Posts tagged ‘depth of field’

Creative use of depth of field in Snowdonia

Sunlit fern

Sunlit fern


It was not until the summer of last year that I finally decided to go full frame, and purchased a second hand Leica Monochrom. I had previously used APS-C (Nikon) and Micro 4/3rds (Olympus) cameras. One of the principal reasons for my decision was the potential to use minimal depth of field more creatively in my work. The combination of a full frame (35mm) sensor, coupled with a large aperture, has given me photographic opportunities which were simply not possible before.

However just blurring the background doesn’t necessarily giving a pleasing result. The out of focus areas are still important to the overall appearance of the image. Blurred shapes, tones and arrears of light of shade still influence how the image is viewed, even though the eye may initially be drawn to the main subject of the picture which is in sharp focus.

The main photograph I have included in this entry is I think a good example of what I am trying to say. Taken on my recent trip to Snowdonia, the bright early morning sun was shining on small area of bracken in a wooded glade, whilst a path in the middle ground weaved its way down to the waters edge of Llyn Dinas.  I tried to visualise how the background elements of the image would be rendered when out of focus and whether or not the shapes of the trees would enhance the overall composition. You can of course try and visualise what the image might look like if everything had been in focus. I didn’t take a shot with a small aperture opening so I cannot make this comparison. My feeling is that there would be too much going on. The foreground and background would be fighting for attention. By using a narrow depth of field I have been able to isolate the sunlit fern which is the principle point of interest. The blurred background informs the viewer about the setting, complimenting the main subject and enhancing the overall appearance, but in my opinion it is no longer a distraction.

Here is another example – This image was taken in the woods near Capel Curig.


Autumn saplings

Autumn saplings


I am not saying there isn’t a place for landscape images which are very sharp from front to back. I take a good many myself, but increasingly I prefer to shoot wide open (50mm at f1.4) and by doing so I add another dimension to the composition, which until last year was not possible.

Click on either image to view a larger version which will open in a new window. By doing so I think you will appreciate the photograph just that little bit more.

Into the woods – a shallow depth of field

Into the woods

Into the woods


Up until the summer of this year I had never used a 35 mm full frame digital camera, nor such a fast lens. This all changed with the arrival of the Leica M Monochrom and a Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux lens. I am only just beginning to appreciate the creative possibilities of this combination.

This image was taken back in September in a wooded copse fairly close to my home. I was largely experimenting at this time and took the shot wide open (f1.4) and focused on the near post of the hand rail. Even though this post was some distance from where I was kneeling, the plane of focus is very narrow. Only the leading edge of the path and the branches of the small holly tree to the left are in sharp focus. Checking the depth of field chart Leica provide for their lenses, at a focusing distance of 5m at f1.4, the depth of field is only 4.6m to 5.5m. i.e less than a metre before things are no longer sharp. This means two things – focusing is critical even on a subject which is not that close to you and secondly and more importantly, the careful selection of the focusing point can greatly influence how the image is rendered. It becomes a creative choice just how much or how little is in focus. I like that!

Had I used my Olympus Micro 4/3rd’s camera with the Panasonic 12 to 35 at 25mm (50mm in 35mm sensor terms) and set at its widest opening of f2.8, the equivalent ‘full frame’ aperture opening would be f5.6 because of the crop factor. As a consequence I suspect all of the handrail would have been in focus, together with the foreground. The background trees may have ‘softened’ a little, but I think the appeal of this picture is how the background is very soft. Call it ‘bokeh’ if you like but it adds depth to the image which would be lost if everything was in sharp focus.

There was very little light when this shot was taken. Not only did I use a fast aperture, the ISO was set at 2000 and this still only gave me a shutter speed of 1/750, so that I could happily hand hold the camera.

As I grow in confidence and develop a greater understanding of how best to use a shallow depth of field I think f1.4 might fast become my favourite aperture setting.