Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Tips and techniques for using shallow depth of field to add impact to your macro shots
Focus carefully. Depth of field is narrow when you’re doing close-up and macro work anyway, and with the shallow techniques described here, you’re guaranteeing an always narrow band of sharpness. Choose where that sharpness is very carefully.
This often means using manual focus. Autofocus frequently puts your depth of field at random places when you’re up close. You may think it looks okay in the LCD review, but unless you magnify that image (and I often do), you can be fooled. It’s frustrating to look at your photos on the computer later and discover that focus is on the wrong part of a flower or the hind end of a bug instead of its eyes.
You can use autofocus up close for the effects seen on these pages, but you need to lock focus and not allow the autofocus to continuously find new points to focus on. Most cameras lock focus by a half push of the shutter release. Some have special buttons on the back of the camera that you can use. Lock focus, then if focus is a little off, move the camera closer or farther from the subject to refine focus. That’s also a good way to work with manual focus.
Since you’re shooting with a large aperture, you’re usually using a faster shutter speed and don’t necessarily need a tripod. Since focus point is so critical, I find that using a shallow depth-of-field technique is difficult when using a tripod, so I usually don’t. I need to move, often even moving with a blowing subject.
Look for distractions along the edges. The shallow depth of field effect can be so strong and so overpowering as you look through the viewfinder or on the LCD that you miss something important—sharp distractions around the edge of the image that can fight with your sharp subject. Be careful of what’s sharp in your photo besides your subject. Look at those edges and be sure you haven’t inadvertently included something sharp that shouldn’t be sharp. You may have to check your LCD review to be sure the edges aren’t a problem.
Anytime of year is a great time to experiment with this technique. I’ve used shallow depth of field over the years for everything from snow crystals to dew. I have to admit, though, that my favorite subject for this approach to photography is a flower. That’s when you can especially play with all sorts of in- and out-of-focus colors and tonalities.
Rob Sheppard’s new instructional videos on Lightroom and more are available at www.robsheppardphoto.com.
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