How to Make Any Object Interesting Using Depth of Field

From great lighting to flashes, filters and other accessories, there are a myriad of ways to improve your photos. For anyone with a X Series camera, however, one of the most powerful ways to enhance your subject is to manipulate the depth of field.

 

What is Depth of Field?

 

Simply put, the depth of field is the amount of the picture the photographer keeps in focus. While laypeople may assume the entirety of a shot should be in focus, experienced photographers know that letting the background blur can actually draw more attention to the subject.

Image by Clèment Breuille via Instagram

 

How to Control Depth of Field

 

Like shutter speed and exposure, depth of field can be controlled by manipulating settings on your camera – specifically the aperture setting. The aperture is an opening in your camera’s lens, which opens and closes similarly to the dilation of the pupils in our eyes. As the aperture gets smaller, the depth of field grows, meaning more of your image comes into focus.

 

In addition to your aperture setting, your distance from the subject and the focal length of your lens will impact your depth of field. Since the depth of field is focused around the subject, the closer the subject is to your camera, the shallower that depth will be. Likewise, the longer your lens’s focal length (the more you zoom in), the shallower your depth of field, given any aperture setting and distance.

 

Overall, these three attributes – aperture setting, distance and focal length – are all crucial for achieving the exact depth of field you desire. Changing the aperture setting is the most common route, but don’t be afraid to back up, move in, and zoom in and out!

Image by @chandrasentosa via Instagram

 

Changing Settings

 

When it comes to changing the aperture setting, it’s important to understand that the aperture width and specification are inversely related. Wider settings are represented by smaller numbers, and vice versa.

 

The settings themselves are typically presented in F-numbers, often-called F-ratios or F-stops, which are a measure of lens speed. For instance, a lens with a 100mm focal length set to an F-stop of 10 has an aperture diameter of 10mm. Setting that same lens to F20 would give it an aperture diameter of 5mm, while setting it to F5 would result in an aperture diameter of 20mm.

 

Overall, the smaller the F-number, the wider the aperture – and the shallower your depth of field will be. If you really want to zero in on your subject, leaving the background blurry and obscured, you’ll need a small setting. If you want most or all of the picture to be in focus, you’ll need a high setting.

Image by @matt_ellis via Instagram

Choosing Your Aperture

 

Which depth of field is right for your next shoot? The answer will depend on your subject and goal. Portraits typically feature shallow depths of field, focusing primarily on subjects’ faces. The same is often true for weddings, parties and other events, where you’re trying to separate the subject from a bustling background.

 

On the other hand, you’ll need a deep depth of field to see details in both the background and foreground. Landscape shots are a perfect example.

 

Also important to note: depth of field is not evenly distributed in front of and behind your subject. Even with all the adjustments you can make to the aperture setting, distance and focal length, your field is usually about one third in front and two thirds behind your focal point. The field becomes more equal as your focal length increases, but as we discussed before, it also becomes shallower.

Image by @chels_e_buns via Instagram

 

The Right Tool for the Job

 

Photographers often refer to bokeh, the blurred, out-of-focus background quality that makes pictures incredibly lifelike and vivid. If you want your shots to have bokeh, you’ll need a lens capable of the widest aperture settings.

 

Fujinon’s XF series lenses are perfect for the job. Featuring aperture settings as low as F1.2, these lenses allow for beautiful close-ups that will stun your viewers. With a wide aperture range, they’re also versatile enough to be used for wide range of projects.

If you want to learn more about the range of Fujifilm products, check out our 2017 Buying Guide.

Tutorial: Understanding exposure & using it creatively

exposure

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Exposure”?

We’ve all taken them – an amazing once-in-a-lifetime photo but when we look closer, the photo is too dark or too bright or the subject doesn’t pop enough. A properly “exposed” photo will show details in both the lighter and darker areas of a photo AND show the subject and background in proper focus.
exposure triangle
Exposure can be defined as the amount of light that enters the front of the lens and hits the sensor of your camera.

There are 3 elements that determine the correct Exposure and they are heavily dependent on each other – ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. There are many combinations of these 3 elements that can produce a correctly exposed photo BUT the “effect” of each combination will drastically impact the creative look of the photo. Let’s look at each element.


ISO = Film speed

If you’re old enough to remember using a film camera, you would have bought various “speeds” of film depending on the lighting conditions you were shooting in. ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light.

Today’s digital cameras allow you to adjust the ISO (aka film speed) either through an ISO dial or through the menu system. The downsides of using a high ISO is that the photo will become “grainy” or noisy. It might be properly exposed but it will not be as sharp.

Generally, you don’t need to fiddle with ISO, as it has the least effect on the creative side of your image out of the 3 elements. To minimise the grainy effect simply set your maximum AUTO ISO to 1600 through your menu system and your photos should never appear grainy. Or if you prefer, you can also set your ISO to a specific number like 200 or 400 and adjust the other 2 elements to get the correct exposure. You may need to use a higher ISO if you have manually set the other 2 elements and your camera is still warning your photo is underexposed. Most cameras have the capability to shoot at ISO 12,800 or higher if needed, but generally you are ok at ISO 3200 before you will see any “noise”.


