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How far or how close you position the camera to your subject will affect the depth-of-field. Move close to your subject and the depth that appears in focus is smaller, or shallower. The further you step back from your subject, the more of the space in front and behind him or her will be in focus. This factor is particularly significant for beginner photographers because they tend to want to shoot most, if not all, of their pictures standing in the same place. Teaching beginners to move themselves and their cameras relative to their subject is not always easy.
The aperture of the lens can also create a deeper or shallower depth-of-field. When the selected aperture is at the wide end—f/1.4, f/2.8 or f/4—then there isn’t much depth-of-field. Use a narrow aperture, such as f/16 or f/22, and the depth of a photo that appears in focus is much greater.
The focal length of the lens you are using is the third factor, but only if you are shooting your subject with different focal-length lenses from the same position. When your subject fills the frame to the same magnification with a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens…and you select the same aperture on both lenses, the depth-of-field doesn’t change.
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One of the most important and fundamental concepts that beginner photographers must understand is depth-of-field. This is because so many of the pictures beginners take are of people. Because beginners don’t understand how to control depth-of-field with the aperture of the lens, the background of many of their people pictures is almost as much in focus as the person they are photographing. The person is the primary subject of the picture, but when the background appears to be in focus too, then the person isn’t prominent against the background. In some beginners’ photos, you must often search for a few seconds to determine of whom they were taking the picture. Controlling the background focus, therefore, gives photos more three-dimensionality; they don’t look so flat…and uninteresting.
Taking control of the background of your people pictures begins with the depth-of-field concept. It simply means that even when your primary subject is sharply in focus, some amount of space in front of and behind him or her is also in focus and this effect is transferred to the two-dimensional photo.
For decades, beginner photographers have been learning the 3 factors that determine how much of that space in front and behind the subject is in focus.
All of this information leads to the conclusion that wider apertures are generally your best choices for portraits because f/1.4 or f/2.8 will give the background a pleasing blur. This is true, except when you make the other major mistake that too many beginners make and that’s to have the subject stand too close to a distracting background. A wide aperture won’t save you! Here again, the solution is simple, and involves moving again; but this time moving the subject forward a few feet or farther from the background. You move back the same distance, choose a wide aperture and the background will be blurred.
The quality of a blurred background, not the amount of blurriness, is known as bokeh. The origination of this term is from a Japanese word. Not only do you want the background of your portraits and people pictures not in focus, but also you should want them to have the best bokeh quality possible too. Do a search on PhotographyTalk.com with the word “bokeh” and you’ll learn more about this concept and how to control it.
Digital photography has made creating the right depth-of-field for each photo much easier since many cameras have a depth-of-field preview button. In this mode, the camera shows you the amount of depth-of-field before you snap the picture. As a beginner, however, a better learning experience may be to shoot test images, and then review them on your camera’s LCD display, or even your computer. You’ll have examples of different depth-of-fields and you’ll know the right distance you should be standing from your subject, the right aperture and the right focal length that will result in the best portraits.
Image credit: designpics / 123RF Stock Photo
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