Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Depth of Field in the Garden

by Kelly

My tulips are blooming.

This is something I've waited all winter for.  And now, naturally, all I want to do is take pictures of them.

Sidenote:  Raise your hand if you've ever lost all track of time while outside taking pictures and burned your dinner.

Raising my hand!!

I love flowers...... Love..... Flowers.  And taking photos in my garden is one of my very favorite things in the world.

A few years ago, my method for taking pictures in the garden usually involved waiting until the golden hour, setting my aperture wide open, and then clicking away until I got a few that I liked. Which worked pretty well.  I mean, it's the golden hour and they're tulips...you almost can't take a bad photograph like that.

But in the past year or so, most likely due to the writing of my talented friends here on the blog, I have been trying to become a little more intentional in my photography. Even when all I'm doing is taking pictures in my garden.  And because of this mindfulness, I am happier with my photos because they more closely represent what I see in my mind's eye.

So today I thought I would share with you some of what I've learned with regards to shooting flowers and Depth of Field.  And to get started, I thought it might be helpful to briefly re-visit this key element.

Depth of Field is defined as the range (the distance) of a photograph that appears to be acceptably sharp.  DOF is mostly determined by the aperture settings in camera and to lesser amount, how close you are to the subject.  The aperture of a lens opens or closes (much like the iris of your eye) and the largest aperture setting (the smallest number on your lens) creates the shallowest DOF and inversely, a very small aperture setting will provide for a very deep DOF.

I found that DOF was best understood in a diagram, so below is how I was finally able to make sense of DOF and aperture.

Please forgive my pitiful photoshop diagram, but hopefully this helps to demonstrate this element.

So now armed with that information, I have a couple of side-by-side comparisons of  DOF.  In this first set, I was about three feet away from the main tulip on the right.

I took these two photos back to back (the fact that they are not identical is due to the wind...spring in Oklahoma = wind).  Anyway, I would like to direct your attention to the out of focus area in the upper left portion of the photo.  In the photo on the left, the larger aperture setting (shallower DOF) causes the tulips in the background to be a bit more blurry than the same area on the right.  To the extent that you can sort of tell they are tulips, they seem to fade into the background and allow the main tulip to stand out as the focal point.  More so, in my opinion that in the photo on the right.  So in this case, a larger aperture is more desirable.

In the next example, I moved in much closer to one particular flower - maybe 12 inches or so.  My goal was to capture the delicately curved edge of the petals.

In the top example, I shot with a wide open aperture and set my focal point on the notched 'v' of the petal closest to me.  Now if you notice in the top photo, you can see that because of my very shallow DOF, that the lower petal is slightly out of focus.  Which is fine - I wouldn't say that it takes away from the photo.  But now notice the lower petal in the bottom example.  With a little bit smaller aperture - increasing the DOF - the lower petal is now in focus and you can really see the cupped shape of the petal there as well. In this case, this is story I'm trying to tell, so I prefer the slightly deeper DOF.

Now granted, in both of these examples, the difference in aperture is fairly subtle.  But the thing to remember is that we are trying to create, via a two dimensional photograph, what our eyes are observing in three dimensions.  As fancy and high-tech as our DSLR cameras are now, they still can't reproduce that.  Aperture is one area where we can help to create this dimension. And in the cases of my comparisons above, the care I take in looking at all areas of the photo - not just my focal point - creates stronger overall images. 

I hope that I've given you some helpful suggestions with regards to flower photography.  Feel free to experiment and share your results with us in the Flickr pool!  Which if you haven't visited lately is full of beautiful blooms and glorious color!

Until next time,



Beverly said...

Well done Kelly! I like your focal point diagram!! Love your tulips!

Anonymous said...

Kelly, you have brought to light a very important technique that I sometimes forget! I love this diagram because it reminds me what kind of background look Im going for verses the focal point. Thanks for sharing this and your tulips are gorgeous!

terriporter said...

I just finished reading an in-depth article on depth of field in macro photography! I adore macro photography and flowers and together they are a match made in heaven. BUT . . . I was tending to shoot more wide open and not being happy with how much of the flower was out of focus. The article said that the closer you are to your subject, the more you need to stop down your lens, or to use a smaller aperture. As lovers of that creamy, dreamy background, I think sometimes we (meaning I) tend to shoot wide open so much that when we are zooming in on something, we end up with not enough of our image in focus. That article plus this post (and your great illustration!) has encouraged me to shoot with a little wider depth of field in my flower photography. I'm sure I'll be much happier with my shots. And it looks like you're mastering that macro lens!

Dotti said...

This is such a great photography tip, Kelly! I, too, am guilty of using a DoF that is too shallow when I shoot flowers. Light bulb moment! Why didn't I think sooner to stop down just a wee bit. It can make a huge difference and you still get that awesome dreamy background we all love. Your little sketch is very well done. I couldn't do it!

Kim Stevens said...

I think your diagram is cute....Macro and close up photography is a beast all on its own with its own triangle of combinations depending on the story we are trying to tell. Personally I wish they had microscope cameras for nerdy people like me trying to photograph the smallest of details - or maybe they do, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be in my budget.

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