1/320 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200.

I wanted this young Himba in a Namibian village to be the star of the picture, but I also wanted the village to be noticed too, so a moderately shallow depth of field was necessary. 68 mm., 1/320 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200.

 

Control depth of field in your images using one or a combination of the following methods:

      • Aperture: Small apertures (big f/numbers) yield greater depth of field, where more of the scene is in clear focus. Large apertures (small f/numbers) give shallow depth of field, where just your subject is in clear focus.
      • Focal Length: The longer the focal length you use, the shallower your depth of field will be. A short focal length (wide angle)will give yield greater depth of field.
      • Relative distance:  To get greater depth of field, increase the distance from you to the closest thing you want in focus. To get shallower depth of field, simply move closer to your subject. That’s the simple way to explain it. Really what you want to do is change the relative distance between you and the subject as compared with the distance between the subject and background. For greater depth of field increase this relative distance. For shallower depth of field decrease the relative distance. See the example images below.
      • The right lens: It may not seem so, but a particular lens’s characteristics can lean the images it produces toward greater or lesser depth of field. This is a minor factor compared with the others, but it’s real. I’m not talking about lenses with large maximum apertures (“fast” with low f/number designations), in order to achieve shallow depth of field. That’s all about factor #1 above.

I’m talking about how some wide-angle lenses allow you to photograph scenes where all is in focus, even if elements are both very close and far away. And how other lenses tend to yield an especially smooth out of focus background, or nicer-looking bokeh (out of focus highlights). Tilt-shift lenses are a somewhat extreme example of lens build influencing focus characteristics. And of course macro lenses have much shallower depths of field than other lenses do (see images below).

A macro shot of the inside of a flower.  Shallow depth of field is virtually guaranteed.    100 mm., 30 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200.

A macro shot of the inside of a flower. Shallow depth of field is virtually guaranteed. 100 mm., 30 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200.

Fairy Bells bloom in the forest with more shade than most flowers prefer.  100 mm., 1/25 sec. @ f/7.1, ISO 400.

Fairy Bells bloom in the forest with more shade than most flowers prefer. 100 mm., 1/25 sec. @ f/7.1, ISO 400.

This will get us going on the discussion.  Please let me know if you have anything to add or any questions.  And if you’re interested in any of my images, whether on here or on my main gallery page, please let me know by contacting me.  I would be happy to honor any request no matter how unusual.  Stay tuned for more on depth of field.  Thanks for reading and have a great week!

My girl, Gold Dancer.  70 mm., 1/1250 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200.

My girl, Gold Dancer. 70 mm., 1/1250 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200.

 

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