Se­lec­tive depth

Sur­round a nar­rowly fo­cused sharp sub­ject with blur in front and be­hind to deepen the scene with three over­lap­ping lay­ers

NPhoto - - Niko Pedia -

Lay­er­ing in pho­tog­ra­phy can’t es­cape the idea of depth; there’s no such thing as a flat-yet-lay­ered pic­ture. Nev­er­the­less, you can choose to make more of the depth by us­ing se­lec­tive fo­cus in a cer­tain way. Un­like the pre­vi­ous im­age of the Bu­lang mi­nor­ity cer­e­mony, where the sharp fo­cus was back­stopped on the fur­thest part of the scene, us­ing se­lec­tive fo­cus for its max­i­mum depth ef­fect means keep­ing the nar­row band of sharp­ness some­where around half­way in, be­yond which the fo­cus slides back into a blur.

What these two dif­fer­ent types of lay­er­ing have in com­mon, how­ever, is that in both kinds of im­age the trans­par­ent edge of the fore­ground blur helps to progress the sense of depth. In the pic­ture above, taken in a Tai­wanese tem­ple, the fore­ground shades to the mid­dle ground, but be­cause of this area of over­lap­ping trans­parency, we know that it’s in front and we know that it’s sep­a­rated. Here it hardly mat­ters what the fore­ground is, only the blur of the pat­tern and its rep­e­ti­tion be­yond.

A fo­cus ramp

The key to this kind of fo­cus lay­er­ing is hav­ing a ramp that goes from blurred to sharp and then back to blurred, run­ning across the frame. This ramp can run in any di­rec­tion, from down to up, cor­ner to cor­ner, or – as in the pic­ture above – from left to right.

The three shots op­po­site show what hap­pens at three greater depths of field, which are so much less ef­fec­tive that they be­come to­tally dif­fer­ent images. They con­tain more in­for­ma­tion (the pat­terns turn out to be hun­dreds of small niches)

but give view­ers less sense of be­ing there in three di­men­sions. Yes, you can keep depth fully fo­cused, so that ev­ery­thing from fore­ground to back­ground is sharp (Ansel Adams’ near-far style), but this re­lies on shoot­ing wide-an­gle and that spe­cial in­volv­ing feel­ing of a short fo­cal length.

Our main im­age with se­lec­tive fo­cus is sim­pler – a 70-200mm lens at 95mm and wide open at f/2.8 – and works with­out the viewer hav­ing to know any­thing about the blurred ar­eas, us­ing sim­ply the sen­sa­tions of blur and sharp­ness.

An­ping Kaitai Matsu Tem­ple in Tainan, Tai­wan, shot at 95mm and f/2.8. The se­quence of three pic­tures op­po­site were taken at in­creas­ingly smaller aper­tures

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