Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Controlling Depth of Field in your Photographs

Learn what depth of field is and how your camera settings affect it

Some subjects need to be fully in focus to be shown at their best and others need dreamy out of focus backgrounds to create the right setting. The feature that is key in both situations is called depth of field – it gives you both that ‘everything in focus’ look and it also gives you soft out of focus look. Depending on what you are photographing getting the depth of field right is often the difference between a snapshot and great image.

I’ll explain what depth of field is and how to control it with your camera settings.

What is depth of field?

At its simplest, depth of field is the zone of sharp focus in front of, around and behind the subject in your photo when you are focused on that subject. When you have a shallow depth of field, only a small area around the subject will be in focus and quite often only a small part of the subject will be in focus. Everything else in the image will be out of focus with things further away from the subject, either in front of or behind the subject, being more out of focus the further away they are. This image has a shallow depth of field – it’s a great way to shoot flowers:

When the depth of field is deep, nearly everything in the shot is in focus. You control the depth of field in your images by adjusting the camera’s settings for aperture, adjusting the focal length of the lens and the distance you are from the subject. This image has a deep depth of field – that’s important as we want to see everything in this scene from the grass in front of us to the horizon miles and miles away.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Control depth of field with aperture

One way that you can control the depth of field in an image is to change the aperture that you are using. For this, you will need to have your camera set to Aperture Priority or Manual mode. Selecting an aperture that is very large, such as f/1.4 to f/2.8 will give you a shallower depth of field around your subject. The aperture used for this image was a huge f1.4 so only a small portion of it is in focus:


If you shoot with a small aperture, such as f/9 to f/11 or more you will find that more of the image will be in focus, which gives you a deeper depth of field. If everything else stays the same, the difference in the aperture setting you use can result in a very different image. The aperture used here was a small f11:

One benefit of shooting with a large aperture, such as f/1.4 to f/2.8, is that a lot of light is getting into the camera so you can use a fast shutter speed. Conversely, a down side of shooting with a small aperture such as f/9 to f/11 or more is that less light gets into the camera so you will need to use a slower shutter speed  or a higher ISO value. In some cases you will be shooting with such a slow shutter speed that you will need to use a tripod.

Control depth of field with focal length

The focal length of your lens can also have an impact on the depth of field when you use this to make a subject bigger. So, if you are shooting with a 50 mm lens, you will get a much deeper apparent depth of field than you would if you were capturing an image with a 200 mm lens at the same aperture and if, in both situations the subject size is the same. The depth of field is actually not significantly different but it looks different because there is more background in an image when you capture it with a 50mm lens than you will get when you capture it with a 200 mm lens. So a rough rule of thumb is that the more zoomed into the subject that you are, the shallower the depth of field will appear to be. This giraffe was shot at f5.6 which isn’t a particularly large aperture but it was shot at 300mm zoom so the giraffe is quite sharp and the background is nicely out of focus:


If you are shooting landscapes you will get best results when you use a short lens such as a 28 mm lens as the image will appear to have a much deeper depth of field. On the other hand, a zoom lens can be a good lens to use when shooting portraits because the further you’re zoomed in to the subject the less background will be in the image and the shallower depth of field you will appear to have. This image was shot at f11 with a 28mm lens so everything from the lamp post to the building is in focus:

Control depth of field by varying the distance from your subject

The distance between the subject and the camera is another way that you can impact depth of field. So, for example, if you photograph a subject close up, such as in the region of up to 10 feet away, then the depth of field will be much shallower and more of the image behind the subject and a little in front of the subject will be out of focus. On the other hand, if you move the subject further away from you so that the subject is 20 feet away then the depth of field will be much deeper and there will be a lot more of the image in front and behind the subject in focus. This image was shot with a 200mm lens – the singer was relatively close to the camera  and the background was some distance behind him so the musician is in focus and the background nicely out of focus:

Whenever you’re considering depth of field, you should also note that, when the subject is in focus, the amount of the image that is in focus behind the subject will be greater than the amount of the image that is in focus in front of the subject. The ratio is approximately one-third to two-thirds, so the depth of field will extend roughly one-third in front of the subject and two-thirds behind the subject.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

7 Camera Settings for Capturing Better Photos

Whether you are using a Point and Shoot or a DSLR camera here are seven camera settings that will help you capture better photos:

Tip 1 – Adjust for light

Most digital cameras, in particular SLRs, let you select ISO film equivalencies. Choose 100 – 200 sensitivity for photographing in bright light conditions and use 400 – 800 when there is less light.  In very poor light you can capture at 3200 – 6400 or higher but you will find that, as a result, there will be more film grain visible in the final image a a result.

