Photo Tip (January 2010 Show-Me Nature Newsletter)

This month’s tip deals with using Depth of Field (DOF) to enhance your photographs.  This tip is relevant whether you use a point-and-shoot camera or an SLR (interchangeable lenses) camera.  If you use a point-and-shoot camera, consult your camera manual for instructions for setting the DOF.  You will likely need to place the camera in either a “manual” setting or in an “aperture priority” setting.  For SLR’ers, you will need to set your camera in a similar setting (I normally use “Aperture Priority”).

Now, the real story behind the aperture settings.  The aperture settings on the camera are a little tricky to understand, but are really quite simple once you know how they work. First of all, as the aperture (or f-stop) numbers get larger, then the aperture (size opening of the lens) actually gets smaller.  Thus the lens opening of a camera set at f/4 is much LARGER than one set at f/16. Once you understand this, it becomes much easier to understand.

Another important fact to remember is that a large aperture (i.e., f/4) yields a very shallow DOF.  This means that a scene shot with f/4 yields a photograph that has only a very small bit of the scene in sharp focus.  Likewise, a scene shot at a small aperture (i.e., f/22) will yield a photograph where most everything will be in sharp focus.  Once you understand these two aspects, you are well on your way to understanding how to control the DOF in your photograph:  If you want a shallow DOF, then use a large aperture (a low number) f/stop, and if you want everything to be in sharp focus, then use a small aperture (a large number) f/stop.

To illustrate this, check out the Songbird layout in the January issue of Show-Me Nature Photography Newsletter.  Nearly every one of these images were shot at f/4.5 or f/5.6 and you can see that the background drops off (out of focus) and yields a pleasing, neutral background.  Of course, the distance the “background elements” are from the “main subject”, will also affect how the resulting image looks.  In the Songbird layout, with the background being some distance away, the result is a photograph where the viewer’s eyes naturally move to the in-focus, subject (bird, in these examples).

So, learn to control the Depth of Field in your photos and you will take a giant step in improving the quality of your photos!  If you have any questions on this issue, please e-mail me with your questions.  If you live in the Kansas City area and want to learn more about controlling the DOF, consider one of my upcoming photography classes .  We will discuss the various camera controls and how to get the camera to do what you want it to do in both the “Point-and-Shoot” and the “Digital SLR” classes.

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