PHOTOGRAPHY PHRIDAY, EP 5: SUBJECT, PART 2. Focal Point and Depth of Field as it relates to Subject.
We talked last week about subject. Subject is what you are photographing. It’s what you want the viewer to see. Everything else in the image supports the subject. It could be the tiniest insect, a child, a bride, or the Grand Canyon.
Here’s the first question you should ask: “What is my subject?” On the surface, it seems like an easy question to answer: it’s a person or defined object. I recommend tweaking that question to “Where do I want my viewers eye drawn?” Your subject might have a subject! Is it the model’s stunning eyes? Is it your child’s beautiful smile? Is it a lone tree out on a prairie? Is it one person in a crowd or the crowd itself? Is it the tree or the beam of light shining through the branches. The subject’s subject is where you place your focal point.
There is a relationship between focal point, depth of field and your subject. That relationship will determine your first camera settings: focal point and aperture.
Focal point is that box, boxes or dots that blink around the area when you point your phone camera, or the boxes that blink when you press your shutter button on your DSLR or mirrorless. If you’re shooting on a phone, or in auto, the software will determine your focal point. This can be good and bad. Good it you have to get the shot quickly, bad if the device picks a spot you don’t want. I highly recommend taking control of focal point. Don’t let your camera pick it for you!
If you have a DSLR, there will be a button somewhere on your camera or as a part of your control screen that allows you to take control of you autofocus point. Controlling the focal point is the first step in mastering your camera and getting the image you want. Cameras come with more than one focal point and it doesn’t have to be in the middle of the image The more advanced the camera, the more auto focus points it has. Press the focal point button on your camera (the image I show is on my Canon) and start playing with adjusting its size and placement. It will differ from camera to camera. There are plenty of videos on Youtube that can teach you this depending on your model. If you really want to get creative, turn off the autofocus entirely and use the manual focus ring on your lens.
Aperture is depth of field, or how much of the image is in focus. This is measures by the “fX.X” number on your lens. There are lots of factors regarding aperture, and we won’t get into all of them today. The lower the f number, the blurrier everything gets outside your focal point. The higher the number, more of the image is in focus. It’s more complicated than this, but this gives you the basics. Here’s the important part: If you are shooting below about f7.0 you better know exactly where your focus point is, or your subject may be blurry.
Here are some examples of focal point and aperture in my own photography. This landscape is a wide angle shot (18mm) with a wide depth of field (I seem to remember about f7.0). The focal point & subject are the barns, but I wanted a great deal of the field is in focus, too.
This photo has a narrow depth of field (f1.8) and a tighter focal range (50mm). This called for a precise focal point on the flower's stamens (my subject's subject), and letting everything else blur into shadow and color.
The rule of thumb I use is the more shallow the depth of field the smaller you want your focal point, such as using only one point or block. If you are doing broad, sweeping landscapes at deep depth of fields you want a broad focal point. The auto focus points don’t have to be in the middle, either, but we’ll talk more about that when we get to composition another day.
If you want close up and intimate, then you want wider apertures, like f4.0 or lower. This will concentrate the viewer on one spot and let the rest of the universe melt away. If I have a zoom lens and I’m using it at high, tight focal lengths, I usually also want to use lower apertures. So to recap, a good rule of thumb is the tighter, closer and more intimate the shot, the smaller your focal point. This allows you to focus exactly on what you want. The wide, broader and larger the subject, the bigger the focal point. These are guidelines, not rules.
So to recap: 1) Control your focal point. 2) If your depth of field is shallow, use a more precise autofocus point. 3) If you are zoomed in, use a smaller focal point, too. 4) Loosen up the focal point as you zoom out and as you depth of field increases. These are the first steps to ensure your subject is what the viewer’s eye is drawn to.
Next time, we’ll discuss subject as it fits into composition.
Next time we talk, we’ll start bringing composition into the mix. Thanks for stopping by!
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Welcome to Photography Friday on The Illusion Exotic. No, this article isn’t about the band REM or 80s music. It’s about taking your first steps into photography.
Let’s say you bought or were gifted a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) or mirrorless camera. Maybe you were just curious about the technology, or simply wanted to take nice photographs of your kids. It may be a Canon, it may be a Nikon, or a Sony or a something else. It could come with interchangeable lenses. It might be a what’s called a “cropped sensor,” “full-frame” or maybe it’s a high-end mirrorless. Maybe you don’t know, and maybe you don’t care. You’ve read some of the instructions, and you’ve watched a few YouTube videos. You’ve got a few hundred to a few thousand dollar’s worth of camera in your hands, and you haven’t managed to move that little dial on the top off of “A” yet.
By “A” I mean you’re still shooting in Automatic. Everything you’ve read and watched says you should be shooting in “M”, the Manual mode. I mean, the tutorials say you’re not a real photographer if you’re shooting in Automatic, right? You want to shoot in Manual mode, or maybe one of those other complicated modes (“T” and “S” or whatever your model calls them, but its’ all so complicated, your life is busy, and you really don’t have the time to learn. You just want to take good photos. Many of the blogs, articles, photography denigrate the Automatic mode, and relegate to a place of shame. Take a deep breath and relax, and embrace the “A”, at least for now.
Automatic mode takes care of the hard parts of being a photographer. The computer built inside your camera takes care of everything except pushing the button. Details change slightly from camera model to model, but in Automatic your camera handles focal point and the light triangle (aperture, shutter speed and ISO). Your expensive, high-tech camera becomes a glorified “point and shoot”.
And that’s a good thing, because you paid for it. It’s okay to spend some time in Automatic before you move on to your camera’s more complex capabilities. There are two critical elements you should learn and become comfortable with before moving off of Automatic to the other modes: Subject and Composition.
Subject is what or who you are photographing, and how you are trying to use the subject to elicit a reaction from the viewer. In my opinion, subject is the most important way to connect with the viewer. For example, if you are taking photos of your kids, then your kids are the subject. They elicit the reaction. Subject can immediately draw someone into your photograph, or turn them away. Powerful subjects can overcome poor composition, but usually subject and composition are woven together into a whole. Here’s a YouTube video on selecting subjects for photography. It also delves a little into composition.
Composition is simply how you frame and set up your shot to draw attention to the subject. Its where and how you place your subject in the scene. Once again, there are plenty of free tutorials online that teach composition. You’ll learn tried and true techniques like “golden ratio” and “rule of thirds” that help you set up your shot. Here’s a YouTube video talking about composition.
That’s the great thing about Subject and Composition, You can learn much about them without ever moving your camera dial off Automatic. Understand and get comfortable with these concepts early on and you’ll find the more technical aspects of photography less intimidating. You can also practice Subject and Composition with your camera phone. When you get comfortable The next step in your photographic journey will be lighting. To understand that aspects, you’ll have to move the dial off “A”.
We’ll tackle that step next Friday.
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