PHOTO SKILLS: DEPTH- OF- FIELD

What Are the four fac­tors that in­flu­ence depth- of- field? sea­soned Pho­tog­ra­phers should be Able to An­swer this With ease, but if you’re A novice read on, As caroline sch­midt tells you What you’ve been miss­ing And how to dra­mat­i­cally im­prove your Por­trait

Digital SLR Photography - - Contents - Cam­era: nikon d810 / Lens: nikkor 85mm f/ 1.4g

It’s just about aper­ture, isn’t it? Wrong! Learn how to al­ter and con­trol depth- of- field to im­prove your por­traits

If you’re new to dig­i­tal SLR pho­tog­ra­phy, you’ve likely made the jump from a more ba­sic cam­era be­cause you want more con­trol, bet­ter im­age qual­ity and the beau­ti­ful smooth bokeh that’s in­her­ent with shal­low depth- of- field. The for­mer will take prac­tice to achieve but the lat­ter isn’t just the prod­uct of your tools, this too takes tech­nique and know- how to mas­ter. Most be­gin­ners think depth- of- field is con­trolled only by your aper­ture: the wider the aper­ture, the big­ger the bokeh, and while this is true, the nu­ances of depth- of- field are a lit­tle more com­plex.

So what are the other fac­tors you’re for­get­ting? fo­cal length, sub­ject- to­back­ground dis­tance as well as cam­era- to- sub­ject dis­tance. once you know how to play with all four fac­tors, you will quickly see an im­prove­ment in your por­traits and places to shoot.

Lets talk about lenses for a mo­ment. Lens type and fo­cal length all af­fect the be­hav­iour of shal­low depth- of- field. A 35mm pro­vides more ap­prar­ent depth- of- field at the same aper­ture than, say, a 50mm or a tele­photo lens like a 70- 200mm, which com­presses per­spec­tive. The most flat­ter­ing fo­cal range for por­traits, how­ever, is 50mm to 85mm hence why the ‘ nifty fifty’ f/ 1.8 is a pop­u­lar choice for por­traits. what­ever the fo­cal length, how­ever, as a gen­eral rule of thumb, depth- of- field falls ap­prox­i­mately 1/ 3 in front of a point of fo­cus and 2/ 3 be­hind it.

once you un­der­stand how to con­trol shal­low depth- of- field, you have the tools to make al­most any back­drop or clut­tered shoot­ing con­di­tion work. while back­grounds with­out dis­trac­tions are prefer­able, some­times vi­brant colour and tex­ture can be very ef­fec­tive for ad­ding in­ter­est and im­pact when ren­dered as gor­geous smooth blur. Let’s show you what we mean…

1 loc Ation

& set tings Barn walls and outbuildings can make for very in­ter­est­ing, colour­ful back­grounds and of­ten pro­vide spots of open shade for soft, flat­ter­ing light and sat­u­rated colours – if you find any, make use of them! While blur­ring the back­ground is im­por­tant for draw­ing fo­cus on the sub­ject’s face, it’s not worth po­ten­tially com­pro­mis­ing on the sharp fo­cus of your sub­ject by us­ing an ex­tremely wide aper­ture. Un­less there is con­sid­er­able dis­tance be­tween you and your sub­ject, step your lens down to at least f/ 2.5 to ex­tend your plane of fo­cus and use other means to en­hance bokeh. All these images were shot at f/ 3.5 on an 85mm f/ 1.4G lens. The only vari­able is the dis­tance...

2 A

t Ypic Al start Most be­gin­ners ini­tially com­pose a head­shot by plac­ing the sub­ject next to, or less than a foot away, from the back­ground and then stand them­selves 3- 5ft away. At these dis­tances you may get a nice crop, but as depth- of- field ex­tends ap­prox­i­mately 2/ 3 be­hind the sub­ject, a fair amount of dis­tract­ing de­tail ap­pears rel­a­tively sharp, which is not what we want.

3 move

sub­ject fur­ther AWAY By mov­ing the model about 6ft from the back­ground, and re­main­ing ap­prox­i­mately 5ft away from them, depth- of- field looks much shal­lower due to the ex­tended back­ground- to- sub­ject dis­tance. The back­drop now falls out­side the re­mit of ac­cept­able sharp­ness, but we can do bet­ter still by mov­ing the sub­ject even fur­ther away from the build­ing.

4 You

move closer De­pend­ing on your fo­cal length, gen­er­ally the closer the cam­era is to the sub­ject, the shal­lower the depthof- field will be. So by in­creas­ing the sub­ject- to- back­ground dis­tance to 10ft and mov­ing in for a closer crop, I cap­ture a softer fo­cus of the sub­ject’s face and ren­der the back­ground a vi­brant blur of colour with en­hanc­ing but not dis­tract­ing tex­ture.

5 What

if i Want A Wider crop? As depth- of- field ex­tends twice as far be­hind the point of fo­cus as it does ahead of it, if you stand, say, 10ft away you’ll find an aper­ture that cap­tures all your sub­ject in fo­cus will record de­tail in the back­ground if they’re too close to it. As a rule of thumb, dou­ble – even triple – your sub­ject- to­back­ground dis­tance com­pared to your cam­era- to- sub­ject range.

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