Use a combination of small apertures and wide lens to take a number of photographs exploring deep depth of field. Because of the small apertures you’ll be working with slow shutter speeds and may need to use a tripod or rest the camera on a stable surface to prevent ‘camera shake’ at low ISO’s. Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to you learning log.
Achieving deep depth of field might appear easy compared to the difficulties of managing shallow depth of field. We’re surrounded by images made with devices rather than cameras whose short focal lengths and small sensors make it hard to achieve anything other than deep depth of field. The trick is to include close foreground elements in focus for an effective deep depth of field image. Foreground detail also helps to balance the frame, which can easily appear empty in wide shots, especially in the lower half. When successful, a close viewpoint together with the dynamic perspective of a wide-angle lens gives the viewer the feeling that they’re almost inside the scene.
Strangely I found this exercise harder than the shallow depth of field, I think perhaps I was over thinking the exercise. The images above all show a deep depth of field however I am not as pleased with them, this maybe because this is the ‘usual’ image we expect. It may also be because I chose to complete the exercise whilst on holiday so they feel like ‘usual’ snapshots, I may need to re-visit this in a different location.
The images do however give a sense of being part of the scene, the images are a reflection of what is seen through the eyes of the viewer.
Use a combination of wide apertures, long focal lengths and close viewpoints to take a number of photographs with shallow depth of field. (Remember that smaller f numbers mean wide apertures.) Try to compose the out-of-focus parts of the picture together with the main subject. Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your learning log.
Wide apertures create shallow depth of field, especially when combined with a long focal length and a close viewpoint. In human vision the eye registers out-of-focus areas as vague or indistinct – we can’t look directly at the blur. But in a photograph, areas of soft focus can form a large part of the image surface so they need to be handled with just as much care as the main subject.
Don’t forget that the camera’s viewfinder image is obtained at maximum aperture for maximum brightness and therefore at the shallowest depth of field. Use the depth of field preview button to see the actual depth of field at any particular aperture. (This is especially useful in film cameras where you don’t have the benefit of reviewing a shot immediately after you’ve taken it.) It’s surprising to see the effect that a single f-stop can have on the appearance of an image.
I enjoyed this exercise and noticing the difference in the f stops on the background blur, in the images with the lowest f-stop / widest aperture (f4 in the above images) the background seems to almost disappear. Just bringing the aperture to f4.6 can make a difference in distinguishing the background, in the image of the kitten for example with an aperture of f7.1 the doorway is clear yet soft enough so that the subject pops but it still places the subject in a scene. Similarly in the image of the palm tree stem you can still make out the person in the background of the image.
Find a subject in front of a background with depth. Take a close viewpoint and zoom in; you’ll need to be aware of the minimum focusing distance of your lens. Focus on the subject and take a single shot. Then, without changing the focal length, set the focus to infinity and take a second shot.
The closer you are to the subject, the shallower depth of field; the further from the subject, the deeper the depth of field. That’s why macro shots taken from very close viewpoints have extremely shallow depth of field, and if you set the focus at infinity everything beyond a certain distance will be in focus.
As you review the two shots, how does the point of focus structure the composition? With a shallow depth of field the point of focus naturally draws the eye, which goes first to the subject that is sharp. It generally feels more comfortable if the point of focus is in the foreground, although there is nothing wrong with placing the point of focus in the background.
Your eye is naturally drawn to the sharpest part of the image, however adding the out of focus element to the frame can give a feel of voyeurism to some of the images, it seems to place you in the image. The first two images are interesting as they have created a frame so although the focal point / sharpness is different they feel equally as strong. The middle image is the least interesting as the rose is centred to the frame therefore the only successful picture is when the rose is in focus. In the last two images the out of focus flowers are to the corner of the frame and all four images could be successful depending on the assignment they would be attributed too. They have a strong sense of voyeurism and being part of the frame.
Find a location with good light for a portrait shot. Place our subject some distance in front of a simple background and select a wide aperture together with a moderately long focal length such as 100mm on a 35mm full-frame camera (About 65mm on a cropped-frame camera). Take a viewpoint about one and a half metres from your subject, allowing you to compose a headshot comfortably within the frame. Focus on the eyes and take the shot.
