Thursday, January 10, 2008

Photography Lesson - "The Power of Focus"

"To See Or Not To See" (the power of focus)


These shots were actually taken in a couple of seconds to illustrate this specific point, and so won't make it into my official gallery due to the flat lighting and lack of care taken over the composition.

But in terms of showing what point of focus (and of course depth of field) is all about they are just fine.

Key points

Depth of field

When you point your camera at something and press your finger half-way down on the shutter release button, it normally snaps into focus. In the first shot here, I obviously pointed at the green woman (part of a famous Parisian Wallace water fountain), and in the second shot I pointed at the 'Shakespeare' shop name.

In the top shot, the green woman is sharp and 'Shakespeare' is fuzzy. The depth of field relates to how much of the photo behind and in front of the sharp subject will also be sharp.

In these shots we have a shallow depth of field, which means things behind and in front of the subject quickly go out of focus. A wide depth of field would have kept everything sharp.

Aperture priority

In these shots I just had my camera on the 'P' or 'Program' setting, because I knew (or suspected) that the prevailing lighting conditions (dull) would automatically give me a shallow depth of field. This comes from experience, and also trial and error.

However, if you want to be sure that your subject is sharp and your background (or foreground) is fuzzy, you need to use aperture priority. This is usually the 'A' setting on your camera dial, or the 'portrait' setting, often shown as a woman's head, on simpler cameras.

In the 'A' position turn one of the dials to make the aperture number change - low numbers such as 4 or 5.6 are what you need for this effect. High numbers such as 16 or 22 will make everything sharp! The 'portrait' setting on simpler cameras will do this automatically.

Focus and reframe

This is a vital concept and something I do continuously throughout a shoot. It consists of pointing the camera at the thing you want sharp, pressing the button half-way down, and keeping the button pressed, moving the camera to put the sharp subject where you want in the frame. When you're happy with the composition, press the button the rest of the way down and take the shot.

This is essential if the thing you want sharp is not in the centre of the picture. If you don't do this, it will probably be fuzzy and the boring centre or background of the shot will be sharp. This is exactly what I did in the top shot, where the woman is sharp. In the second shot I didn't bother, because 'Shakespeare' was already in the centre of the shot, where the camera naturally focuses.

Photo Ideas

Get out there and choose the 'A' (aperture priority) or 'portrait' setting on your camera. Find a striking subject such as a statue some distance in front of a distinctive building or even another statue.

- Experiment with focusing on the thing nearest to you and reframing. Take one shot with the near thing in focus and another with the background in focus.

- Change the aperture number and see what happens to the sharpness. Walk right up to the near subject and take a shot. Walk back and take it again.

- Zoom in on a subject and take a shot. Without moving, zoom out and take the same shot. Compare the relative sharpness of the foreground and background again. Your brain will work it out!

Then comment on this lesson with a link to your best result - we all want to see them!


- depth of field - how much of the photo is sharp in front of and behind the point of focus - is a vital creative tool you must be familiar with

- the aperture priority (or portrait) mode on your camera is your magic doorway to achieving lovely selective focus effects

- become thoroughly familiar with focusing and reframing - and your subject will always be sharp


The Paris Set Me Free - FREE On-Line Digital Photography Course is...

An on-going series of fun mini-photography lessons building up to form a comprehensive course on taking creative photos, wherever you are. The emphasis is always on 'developing the photographer's eye', although all aspects of this amazing activity are covered, from the technical stuff to 'pro' hints and tips. Most of the lessons use photographs to illustrate specific points and as I live in Paris, most of the photos were taken here! Enjoy your photography, enjoy Paris, and do send in your comments here! ~ Sab Will

© 2008 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free

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anidem said...

Sab, this was absolutely fantastic! I will definitely try this out this evening on the rue for my daily photoshooting. Great job!

J.C. said...

Agree with Anidem above. Will definitely try out the tutorial given above on how to use the Aperture setting on my camera. I am an amateur photographer.


J.C. of Subang Jaya Daily Photo


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