Aperture = Focus Depth of Field

We’ve all seen them. Those professional looking photos of Aunt May where only she is in focus and the background is blurry. This is easily achieved by adjusting the Aperture setting on your camera. Aperture is the amount of light that can pass through the camera lens and determines how much of a photo will be in focus (called depth of field).

Depth of field example

Click here to learn more about Depth of Field

Setting the correct Aperture setting (called f-stop) will provide you with the desired effect for your photo. BEFORE you set the Aperture you need to know what type of “effect” you want depending on what scene you are shooting.

Aperture blades at different f/stops

If you are shooting a landscape, for example, you will want to have everything in focus so an F-stop of F8 or higher should be used. If you are shooting close-ups or portraits, you will want to blur out the background to make the subject stand out so you should use the lowest F-stop your lens allows like F2.8 or F1.4. Or if you are shooting in low light, you will need as much light as possible so an F-Stop like F2.8 will be adequate. Each lens you use will have different F-stop ranges so be sure you use the right lens depending on what you are shooting.


Shutter Speed = Controls motion

Next to Aperture, Shutter Speed is probably the next element that you will adjust the most. Shutter Speed is defined as how long the sensor is exposed to the light and scene you are shooting. The longer the exposure (slower shutter speed), the more light that hits the sensor and the more movement will be captured. The shorter the exposure (faster shutter speed), the less light and less movement will be captured.

Shutter Speed comes into play mostly when you are shooting moving objects OR low light scenes. Again, you will need to determine beforehand what kind of “effect” you want your photo to show. If you are shooting a moving object like your child playing soccer or a friend playing badminton, you can “freeze” the action by selecting a high shutter speed of 1/500 or faster.

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Fast shutter speed used to freeze the movement in the image.

Likewise, if you are shooting a moving object like a flowing water, you can show “movement” by selecting a slow shutter speed of ½ second or even longer with the use of a tripod.

Slow shutter speed used to increase movement and create a fog-like water effect.

You can even use a slow shutter speed to help capture the drama in an image by panning with the subject as you take the shot.

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Shutter speed set to: 1/40 – image taken whilst panning with the car.

Or if you are shooting low light scenes, like a night sky, where fast moving objects is not an issue, you can select a slow shutter speed of 1 to 30 seconds with the use of a tripod. You can also use slow shutter speeds to create light trails from cars and other similar light sources.

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Slow shutter speed used to capture the light trails from car headlights

Keep in mind, that slow shutter speeds will usually require a tripod as even the smallest hand movement will cause a blurry image. General rule for hand holding, is to take the focal length you are shooting at, say 100mm, and use the reciprocal number for the min shutter speed 1/(focal length) or 1/100. Any slower, and chances are you will get a blurry picture.

One of the hardest photos to take is an action shot in low light, like your child’s school play. You will need a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action and prevent “blur” due to camera shake so an f-stop like F2.8 or lower is required to allow as much light in as possible. In this instance, you may need to increase the ISO setting to ensure the photo is properly exposed up to 1600 or higher.

How do you know if your scene is properly exposed BEFORE you shoot? Most of our Fujifilm cameras will either show on the LCD screen the shutter speed or aperture settings you have selected in RED if it’s not exposed properly. OR your LCD screen will actually preview the exposure on the LCD screen itself before you shoot.

We know that this topic is probably one of the hardest ones to get your head around at first, but don’t worry, you definitely will and it’ll be sooner than you think!

Happy snapping! 🙂

 

Tutorial: Understanding Depth of Field

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Depth of field”?

Simply put, Depth of Field refers to the area in front of your camera that is in focus.

If your camera is set to focus one metre from the lens, Depth of Field refers to the area in front of, and behind one metre from the camera where subjects are still sharp enough to be considered in focus.

Along with Exposure and Composition, Depth of Field is one of the most important aspects of photography.

How do you control it?

Less is more

The main way to affect the Depth of Field is by adjusting the value of the Aperture

The bigger you set the aperture size (smaller number), the smaller your depth of field will be. The smaller you set the aperture size (bigger number), the bigger the depth of field will be. I know that sounds confusing but hopefully this diagram will help to explain it.

The yellow area shows the area in front of and behind the focal plane (the point when the camera is focused) that is in focus. It’s just a guide with no actual scale.

dof

The Depth of Field is actually also affected by the focal length of the lens, and also the distance of the subject from the camera (which is why there is more in-focus area behind the subject than in front of it), however for the benefit of just getting you started, in this post I’ll only talk about the aperture value.

Aperture Priority mode

X30 (top) and X100S (bottom) set to Aperture Priority mode
X30 (top) and my well-lived X100S (bottom) set to Aperture Priority mode

The best way to get started with adjusting the Aperture value is to set your camera to Aperture Priority mode. In this mode, you can control the Aperture value and the camera will still adjust the shutter speed and ISO value in order to correctly expose the image.

If you have a camera with a “M / A / S / P” dial on the top, switch it to “A” (for Aperture). If your camera doesn’t have this dial, just change the value on the Aperture ring to anything other than “A” (which in this case stands for Automatic) and set your shutter dial to “A” (Automatic). Your camera is now in Aperture Priority.