To capture an image like this at night you should have an ISO setting of at least 800 -1600 or higher and a tripod to steady the camera.

Tip 2 – Choose your mode

Most cameras, in particular point and shoot cameras have settings for portrait, landscape, night shooting, sports, etc. Choose the correct mode for the type of conditions and the camera will automatically configure the ideal settings to ensure the best shots in the available light conditions.

For an image like this choose Landscape mode so it is all in focus.

Tip 3 – Depth of field

Use your camera’s Aperture Priority setting and set the aperture to a small f stop such as 2.8 to capture photographs with an interesting depth of field. Focus the camera on the object to appear in focus and, when you do, objects in front and behind this object will appear pleasingly out of focus.

Here I focused on the girl in front with a very small f stop and she is in focus – the girl facing us is not.

Tip 4 – Axe the digital zoom

Of the two types of digital camera zoom, which you will find in both point and shoot cameras and camera phones only Optical Zoom is a true zoom . If your camera offers digital zoom it is best to disable it or avoid using it. Digital zoom merely increases the size of the image captured and crops away the area not required. Optical zoom actually zooms into the scene to capture it at full size.


Tip 5 – Adjust exposure

Avoid over or under exposed photos using your camera’s exposure compensation settings. These can usually be adjusted to somewhere between -2 to +2EV. To lighten a shot use + values and to darken one, use – values.

Here is the same Boston building captured at -2, 0 and +2 exposure – the one on the right is the better exposed shot.

Tip 6 – Set the correct White balance

Different light sources throw different color casts onto your photos. For instance, inside lighting such as florescent and tungsten globes will throw blue/green or orange tints onto your image. When shooting indoors without a flash, set the white balance mode to match the light source, to remove any undesirable color cast.

This camera is set to an ISO of 80 (suitable for a very bright day) and AWB – Auto White Balance – this  means the camera will adjust the white balance – not good for indoor shooting but should be fine out of doors in full sun.


The image on the left was shot in tungsten light with no white balance adjustment. The one on the right was shot in the same position but with white balance set to tungsten light – the color is much improved.



Tip 7 – Set the Flash

Use your flash when capturing portraits on a very bright day. While it may seem counter productive, the flash will light your subject’s face and avoid the deep shadows that the overhead sun will cast on their face.

On the left the little girl is captured with no flash and over head sun. On the right I fired the flash and her face and clothes are more evenly lit.


Helen Bradley

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Photographing in Black and White Part 7 Your Digital Workspace

You can learn a lot about black and white photography using your favourite photo editing program as most have tools for converting from colour to black and white.

Avoid the adjustments that do the work for you such as by choosing Image > Mode > Grayscale as you won’t be able to make any creative changes to the image.

Instead, in Photoshop Elements, choose Enhance > Convert to Black and White and experiment with the sliders and options. There are different options down the left of the screen to select from and you can then adjust the red, green and blue sliders to fine tune the result.

In Photoshop, choose Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White and adjust the sliders for the colors – this lets you control how the colours are converted to either black or white. In this way you can separate colors like Green and Red for example making them significantly different to what they would look if you do a regular conversion.

For more information on making a detailed colour to black and white conversion in Photoshop Elements visit this blog post: An Adjustable Black and White conversion http://projectwoman.com/2009/08/an-adjustable-black-and-white-conversion.html

In Lightroom and in Adobe Camera Raw you can convert to black and white and then adjust the color sliders to create a good looking black and white image.

Helen Bradley

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Photographing in Black and White Part 6 Filters


Traditionally, when shooting with black and white film, photographers use filters to enhance the colours in the image.

Using red, yellow or orange filters when shooting landscapes or shots where the sky has interesting detail can help darken the blues in the sky giving them more punch than they would otherwise have.

You can purchase coloured filters that screw onto the lens of a digital SLR or which can be placed over the lens of a point-and-shoot camera using an adaptor ring.

The images captured with these filters will show different conversion of colours to black and white than you would see if you were to shoot in regular black and white without the filter.

