The aims of this project were to produce five of my own images in which there is maximum depth of field. An understanding of the concept of depth of field (DoF) is important in photography. It can be used to affect audience response when communicating visually via digital imagery. Shallow depth of field allows the photographer to place emphasis on a specific subject within the frame by blurring other things within view such as the background. A large depth of field is used when having lots of information in the shot, all in focus, is the goal. It is commonly seen in landscape photography.
The three main factors that affect DoF are Aperture, Focal Length and the distance from the camera to the subject.
How to achieve maximum depth of field? In general you can use any or all of these techniques to assist:
- Small apertures increase the depth of field (use high f-numbers)
- Short focal lengths increase the depth of field
- Far distances from camera to subject increase the depth of field
These images are examplars of the use of maximum depth of field by professional photographers.
In this image Vitale has used a relatively short focal length and low aperture to achieve a large depth of field within the tight framing. Multiple subjects are in sharp focus within the image: from the rhino to the blades of grass to the various bangles worn by the Samburu warriors. This choice made by the photographer is particularly effective as the rich and interesting texture of the rhino’s skin is very visible. The tight composition creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy for the viewer. The large depth of field provides us with lots of information by which we read the image. Is this animal alive or death? Are the humans helping it or did they kill it? Are their tender touches the result of care, remembrance or perhaps remorse? This photograph is successful in its ability to engage us in the narrative possibilities surrounding human rhino relations . If the choice had been made to use a selective focus instead, perhaps the image would have appeared less ambiguous and more sentimental. Colour, texture and repetition are also key to its compositional success. Vitale’s work was commissioned by National Geographic and it won second prize Nature, singles, in the 2015 World Press Photo competition.
Behboudi’s series of works, Mothers of Patience (images above and below), deals with the ongoing repatriation of the bodies of Iranian soldiers discovered near the Iraq-Iran border. More than 10,000 Iranians were declared missing in action during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). In this first image we can see many mothers and family members of the missing grieving at the graves of unknown Iranian soldiers. Despite using a medium focal length and relatively wide aperture (small f-number) the photographer has been able to create a large DoF due to the long distance from her camera to the subject. This long distance from camera to subject has also created a sense of flattened perspective whereby the mourners furthest away appear very similar in size to those in the foreground. This image is successful in conveying the scale of this human tragedy, seen through the reputation of the same elements – isolated caskets, not yet buried, surrounded by a single or small group of who appear to be female mourners. Its success as an image is augmented by the contrast between the black fabric of the mourners dress and the white fabric draped on the coffins. These elements work together to create a powerful image of contemporary grief and loss on a large scale.
Behboudi’s series received an Honorable Mention in Contemporary Issues, prize stories, in the World Press Photo Competition 2015.
In this second image from Behboudi we can see the individual faces of the female mourners in sharp focus. In the previous image the mourners are indistinguishable from each other, communicating the universality of the nation’s grief. Here the photographer has combined a large DoF with a more tightly cropped image to make the universal appear personal. The large DoF achieved by her short focal length allows us to see the individual expressions on the mourners’ faces in crisp detail. The image’s success is also due to the very strong composition using the rule of thirds to create balance between the mourners and the caskets that sit in very high tonal contrast to each other.
Muller’s powerful series of works about the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone for The Washington Post won him the 2015 prize for best story, General News, in the 2015 World Press Photo Competition. In this image the combination of short focal length and distance from the camera to subject has assisted to create a deep DoF. The choice of DoF is appropriate to the horror of this news event with every detail in sharp focus and thus available to the viewer to read when interpreting the image. The composition is very powerful as the bulging eyes of an ebola patient, delirious in the final stages, are centred within the view. The two body positions of the medical attendants mirror each other and both balance and frame the central subject.
The graveyard in Sierra Leone pictured here shows clear focus from the back of the head of the man in the centre bottom of the frame to the houses and power poles in the background. It is moving towards a maximum DoF that was achieved by a combination of a lower aperture (f/10) and a short focal length. In addition the viewpoint of the photographer is elevated which creates a steepened perspective as well as contributing to the long depth of field. Line and shape help make this image compositionally a strong success.
When I began to experiment with maximum depth of field I tried to take photos of the texture of a paperbark tree near Loder’s Creek, Southport. I found that this was difficult to achieve in the late afternoon light without a tripod due to the slow shutter speeds required to achieve the correct exposure at the low end of the aperture range of my lens (f/18-f/32). I decided to explore the nearby Southport Cemetery as an alternative location.
Within the cemetery I was struck by the deep sense of loss expressed by the families of the dead through the variety of offerings left on the graves. Fresh flowers were rare in the abundance of faded silk flowers and sun-bleached broken memorials, indicating that the majority of graves were not visited or tendered often, if at all. I saw these offerings as a strong visual metaphor for the fading of memories over time after death.
Over 250 images were taken in this location between 4:30pm and 6:00pm. The afternoon light was quite dull due to overcast skies so a high ISO was necessary to achieve the correct exposure at very low apertures (f/18 & f/22). I chose to work with my telephoto lens as it allowed me to create a closely cropped view from a large distance to maximise DoF. My approach on site was to experiment with using a strong combination of small apertures, short focal lengths and far distances from camera to subject to maximise the depth of field in the images.
I took images of some of the damaged graves and broken headstones. These images were less successful than others as the depth of field was not 100% clear throughout the image. Through this experimentation I learned that setting the focal point of the camera in the centre of the frame will maximise the clarity of the subject matter radiating from that point. Despite the aperture, lens choice and distance working all working, together to create a maximum DoF, a technical detail such where you are focusing your camera can mean the difference between a good image and a great one. So although I like these two images for their subject matter and compositions, they did not make it into my final five images for this reason.
This image was a strong example of achieving maximum depth of field but I did not select it for the final five as I felt the choice of subject matter was too cliched and obvious for shooting in a graveyard. I wanted to communicate the sense of loss and faded memories to the audience in a more nuanced and ambitious way.
My Final Images
In this image I was successfully able to combine a low aperture (f/22) with a distance viewpoint using a telephoto lens to create maximum depth of field within a narrow field of view. This approach has emphasised the textures in the frame. The composition has a strong focal point of the broken glass dome which is balance on either side by the small porcelain objects. Very little editing was done to this image. The colours look like they have been de-saturated but this is the combination of the sun fading the actual subjects with the late afternoon light of an overcast day.
This image is very successful in achieving maximum DoF and is one of my favourites from the shoot. I like the crisp focus of the joined hands on the fallen headstone that is also visible in the entire marble surface and the organic debris that sit on top of it. This was shot at f/22 with a telephoto lens at its smallest focal distance several metres away from the subject.
Texture is very important to the success of this image and would not have been achieved if I had used a shallower depth of field. Selective focus could have rendered the image too sentimental rather than stark and speaking of decay and loss. The choice of maximum DoF has highlighted the similar textures in the dirt on the bottom of the box to the marble headstone. The detailed visible texture of the florist’s wrap also contains similarities to the texture of the marble and contributes to it’s success.