Composition: Focus on Depth of Field

During 2020 I ran a photography challenge over on my travel blog looking at different techniques throughout the year. I was not expecting that the year itself would prove to be a challenge in that the Covid-19 pandemic hit us and not only put paid to any travel plans, but also altered the way in which we conducted our lives. This year I am going to look at those techniques again using new photographs as and when I get the opportunity.

June was about another of the six visual keys which help to create a great photograph. This month was all about using the depth of field. Somewhat more complicated and technical than the rest. But once you understand the basics you will find yourself adapting the DOF to suit the image.

A basic definition of depth of field is: the zone of acceptable sharpness within a photo that will appear in focus. In every picture there is a certain area of your image in front of, and behind the subject that will appear in focus.

Using a shallow depth of field is a good way to make your subject stand out from its background and is great for portrait photography and wildlife photography when you don’t want the background to distract from your subject. This means using a large aperture (lower f-stop, like f2.8)

Robin on a Magnolia tree branch using a shallow depth of field – aperture F/2.8 to create a blurred background

If you are a person who likes to photograph landscapes you would want everything from near to far to be in focus. This is known as a deep depth of field. (Use a smaller lens opening or a higher number f-stop like f22)

Deep depth of field so that both the foreground (wall) and the background (hills) are in focus

As I am passionate about flowers and nature I mostly use a shallow depth of field so that the background is blurry. I achieve that by either using a prime lens with a large aperture, or a zoom lens and zooming in as close as I can.

Here the focus is on the middle of the image with both the foreground and the background being blurred
Focus on the parsley flowers with the contrasting purple foxgloves in the background

But when I am out and about and want shots of the scenery then I want the entire image to be sharp and in focus, so then I use a wide-angled lens.

Glendurgan Maze
Clapperbridge at Postbridge, Dartmoor, Devon
East Dart River, Dartmoor, Devon

Sometimes I want to get very close to my subject and then I use macro settings on my phone or my Macro lens which can give me a 1:1 image. This however means that only a small portion of the photo will be in sharp focus.

On this close up of a Gazania flower only the front part of the stamens is in sharp focus
I used a zoom lens to get in close to this Protea flower. If you enlarge the image you will see the tight curls and fine hairs which may go unnoticed from a distance.
Another close up of a succulent with only the left side in sharp focus, on enlarging this image you will see that each leaf has fine hairs around it.

If you would like to have a look at the different techniques covered throughout the year then you can see them here. Please note that I am not running this as a challenge, but merely using the old one as inspiration for my photography this year.

21 Comments Add yours

  1. thank you for these lovely examples and info Jude – what you did with the Astrantias is especially striking for me because shooting the crowd as it were absolutely needs that one focus and not easy to achieve. The fire vine hit me smack in the eye with its clarity and colour

  2. Excellent post – I just snap away so it’s so interesting to know how you achieve all the effects in your photos 🙂

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