Focal lengths appear to compress space, giving a shallower depth of acceptable sharpness, which is known as depth of field. This makes a short or medium telephoto lens perfect for portraiture: the slight compression of the features appears attractive while the shallow depth of field adds intensity to the eyes and ‘lifts’ the subject from the background.
The first image shows obvious grain as this was taken at 300mm but the effect has been achieved and the background has softened allowing the subject to stand out.
The second and third images were both taken at 58mm, f4.8 , this has enabled the subject to appear sharply against the softened background and appears to ‘lift’ the subject. These two images are much more successful and you are drawn to the subjects eyes and face.
Choose a subject in front of a background with depth. Select your shortest focal length and take a close low viewpoint, below your subject. Find a natural point of focus and take the shot.
You’ll see that a very wide lens together with a close viewpoint creates extreme perspective distortion. Gently receding lines become extreme diagonals and rounded forms bulge towards the camera. Space appears to expand. The low viewpoint adds a sense of monumentality, making the subject seem larger than it is, and tilting the camera adds to the effect as vertical lines dramatically converge. Not the ideal combination for a portrait shot.
Both images were taken at 18mm, the angle of view appears to make the subject ‘larger than life’, it is an uncomfortable view and certainly not flattering. In the first image the buildings almost appear to be leaning in around the subject. In the second image the straight lines appear the bend slightly and the subject’s head seems smaller in relation to her body. This would be an interesting viewpoint for architecture maybe but not for portraits!
Select your longest focal length and compose a portrait shot fairly tightly within the frame in front of a background with depth. Take one photograph. Then walk towards your subject while zooming out to your shortest focal length. Take care to frame the subject in precisely the same way in the viewfinder and take a second shot. Compare the two images and make notes in your learning log.
As you page between the two shots it can be shocking to see completely new elements crash into the background of the second shot while the subject appears to remain the same. This exercise clearly shows how focal length combined with viewpoint affects perspective distortion.. Perspective distortion is actually a normal effect of viewing an object, for example where parallel train tracks appear to meet at the horizon. A ‘standard lens’ – traditionally a 50mm fixed focal length lens for a full frame camera (about 33mm in a cropped-frame camera) – approximates the perspective distortion of human vision (not the angle of view which is much wider). A standard lens is therefore the lens of choice for ‘straight’ photography, which aims to make an accurate record of the visual world.
The first set were taken at 38mm and 110mm, the second image at 110mm appears cleaner, the shop signage ,doorway, some windows and the lamp have all disappeared yet the subject remains the same.
The second set of images were taken at 18mm and 300mm, notice that at 300mm (Apart from the obvious grain at this length) the sky has vanished and the background has softened, also the line of the path appears to have changed trajectory. Also new information has come into view? Such as the bench and the conical posts which seemed to be behind the subject in the previous shot.
It seems as though the lens zooms in on the backgrounds whilst the subject remains unchanged.
Find a scene that has depth. From a fixed position, take a sequence of five or six shots at different focal lengths without changing your viewpoint.
As you page through the shots on the preview screen it almost feels as though you’re moving through the scene. So the ability to change focal length has an obvious use: rather than physically moving towards or away from your subject, the lens can do it for you. The other immediate difference between the shots is the ‘angle of view’, which also depends on the sensor size of your camera. Use the sequence to try to get a feeling for how the angle of view corresponds to the different focal lengths for your particular camera and lens combination. Which shot in the sequence feels closest to the angle if view of your normal vision?
The above images are taken at 18mm, 35mm, 75mm and 105mm respectively.
18mm, 48mm, 85mm and 175mm.
18mm, 22mm, 44mm, 80mm, 155mm, 300mm.
Apart from obviously giving the sensation of moving through the frame / image and travelling towards a focal point the images also bring new objects into view.
The images at 18mm offer the most in terms of leading lines and depth and 35mm – 48mm feels the most natural view-point to what my eyes see. More features become apparent at 85mm and beyond however the image starts to grain at the longest focal lengths.