Photography Depth of Field – Should you care?

Photography Depth of Field – Should you care?

What is Depth of Field in Photography?

Depth of Field in photography is the distance, from the nearest to the farthest, where the image is acceptably sharp.  The focusing system of a camera will first focus on a selected object.  Then, the depth of field will extend in front of that object and about twice as much further away from it based on multiples factors.

This object is on a plane of focus where all objects are sharp.  The plane of focus is like a sphere that is accentuated by shorter focal length.

Shallow photography depth of field

Increased magnification experienced in macro-photography leads to shallow depth of field

Multiples variables are impacting Photography Depth of Field.

  • Shorter focal length as found in Wide-Angle Lens will lead to a greater depth of field.
  • Greater camera to subject distance will also increase depth of field.
  • Smaller sensor size would also increase depth of field.
  • Reducing the light reaching the sensor by using a smaller aperture will have a similar impact.

Impact of focal length on Depth of Field:

While moving the camera away from the subject while increasing the focal length is a technique that impact the appearance of the background.  However, it does not increase depth of field. A greater magnification, which is the result of increasing the focal length while keeping the same distance to the subject, will lead to a shallower depth of field. Photographers taking headshots usually prefer focal length greater than 85mm for this very reason.  Background blur properties are more pleasing to the eyes and the overall picture is more attractive when the background is devoid of details in portrait photography.

On the other hands, this might also represent a challenge for three dimensions subjects that would benefit from a greater level of details.  This is but one of the reasons, wide angle lenses are preferred in Landscape photography when the foreground and the background requires to be sharp.

Landscape photography and depth of field

Keeping everything in focus using a wide angle lens and a small aperture.

Impact of subject distance on Depth of Field:

Subject distance can have dramatic impacts on depth of field.  The farther away the subject is, the greater the depth available within the sharp zone.  Consequently, subjects that are just in front of the lens do represent a challenge.  For example, in Macro-photography, the sharp zone is often below the millimeter.  This could be quite challenging.  In fact, for very small subjects like bugs, that would benefit from both, greater magnification associated with a longer focal length and narrow distance from the sensor, it might be difficult to achieve the desired depth of field.

Impact of sensor size on the sharp zone:

Sensor size is well known for having impact on the sharp zone.  Cellular phones are very good for increasing depth of field at a given magnification level.  Recently, additional software/features of cell phone include the capability to artificially increase the blur of the background in portrait photography.  Various in camera techniques are used to achieve this effect effectively.  Although it is possible to achieve a moderate level of success doing so, recovering sharp details in an out of focus pictures is not yet achievable.

Techniques that impact the sharp zone in photography

In this scenario, a very slow shutter speed is used to introduce blur in the water and the sky reducing distractions.

Impact of aperture on Depth of Field:

One of the easiest ways to control the in-focus distance on both side of the subject is by adjusting the aperture.  On most modern camera, you can set the aperture you want to use and let the camera define other parameters like the speed and sensitivity to light, a.k.a. ISO.  Doing so you do not have to move farther or nearer from the subject or change the lens.  By decreasing the aperture, which result in selecting an aperture associated to a larger number, you will increase the depth of field and vice-versa.

Depth of field in Photography using a large aperture

Shallow depth of field used effectively with a wide angle lens to tell a story.

Why then should you care about Photography Depth of Field?

Advances techniques in photography leads the photographer to decide:

  • What will be in the sharp zone.

The viewer attention is initially attracted by the sharp zone.  The sharp zone should focus on the subject.  Your intention should dictate how much of the subject need to be in focus.  As such, decision on aperture, focal length and subject distance would be influenced that this first decision.

  • What needs to be outside of the sharp zone.

Then, what need to be outside of the in-focus zone if any.  We like everything sharp in landscape photography.  In headshot we often chose to be me more selective.  Macro photography, however, leads to very limited choices.  It is often the time to make tough decisions that might impact the subject itself.  Just try multiples settings and you will be able to appreciate the impact of these.  Do not forget that looking at the back of the camera, out of focus areas will look sharper than on a print or a video monitor.

  • The property of the out of focus area a.k.a. bokeh.

Depending on the blur properties of objects outside the sharp zone they might be recognizable or not.  When the out of focus areas, and more so in the background, is completely devoid of details, the subject detach itself from the background.  As such the overall composition is more pleasing to the eye.  In other scenarios, when the background has enough details, this might increase the value of the pictures.  The subject is then seen in a context that help the story associated with the picture.

Out of focus areas properties using advanced Depth of field techniques

Nice bokeh in the upper right corner is the result of shallow depth of field and greater distance from the background.

Advanced use of Depth of Field is of great interest.

As you can appreciate, advance use of depth of field in photography can help the photographer.  Enabling a picture that lead the viewer from one area to another.  In order to do so, the photographer rely on experience and tools to calculate the exact depth of field based on the above parameters.  The properties of the out of focus areas cannot be calculated though.  Only experience will help the photographer predict this.  When taking the picture, using live view on recent camera, might help appreciate the properties of out of focus areas.  This will be an approximation only since the LCD at the back of the camera is too small to truly appreciate it.

Taking or creating a picture – Depth of Field, a tool in your bag.

Creating a picture is the art of putting together the various objects that will lead the viewer from one part of the picture to other.  The resulting viewing experience should create an emotion.