The image at the top shows two different renderings of a single image the first with a red filter and the second with a blue filter.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Photographing in Black and White Part 5 Composition


The same rules for composing an image in colour apply when you are shooting in black and white. Make sure the subject of the photo is placed in an interesting position in the shot, make sure the camera is square to the horizon and that the subject is in focus.

When you are photographing in black and white pay attention to how the colours are converted.

Some colour pairs like green and red which contrast so strongly in colour photos convert to the same shade of grey in a black and white image. Depending on what you are shooting this can be an advantage or a disadvantage.

In the image above the solid black of the nuns’ habits ensures that the image will be a strong one and placing the subjects off center makes the image more dynamic.

If you are unsure how the image will convert, check the camera’s viewfinder or on a digital SLR take a reference shot and look at the result in the LCD screen to evaluate the composition and to check that what you are seeing in the scene will render well in black and white.

Helen Bradley

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Photographing in Black and White Part 4 Light



When the light is lacklustre because the weather is overcast it is often a bad time to shoot in colour because the colours are bleak and uninteresting.

These are times when black and white works particularly well because, by removing the colour problems, you can focus on the interesting things in the scene.

If the scene is monochromatic anyway and even flat but shooting it in black and white you can reinforce the desolation and age of the scene.

However, that’s not to say that a sunny day or sunrise and sunset is not also a good time to capture photos in black and white – when the sunlight is strong, the contrast between areas of light and shadow become very obvious and black and white is a wonderful way to capture this.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Photographing in Black and White Part 3 Portraits



Black and white is particularly attractive for use in portraits photography. You can use it when your subject is dressed in or surrounded by colours that are not complimentary to them or which are distracting to the eye.

By shooting in black and white, you remove the impact of the clashing colours allowing the subject to become the focus of the image and not their clothes or, worse still, the background.

Bathed in soft light, babies captured in black and white look wonderful and the impact of jaundiced skin or blemishes is reduced.

For subjects that have facial details that can handle harsh light, try capturing your portraits with strong side lighting such as sunlight pouring in through a window. The dramatic contrast between light on one side of the face and shadow on the other can bring a portrait to life.

This type of setup is best used for a subject who has very strong facial features such as older subjects with lots of wrinkles or for subjects who live life hard as it reinforces their personalities and lifestyle.

Children’s and baby’s portraits captured in black and white do away with distracting colours and blemishes and allow you to focus on the child.

Helen Bradley

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Photographing in Black and White Part 2

What to capture?

When you remove the colour from an image, you are left without one of the key elements that attracts the eye to an image – the differing colours in it.

However, colour is also distracting so removing colour removes a distractive element allowing the eye to focus on other elements in the image.

This image isn’t a good one to shoot in black and white as most of the interest in it is colour:

As photographer it’s your job to find other elements of interest to capture.

Look for different shapes, textures, tones and contrast in the scene that will be visually interesting and make these your subject matter.

For example, one element that works particularly well in black and white is repetition.

When you capture a series of repetitious elements such as trees, fence posts, light poles; then by removing the colour, you’ll be able to focus the viewer’s eyes on the repeated elements.


Helen Bradley

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Photographing in Black and White Part 1



Artistically black and white photos take a lot of beating. There is something about a good black and white image that invokes a level of appreciation that many colour images can never achieve.

In days of film, shooting in black and white meant that you had to commit to an entire roll of film for your black and white photos. Today you have a lot more choices and black and white is only a setting away in your camera.

However, shooting in black and white is a little different to shooting in colour so here is what you need to know:

Camera settings for black and white shooting

The first thing to do is to work out how your digital camera captures in black and white.

Most cameras have a setting that allows you to switch to monochrome or black and white capture.

You’ll need to be familiar with how to switch the camera into this mode, how to identify from its display that you are in this mode and how to return to full colour mode when you’re done.

When you capture in JPEG using a point and shoot camera or a digital SLR, your camera will discard all the colour information before saving the image. You can’t go from monochrome to colour later on.

However, if you shoot with a digital SLR and capture the image using Camera RAW you can generally configure your camera to capture monochrome images but, behind the scenes, the camera will still capture all the RAW data it would capture if you were shooting in colour and this will be available later when you process the RAW image.

Helen Bradley