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 ISOs. Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your 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.
Liverpool Street Station at f16
It would have been very easy to choose a rural vistas for this exercise as I live in the east Anglian Country side. I purposely choose to do something different I am exploring the idea of documenting parts of my life and this presents opportunities, indeed challenges to me to think and shot differently as part of this course.
In looking at this exercise I chose an 18mm (27mm equivalent on a 35mm format camera) wide angle lens and set its aperture to f16, its slowest f ratio. Even with the cameras ISO set to 2200, this still yielded shutter speeds of between 1/4 and 1/12 of a second. Using the hand rail on the upper balcony rail of the arrival and departure hall at Liverpool Street station as a makeshift support for the cameras I was able to record the scene. tripods are forbidden in this space so I was improvising! whilst there is some movement as subjects moved during the exposure , the station building and furniture are sharply frozen in time form the front to the back of the sen
The scene had the appropriate level of depth as required in the exercise and I thought it would be a test for the lenses resolving power at it narrowest aperture.. The images show the effect of a wide lens and narrow aperture, there is a wealth of detail and depth in the foreground, mid ground and in the distance. My choice of subject did throw in some interesting effects though. With the relatively long exposures some of the people in the images have been frozen because they remained still, but those that were walking are blurred. The overall effect creates a kinetic sense of movement and action of people in motion within the the scene, whilst still freezing the station. These are deep depth of field images, showing the effect of the smallest prepare on the lens. I was reminded of the photographers of the Group f64* seeking to capture the maximum level of detail in images, trying to capture a new perspective on reality, using photography to make a statement about a new art.
At f16 I was not quite eligible for the group!
18mm f16 at 1/4 sec
A selection of the unprocessed images
18mm f16 at 1/10 sec
18mm f16 at 1/12 sec
18mm f16 at 1/10 sec
18mm f16 at 1/40 sec *
Group f64 where a group of American landscape photographers in the early 20th century whose style and approach was to produce very sharp well framed realist ( some times called a modernist style) landscape views of the United States. There was an epic sense of the American wilderness in their work that said something about the place beyond the mountains and forests pictured in their images. some members of the group were also known for the outspoken views about what they saw as less authentic pictorialist images. The tensions between Adams and Key exponents of the group were Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham.
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
1957 Rolleiflex 3.5E and 15 rolls of Kodak Ektar 100 at f2.5
60mm f2.4 1/120sec
60mm f2.4 1/110sec
60mm f2.4 1/60sec
60mm f2.4 1/110sec
60mm f2.4 1/120sec
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
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 the 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 of all to the part of the image that’s sharp. It generally feels more comfortable if the point of focus is in the foreground, although there’s nothing wrong with placing the point of focus in the background.
This was an interesting exercise considering some aspects of ‘lens work’ that I have often taken for granted. I have a solid understanding about how lens controls (focus and aperture combination) influence depth of field and where emphasis is placed in a scene as a result of such controls. As this section of the course is about imaginative space I pondered on the lens as a tool for controlling and managing the space seen by a viewer in a final image.
In the first image I focused on the gate railings of the British Museum. The 18mm lens was focused on the detail of the railing bars and an aperture of f4 was used. The background was thrown out of focus. In my view the out of focus background creates a sense of emphasis forcing the viewer to look at the detail in the railings. This shallow depth of field technique is often used by photographers to manage space, forcing the viewer to look at a specific part of a scene. In effect space in the image is managed by the intent of the photographer. Portraiture is just one example of practice that uses this shallow depth of field and out of focus background to manage what the view sees. In this second image the focus was set to infinity. Now the railing bars are out of focus and the background is in focus. in this shot the areas of sharper focus and the railing bars in from ‘jar’ on the eye in my view and whilst there is nothing wrong with this there is some visual conditioning that makes this juxtaposition seem wrong. The image just does not look right. The effect I described in the previous image does not work in reverse. An out of focus foreground and sharp background only serve to create a sense that something that is not necessarily wrong, but that does feel unsatisfying ( what ever satisfying actually is??). That said I have seen photojournalists use this effect to create a sense of alienation, perhaps relying on the uncomfortable effect foreground blur creates. Something to think about in future work?
Another image to emphasise the impact that an out to focus background has on emphasising the foreground, again using a wide aperture and focusing on the object in the foreground.
Find a location with good light for a portrait shot. Place your 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. Longer 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.
In the exercise I resisted the temptation to take the shot in portrait mode. I am trying to keep all of my images at the moment in landscape format. I chose a simple background but one in which there would be some out of focus detail that would create a space to frame the portrait and as suggested in the course materials I focused very specifically on the eyes. The image was taken with a 60mm (90mm 135 equivalent) and it was set at its widest aperture f2.4).
As a film shooter ordinarily (this is a digital image) I tend not to take lots of pictures and try and get the shot I want on the first or second attempt. This image was one of three shots and in this one the focus on the eyes was the strongest. The image has had a hint of sharpness adjustment and other that that is straight out of the camera. With hindsight I should have reduced the aperture by one stop and that would have aided the focus upon the eyes without limiting the shallow depth of field too much. the finished impact of the shallow depth of filed in this image does I feel lift the subject from the background and direct the viewer to focus on the subject.
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!
For this exercise I took several images to try and demonstrate the point being made in this exercise. I chose a wide angle lens, an 18mm (27mm in 135 format) and used a low shooting angle to create the sense of monumentality referred to in the course materials.
The humble Victorian post box that was the subject of the shot is given the appearance of being quite grand even though in reality is is actually really quite small!
The point made in the course materials about this not being an approach for portraiture is well founded. I did take two images of my daughter using this technique which she utterly forbad me from using or sharing!!!