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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Isolated Sharpness

Tips and techniques for using shallow depth of field to add impact to your macro shots

This Article Features Photo Zoom

1 Keeping your depth of field to a minimum is particularly useful in close-up photography where small plants and insects can be made to jump out from a cluttered background. Sheppard made a monochromatic image by letting the background become a yellowish swath of color. The backlit yellow flowers stand out.

When shooting close-up and macro images, you quickly discover that depth of field is narrow regardless of what you do. This is because depth of field is strongly affected by your distance to the subject—the closer you get, the less depth of field you have. This can frustrate photographers because they think there’s always a need to have more sharpness in the picture, more depth of field.

Sometimes, though, that’s counterproductive to what you’re trying to do with your photo. The struggle to get more depth of field may end up giving you enough extra sharpness that a background, which could have been a simple swath of color, instead becomes a distraction. Going for maximum depth of field isn’t the default “best” way of shooting.

2 Limiting depth of field isn’t just for the background. You can see on the right side of this photograph that some lupine close to the camera in the foreground have been blurred to create a colorful zone that draws the eye to the sharp flowers behind it.
Shallow Depth Of Field
Shallow depth of field does something for a photograph very similar to the way we see the world. When we focus in on a subject, our brain cuts out detail to most everything else in our field of view. The camera doesn’t do that, however, so how do we translate the way we see a subject to how the camera records the same thing? With shallow depth of field, the subject can be rendered tack-sharp, but everything in front of or behind that subject is kept soft. That contrast in sharpness makes the subject stand out. This mimics the way that we see.

• Here’s a list of possible reasons why I use shallow or selective depth of field when I shoot:
• Highlight my subject
• Make the background a soft blend of color
• Define a composition
• Isolate my subject
• Change colors (in-focus and out-of-focus colors look very different)
• Create a more striking look for an image
• Create selective-focus effects (when I have out-of-focus objects surrounding an in-focus subject)

The contrast of sharpness you get with shallow depth of field is one of the classic photographic techniques for defining an image. By defining an image, I mean that you’re doing things in your craft as a photographer to help guide the viewer through your photograph. Sharpness contrast allows you to clearly define where the main subject is and where it is not.


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