How does it affect my images?

Less is more

Using the largest aperture possible (smallest number) allows you to isolate your subject within a shallow depth of field and effectively make the foreground and background far less prominent. These example pictures were shot at f/1.4 using an X-T1 with XF35mm lens. They show foreground and background areas out of focus, allowing you, the viewer, to focus on the subjects.

More is more

Using a smaller aperture (larger number) increases the depth of field and allows you to include more, or all of your image, clear and in focus.

In this image, I wanted to get the tree in the foreground in focus, but still include the background as a prominent part of my image. Using a very wide lens with the Aperture set to f/8.0 allowed me to take this.

Aperture Priority at a glance

1. Activate Aperture-Priority
2. Generally shoot “wide open” – the lowest value Aperture your lens can shoot at. This means that your images will all draw the viewer into the part that you want them to look at – the part in focus.
3. “Stop down” your aperture (increase the value number) to get more of the shot in focus – great for group shots or landscapes / cityscapes

Conclusion

The amount of light captured in a shot is governed by three aspects – Shutter Speed, ISO value and Aperture value. You generally want as fast a shutter speed as possible (unless you are trying to capture motion within your image). You always want the ISO to be as low as possible to maximise the image quality and reduce noise.

However, there is no “you always” rule for Aperture as it is the one thing that affects your final image more than the others. Your decision to include all, or just a certain part of the image within the in-focus area is where you add your own creative touch to your image and direct the viewer’s eyes to the part of the image you want them to look at.

HOW TO: Set up for Action Photography

Following on from the last blog that covered what gear to use for wildlife photography, I’m going to explain how I set up my X-Series cameras for capturing action. Though some cameras are better than others for this type of photography, there are little ways to help yourself help improve your chances of capturing action.

High burst rate

Though using a high burst rate will eat through your memory cards space, shooting at a high frame rate will hopefully get a good selection of action shots.

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Auto focus

First of all make your focus point as large as possible: do this by pressing the AF button and zooming out as far as you can. With a moving subject it will be very difficult to keep the subject in a small selection zone, so give yourself the best chance possible. Continuous focus (This applies to the X-T1 and X-E2 as they have vastly improved continuous AF functionality) is really helpful with certain subjects, especially if they are coming towards you. For those of you with models that are best in single focus mode, fear not! Generally the Fujifilm lenses are quick to auto focus so if you’re following a subject you can focus, take a shot and then focus again or alternatively prefocus if you know where the subject it going to go. Some photographers use cameras in MF mode and use the AFL/AEL button to focus. This is helpful because you can then use the manual focus ring on the lens and see what is in focus via focus peaking. Experiment and see what method works best for you.

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This sequences was taken using the X-T1’s tilting screen and the XF56mm at F2.8.

ISO

My standard ISO setting is 800. To some this might seem high but the output from this is so clean that it isn’t a concern for me. If it’s a bit cloudy and I’m wanting to freeze the action I’ll push my ‘ready’ ISO to 1600. My philosophy is that it is better to have a sharp image that might be slightly noisy as you get up to than an image that might have some motion but has less or no noise.

Shark
A blue shark close up taken at ISO 1600

Shark close up100% close up – In my eyes the noise (or lack of it) is not a problem at ISO 1600

Aperture

For action photography you have to decide if you want to freeze a moment, capture the motion or something in the grey area. If you want to freeze the action you’ll generally want to use a wider aperture to get a sufficiently high shutter speed. The shutter speed required to freeze depends on the pace of the action, and your chosen aperture is determined by the light conditions and your ISO choice. The thing to remember is that shutter speed, aperture and ISO are all intertwined. If you want to read more on apertures then read this previous blog (it contains puppies!). If you want to focus on one, say a faster shutter speed, then this has an adverse affect on the other two factors. If you’re wanting to freeze the action with a fast shutter speed AND also have a large depth of field then you have to increase the ISO. It is also about prioritising the most important factor for you and then compromise with the others. When aiming to freeze the action I am generally in aperture priority mode, where I have set the ISO according to the conditions (usually over 800), and I then choose an aperture to obtain the shutter speed I want.

Frozen Kittiwake

Taken at 1/3800 sec, F5.6, ISO 800

If you want to capture motion blur, say through panning with your subject, then your shutter speed is having less of a constraint on your ISO and aperture so you can change these accordingly to reduce your shutter speed. One way to control this is through shutter speed priority, where you set shutter speed to what you want and then have the aperture in auto mode so it will change to keep the same low shutter speed (with the ISO previously set).

Panning moped

Taken at 1/13 sec, F16 ISO 200

Finally, another set up option for action is to set the aperture and shutter speed to what you want and then have the ISO in automatic mode. You could go fully manual but I find this can quickly lead to problems when trying to capture action, especially if there is a lot going on around you. This method can result in you missing fleeting moments.

Now that you know some action set ups go out and shoot! Let us know what your action set up is with the X-Series and share with us your action shots via our Fujifilm’s Facebook and Twitter. As ever, if you have any questions then please leave a comment below or contact me via:

Twitter – @benji_cherry

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/BenCherryPhotography