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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Unlimited Depth Of Field

A revolutionary software package redefines what’s possible for you to achieve with sharp focus in a photograph

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Unlimited Depth Of Field
Above: In this original exposure, the foreground is sharp, but the depth of field couldn’t carry through to the background.
In the digital era, advancements arrive every few months—not just in cameras, but also in the form of image-processing software programs. Some of these give us new standards for judging both photographers and their photographs. Coupled with decent equipment and capturing techniques, great image-processing programs leave no excuse for images that are less than sharp, improperly exposed, incorrectly colored or poorly framed. Now another new program, Helicon Focus, has removed the limits to depth of field in photography.

Think of all the times you’ve tried to capture that landscape spread out before your camera, sharply focused, from the flowers beneath your feet to the tree-topped mountains in the distance. That’s how your eyes see it, but your camera makes you choose the area you want to be in focus and blurs the rest. In macro, with even the best technique, you can’t get all the elements of a tiny subject, such as a butterfly or flower bud, in focus at the same time. You have to choose the part of the insect or blossom you want to emphasize and let the rest remain an artistic blur. We’ve all viewed these kinds of images and, as photographers, we’ve considered the optical limitations of cameras and lenses. We make allowances for the practical limits of sharp focus and appreciate the photographer’s skill in working to minimize blur or turn it to creative advantage.

Unlimited Depth Of Field
In the second of the original exposures, the background is sharp. In both images, Lepp has chosen an ƒ-stop that gave him the best compromise between sharpness and area of focus.
But now there’s no excuse for limited depth of field. Helicon Focus has changed what we thought we knew about sharpness. Introduced by the Ukraine-based company Helicon Soft about two years ago and continually upgraded since then, Helicon Focus gives photographers control of the sharp and unsharp areas within their images, from landscapes to micro.

Helicon Focus operates within a concept that should be familiar to those who work regularly in Photoshop. The photographer provides a series of images to the program, each sharply focused at a different point through the subject. The software combines the images in layers. As the composite is formed, the program selects from the layers the sharpest available rendition of each area of the image and masks the unsharp versions. The final result combines the best-defined choice for every portion of the image from among the options provided by the photographer into one image.

Close-up images always create a struggle for depth of field. This image is a composite of the photographs to the right made with Helicon Focus.
The success of the technique is conditional on factors such as movement. The subject can’t move as it’s being photographed, so forget the idea of flowers on a breezy day. When large foreground structures are present, they tend to “bloom” as they’re passed by the photographer in the sharp rendering of areas behind them. The photographer needs to choose the angle of approach and the juxtaposition of elements within the image wisely to avoid an overly dominant foreground.

The drawbacks are few, and the results are consistently good. When demonstrated to a group of experienced photographers, this technique hits the “Wow!” factor every time. It’s not magic, even though it may seem to be. Using Helicon Focus requires advanced planning and specific intent. You must know what the program can do and what it needs from you before beginning to photograph a Helicon Focus composite. In short, if you’re planning on using Helicon Focus, you have to plan the photograph accordingly in the field in order to achieve the best result.

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