Monday, January 17, 2011

Capture Philosophy | PHOTO TIP 01: Aperture + Depth of Field

I have been asked several times lately by new dSLR owners to share tips on simple ways to make the most of their camera and take better photographs.  Every time I get into this conversation, I realize how much I love sharing my passion for all things photographic.

Wide Aperture (f2.8) chosen for creative composition and shallow depth of field

So I thought it could be fun to start a “Capture Philosophy / Tip of the Month” series on the blog.  Some of the information I share will be basic, nuts and bolts tips for people just getting to know their dSLR cameras, while other posts may be more philosophical, reflective of how I personally approach photography.

Please feel free to comment and/or ask for more info!

I’d like to start with creative use of Aperture, since I believe it can be one of the simplest to learn and most powerful ways to make every day photos more creative.  Learning how to use Aperture and controlling your depth of field (the area of the photograph which is in focus) can produce highly satisfying results, from the ability to isolate a subject in an otherwise busy setting, to maintaining crisp focus from front to back of a wider landscape shot.
Small Aperture (f16) used to achieve depth of field form foreground shadows to mountain peaks

Wide Aperture (f2.8) used to highlight only tiny area of focus and blur everything else

Wide Aperture (3.2) isolates model and permits handheld shot in low light

Smaller Apertures can be extremely useful in capturing serene landscapes, formal compositions, and often is the best choice in architectural work, where one wants to highlight relationships across a room or between adjacent spaces.

When combined with higher ISO (when necessary), larger apertures will allow you to shoot later into the evening in lower light conditions.  This approach will often eliminate the necessity of a flash, allowing you to make the most of - and more importantly maintain the mood of - natural and available light.

Aperture means literally, opening.  The basic creative tools of your camera are 1) choosing the size of the opening  (aperture), and 2) how long it stays open (shutter speed).

What you need to know regarding the aperture, is that the numbers, or F-stops, are representative of fractions, so the smaller numbers represent a larger opening of the shutter, (f1.4, f2.8, f3.5, f4, etc.), and larger numbers (f11, f16, etc.) represent a smaller opening of the shutter.

What makes this all so powerful is that with selective focus of a larger aperture, you can narrow in on a shallower depth of field and isolate your subject so that everything else in the photograph is out of focus.

Wide Aperture (f2.8) + faster shutter speed = shallower depth of field (isolated subject in focus)

Smaller Aperture (f16) + slower shutter speed = greater depth of field (more in focus)


Find the setting on your DSLR camera for "A" (aperture priority).  Play with the extremes of this setting to see what they do when you are focused on something close to the camera (say, within a few feet). Don't delete the photos until you have had a chance to look at the differences on your computer screen with the same shot and extreme aperture differences.
Isolating Eyelashes with f2.8

As a point of reference, shooting with an aperture of F2.8 when your subject is within close range of the camera can allow you to focus on someone's eye, and the rest of their face will start to soften.

When used creatively and intentionally, makes for really professional looking people photos...

You will notice that the range of depth of field changes with the distance from the camera... (F2.8 won't have as dramatic of an effect if your subject is far away).

So, get out of your "Program Mode" ... Experiment, and HAPPY SHOOTING!
Play with focus in unexpected ways - EXPERIMENT!

1 comment:

Ashley and Nate said...

Hey Jennifer, great blog! You make some very complex things understandable. I love playing around with depth of field in photos... some turn out very artsy. :)