Depth of Field over time

A few years ago, a very shallow depth of field was a desirable look.  This created interesting pictures and high demand for full frame camera and large aperture lenses.  These days, the majority of published pictures includes a lot of details.  The in focus areas is more important.  This being said, what do you want to say with your pictures.  You are the photographer and you have to take these decisions.

Some nice articles on the subject

Understanding Depth of Field for Beginners by Digital Photography School

Depth of field on Wikipedia

Do you have experiences to share effectively using DoF?

Photography Composition Rules: Break Them!

Photography Composition Rules: Break Them!

Why Photography Composition Rules?

In fact these photography composition rules help simplify something that was particularly hard to define.  Effectively, how would you instruct new artist to create something that is nice to most peoples? These rules are among the first things that we learn in any kind of art.

As such, we stay on the safe side when following photography composition rules. We then avoid risks and our picture will be nice to most peoples.  Is this what you want?

In fact I would like to think that Photography Composition Rules are there to help us support and enhance our message as a photographer.  As such breaking the rules often create some tension which in turn grab the attention.  When I take a picture I ask myself “How can I grab the attention a little more?”

Breaking the photography compositions rules - An example

Photography composition rules were not followed in this example

Today’s picture is a simple one. A single man is walking on the beach in the setting sun.  As far as photography composition rules are concerned, there are multiple problems with this picture:

  • Subject is not on a third line;
  • There is a lot of dead space, also known as negative space, in front of it;
  • Horizon line is in the middle of the frame.

Why should you break photography composition rules?

It is sometime good to break these rules and more so when you want to convey a message with your picture.  Rules of composition tells us to put our subject according to the rule of third.  The rule of thirds suggest that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines.  As a result, important elements would be positioned on these lines or their intersections.  Doing so make the overall composition more pleasing to the viewer.

By creating a tension in breaking rules, we can potentially enhance our message.

Breaking the composition rules enabled me to enhance the following:

  • The sense of loneliness in the way this man is inclined forward and his head looking down;
  • Additionally this large dead space in front of him helps increase the impression of loneliness of this man;
  • Although the sunset is colorful, we feel that this man is not enjoying the moment;

All these decisions were intentional on my part when I took the picture.  I saw this man coming from far away slowly walking in our direction.  I frame the shot to create this feeling of loneliness that I felt looking at him coming on that beach.  By intentionally breaking these rules my intention was to help the audience understand the loneliness of this man walking alone in the setting sun.

Know the rules in order to break the rules!

In order to break these photography composition rules a good starting point would be to know them.  Varina Patel tells us in her eBook title:”Building an Image from the ground up” how Composition and Perception comes together to create a powerful image.

Now what do you think?

Does this composition help the picture or not?

A few interesting arctiles on the topic:

About Composition Rules and ways to break them : How to break the rules : Rules you can break

About yourself, when do you break the rules of composition?

Negative Space in Photography:  Why and How?

Negative Space in Photography: Why and How?

What is Negative Space?

Negative Space in Photography is the space surrounding the subject.  In most picture, we try to fill the frame.  Therefore, the subject grab most of the attention of the viewer.  In other situation the surrounding space is also part of the story.  However, getting your picture in front of the Eiffel Tower is not taking advantage of negative space though.  Negative space is space without much interest.  As such, the creative use of negative space can help the subject be more intense or more interesting.

Why use Photography Negative Space?

When I came to the Garden of Eden Arboretum on Maui Island, I was not really planning to create a composition leveraging negative space.  From one of the pathway surrounding the garden I came across this view of a waterfall filling in a lovely pond in the middle of the Maui forest.  The pond was far away and down below which created an usual view for a waterfall.

Firstly, using a Tripod and a slow shutter speed of 0,3 second I took a first picture making sure the waterfall was filling the pond on one of the third lines. Then, I zoomed in at 82mm on my 24-105mm zoom lens. As such, the pond is mostly centered on the picture with the bright white waterfall on one third.  A good choice don’t you think?

Subject is filling the frame with the waterfall on one third

Subject is filling the frame with the waterfall on one third

Looking at the resulting picture on my LCD I am disappointed with the end result.  I feel that the landscape in front of me is more appealing.  Did you ever had this feeling when looking back at a picture you have just taken?  In this case, the fact that the oasis is lost in the middle of the jungle make the pond more valuable.

How about using Negative Space in your Pictures?

Using the wide end of the zoom lens I recomposed the picture to have the pond on the intersection of third lines.  By isolating further the pond and the waterfall in the middle of the jungle, this oasis of blue water is gaining much importance.  Both pictures are very nice.  The use of negative space create additional value though.

Efficient use of Negative Space in Photography

Efficient use of Negative Space in Photography

This is a perfect scenario for Negative Space.  Negative space is often used to put the subject off-center.  The negative space is usually just empty space.  This particular scenario do qualify as negative space though.  The jungle is devoid of real interest and accentuate the value of the pond.

This is only one example of negative space composition and you can certainly think about other situation where negative space can create an additional interest.

Examples of Negative Space in Photography

So back to you, did you ever had the feeling that your subject, although being well seen in your picture was missing some appeal?  It might be time for you to test Negative Space on your next shot.

Do you have some examples of yours of Negative Space to show?

Please help other photographers by posting example of Photography Negative Space in picture you took in the comments space.  Better yet, go out and shoot practicing Photography Negative Space! Tell us what you think about the intentional use of Photography Negative Space.