Exercise 2.6

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 wider 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.

Still Life at f2.4

For this exercise I decided to take the images inside. In part that on the day i had some time to execute the work the English weather decided not to cooperate. I tend to shoot fairly rarely indoor so there were some added challenges to this work. 

To demonstrate and experiment with the shallow depth of field I created a simple still life scene and selected a 60mm focal length lens (90mm equivalent on a 135 full frame) I chose a reasonably fast lens with a maximum aperture of f2.4. I shot all the images with the lens wide open in order to force myself to manage the shallow depth of field that this setting would create. I was very mindful of the out of focus areas when composing the shot and I was trying to bring a commercial feel to the images. 

Interestingly in the excerice I had to take far more shots in order to get some images that I was pleased with. This was quite different to the exercise with a wide angle lens at small aperture. Logically this is because with a longer focal length at wide aperture there is a much greater chance of getting images that are out of focus or where focus is not concentrated on the part of the scene the photographer intended. A further observation is that a tripod would not really assist with this because in the focal length aperture combination the issues relating to focus are far more about where the photographer frames the ‘in focus ‘ and ‘out of focus’ elements of the image than they are about things like camera shake. I came to the view that this was very much a framing exercise. It also tested me to think about where  I wanted the emphasis in the image to be.

Rolleiflex and Ektar 100

Rolleiflex final 3 60mm f 2.4 (1 of 1)

1957 Rolleiflex 3.5E and 15 rolls of Kodak Ektar 100 at f2.5

Rolleiflex 6 60mm f 2.4 (1 of 1)

60mm f2.4  1/120sec

Rolleiflex 3  60mm f 2.4 (1 of 1)

60mm f2.4 1/110sec

Rolleiflex 1  80mm f 2.4 (1 of 1)

60mm f2.4 1/60sec

Rolleiflex 2  60mm f 2.4 (1 of 1)

60mm f2.4 1/110sec

Rolleiflex 7 60mm f 2.4 (1 of 1)

60mm f2.4 1/120sec

Rolleiflex 5 60mm f 2.4 (1 of 1)

60mm f2.4 1/60sec

Reflections and Learning

Reflecting on the exercise I was being influenced by commercial and adversing photography. this is a disciple I suspect where focus and where the eye is drawn is a vital marketing tool. I was reminded of one of the quotes in the course materials:

“The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s  eyes”      Wim Wenders*                                                                    

Controlling where people look in an image is a vital tool in image making. With  a wide angle lens and small aperture the observer is almost invited to explore the whole scene, it is all sharp and it is all available. 

With the wide aperture long focal length lens the photographer can control where the observer look long after the image was taken, indeed long after the photographer is gone!


Wenders , W. (1997)  Quoted in Expressing Your Vision Course Materials OCA 2015


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