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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Is That Really How It Looked?

Understanding how your DSLR sees the world will help you take pictures that match your vision

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Figure 2. Everything that's white in this poppy image was a boring, pale-blue sky to my eyes; the poppy was a washed-out yellow. Shooting from beneath to put the sun behind the poppy, I used a small aperture to turn the tiny point of visible sun into a sunburst. I spot-metered on the brightest part of the poppy, slightly underexposing to bring out the flower's natural color. The camera's inability to deal with the incredible dynamic range transformed the unappealing sky into a brilliant complementary white background. In Photoshop, a couple of clicks with the Healing brush eliminated distracting lens flare.

Focus Depth
Our eyes change focus without conscious thought, adjusting instantly to reveal sharp detail from near to far. But the focus range in a photograph is fixed at the instant of capture. To compensate and maximize depth of field, we usually stop down to a small aperture. But a small aperture increases the potential for motion blur and adds resolution-robbing diffraction. Increased depth of field also risks sharpening background detail to the point of distraction.

Other options to increase depth of field include tilt/shift lenses or postprocessing blending of multiple images with a range of near-to-far focus points. But like limited dynamic range, a narrow range of focus is a powerful way to emphasize the essence of a subject and eliminate distractions.

Figure 3. Sprawled just inches from this pair of poppies, my eyes registered everything from nearby weeds to scruffy brush and rocks on the poppy-saturated hillside in the background in sharp focus. But I was only interested in the color and shape of the two poppies right in front of me—all other detail was extraneous.

To minimize depth of field, I opened my 100mm macro lens to ƒ/2.8, adding an extension tube to focus even closer. Positioning myself with the most dense, poppy-laden part of the hill behind my subjects, I carefully focused on the delicate leading edge of the closest poppy. With such a shallow depth of field, the background poppies blended into a complementary blur of color that completely eliminated all distractions.

Photoshop processing for this image was limited to a minor crop for balance and a little wiggle to the curves graph to bump the contrast.

Confined Boundary
We humans experience the world in its entirety, using multiple senses before zeroing in on the aspects of a scene that most appeal to us. It's impossible to re-create this experience in a photograph; attempts to include everything, no matter how beautiful the scene might be, often create a confusing mess, and the more stuff we include, the smaller our subjects become. Rather than battle the rectangular box confining your camera's view, use the frame's boundaries to simplify and focus your viewer's experience of an otherwise complex scene.

When confronted with a busy scene, remind yourself that you're creating a virtual world fully contained within boundaries you control. Try to isolate a relationship, compelling pattern or single element that otherwise might be missed in the confusion of nearby objects, framing your scene so the image's border holds and guides the eye, excludes distractions and emphasizes your subject.


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