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Friday, April 13, 2007


The depth of field (DOF) is the distance in front of and behind the subject that appears to be in sharp focus.

Have you ever wondered how professional photographers make their subjects stand out from the surroundings? While you can’t do this with a fixed focal length camera, you can do it with most consumer cameras, and will all SLRs (single lens reflex cameras – those with interchangeable lenses), if you have the right lenses.

For example, a flower may stand out against a blurred background, or a small insect is set against a blurred leaf. Perhaps, the most striking example is when a person seems to be almost detached from the background – they pop out of the page. Well, it’s not difficult to achieve this effect.

The trick is to use selective focus.

With this technique, we can choose one part of the image to be sharp and in focus, while the rest of the image is kept out of focus. It's very useful in macro and close-up photography.

So how do you achieve selective focus? Here are some tips.

Aperture Size

For selective focus, try choosing your widest f-stops (i.e. aperture size), such as f/2.8 or f/4. Couple this with a fast shutter speed to ensure enough light is present in the photo.

Focal Length

A good tip is to zoom (remember to only use the optical zoom –- not the digital zoom feature, if your camera has that option -- in as much as possible, or choose a telephoto lens. The longer the lens, the less depth-of-field it has -- conversely, the wider angle, the more DOF.

Angle to Subject

This tip takes a bit of practice, but is very effective at times. Choose an angle to the subject that causes background and foreground elements to be farther from the focused subject. This causes them to be strikingly out of focus.

Note that it is in fact possible to achieve the selective focus effect using image editing programs. You can simply select one part of the photo, keep it sharp and then blur the rest. However, if shoot the image with selective focus because the effect always looks more natural.

We will talk about achieving selective focus, with software, in another post.

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