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Using Depth Of Field when shooting wildlife

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Meg
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Using Depth Of Field when shooting wildlife

Unread post by Meg » Wed Apr 13, 2005 4:36 pm

As promised, this months article is on Depth Of Field and how it pertains to wildlife photography.

Depth of Field (DOF) could also be termed “the zone of acceptable sharpnessâ€Â
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clever dog
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Unread post by clever dog » Wed Jun 22, 2005 3:19 am

Thought I would add what I've learned myself:

Depth of Field

The DOF in a picture refers to how far objects before and behind your subject are in focus. A shallow depth of field means that only things very close to your subject are also in focus and a deep DOF means that almost everything in the frame - from foreground to background is well focused. Both have their advantages and selecting which one works best with your scene can drastically improve the photograph you take.

By using a shallow depth of field, you can insure that nearly everything other than your subject will appear slightly out of focus. People do not like to look at blurred images, so this forces their eyes straight to your intended subject and holds them there. What a great and powerful tool. What control!

A deep DOF can be used to give clarity to an entire photograph, allowing for multiple objects to remain in focus. Imagine you are taking a photograph of a group of running zebras and you want to see clearly those in the front and those behind. For this you would use a deep DOF. If you only want to highlight the zebra in front and leave the others visually trailing, you would choose a shallow DOF. Two ways to control DOF are by adjusting focal length (how much you have zoomed) and aperture.
Image All zebras in focus (F/10.0)

Aperture

This can be a frightening concept for the beginning photographer. It involves the mechanics of the lens and can include mathematical formulas. I won't get into those here, and most of us will never need to. The important basics are that aperture refers to how much the lens opens and is measured in something called F/stops and higher numbered F/stops deliver a greater depth of field. In other words, if you select Aperture Priority mode on your camera and adjust the setting to F16, your photo will have a greater DOF (more of the photo will be in focus) than if you had chosen F4. It's as simple as that!

So imagine you are taking a photo of your favorite animal. While you want to include the other animals around it (if any) in the photograph, you want it to be the unmistakable star of the picture. What to do? Do you want a shallow DOF or deep? Shallow. Set your camera to Aperture Priority Mode, choose one of the F settings with a small number (for example 4 or 5.6), focus on your subject, compose the shot and take the picture. Or if it feels better to you, choose Portrait Mode on your camera, let the camera choose the F/stop, focus on your subject, compose and take your picture. Either way will result in a shallow depth of field, meaning the particular animal will be in crisp focus and the other animals behind it will be visible but less crisp. This will draw the viewer's eye without mistake to your favourite animal. Shallow DOF can also evoke imagination.
Image Blue Wildebeest in focus and giraffs in background out of focus (F/6.3)

Eliminating Distractions

These two techniques can also be used to eliminate distractions from your photographs. Now imagine you want to take a photograph of a beautiful bird in a tree, but the background is full of distracting colors, shapes or lines. You don't want those things stealing attention from your subject, so you create a shallow depth of field to throw them out of focus and get a much better photograph.
Image Yellow-billed Hornbill (F/4.9)

Vistas

Now imagine you are in the mountains and want to bring home a photo to remember the beautiful and vast vistas around you. Do you want to create a Shallow or Deep DOF? Deep. You can choose Aperture Priority Mode and set the F/stop to one with a higher number (say 16 or 22), find a point in your landscape to focus on, compose the shot and take the picture.
Image Misty morning at H10 in Kruger Park (F/8.0)

Alternatively you may choose to set your camera to Landscape Mode so the camera will choose the F/stop for you, find and focus on a point, compose and shoot the picture. Both techniques will give you a photograph with a deep DOF. Something to be mindful of is that when using an aperture with a larger number (or landscape mode) your shutter will remain open for longer, increasing the likelihood of camera-shake. For the best result in this case, use a tripod. If this is not an option, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hold the camera with both hands and tuck your elbows as close as possible to your body while pressing the camera to your face (use your forehead). You will essentially create a tripod with your body. For even more support, find something (like a tree) to brace your shoulder against while doing this.

For Aperture, Remember;
F/stops with lower numbers = less of your photo in focus (shallow DOF)
F/stops with higher numbers = more of your photo in focus (Deep DOF)
Portrait Mode = F/stops with lower numbers, shallow DOF
Landscape Mode = F/stops with higher numbers, deep DOF
Longer Focal Lengths (more zoom) = shallow DOF

Hope this helps!

Cheers,
CD
Last edited by clever dog on Mon Jul 18, 2005 11:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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bert
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Unread post by bert » Thu Jun 23, 2005 9:12 am

francoisd wrote:
cerinthe wrote:Great stuff Meg and Clever dog, only problem is you make it sound so easy :lol:

That is why I like Digital. You can actually see what effect changes in aperature and shutter (as far as light is concerned) will have on your photo.


On the semi-prof /prof SLR you will find a dept of field control button. When using that it clearly shows what is in focus.
Its is a kind of black and white filter in the camera out outstanding when do macro

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Unread post by bucky » Mon Nov 28, 2005 9:17 am

Amazing how much time kids take up , isnt it meg . I bet you have shot loads of pics of your new "subject" though :D

1 point to add with respect to the above , always remeber to leave your camera with maximum aperture opening set (lowest f stop number), especially after using smaller aperture settings to get increased dof snaps , after say a scenery shot , heard of animals etc etc .

All to often you forget camera on that setting , and then an
opourtunity presents itself where u need a fast shutter speed (maximum aperture opening , maximum light , fastest shutter) .
Eg a bird hovering in flight , impalas fighting , a leopard moving through thick bush .
If your camera is set to small aperture , slow shutter speed , you will blurr the photos , especially in the heat of an exiting sighting.

As a rule leave your camera on your lowest f stop number available , or if it has program modes , portrait mode will work well , and camera will set speed to suit .

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Unread post by Meg » Tue Nov 29, 2005 5:48 pm

Good point Bucky, I usually try to leave 1 or 2 up from there just to ensure enough DOF, but then I also shoot manually, so I try to leave shutter speed at 1/125 or 1/250 as well so that I won't have to scroll either way too far!

As for kids, yes, it's amazing! Sometimes when he's really demanding I think about going back to work for a break, lol! He's gorgeous though, and very photogenic, so happy Mum here :D
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Unread post by Jay » Tue Nov 29, 2005 8:03 pm

Meg, anyone have you got or seen a lensbaby used? It apparently "plays" with depth of field and is a relatively cheap little lens. It looks like great fun :D but, I would like to hear from someone who has one?

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Unread post by Meg » Tue Dec 06, 2005 5:06 pm

Jay wrote:Meg, anyone have you got or seen a lensbaby used? It apparently "plays" with depth of field and is a relatively cheap little lens. It looks like great fun :D but, I would like to hear from someone who has one?


Somewhere in the deep recesses of my memory I seem to recall a conversation with some fellow photofreaks a year or so ago re the lensbaby. I wish I could remember more, I do seem to remember that some people seemed to love it, whilst others were rather rude about it. Sadly I've never had the chance to try one out, I'll be really interested to hear how you find it if you have a go!
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Unread post by Jay » Wed Dec 07, 2005 7:54 pm

a man of many words 8) thanx DQ :D

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Unread post by bucky » Thu Dec 29, 2005 12:36 am

Have eventually got scanner that can do slides also , so am going to give a bash at some pics .
Theres 2 I found that illustrate DOF quite nicely , and how it can mess up a good photo for close up work .
These are of African penquins , taken at the same time , with different f stops .

Image

Image

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Unread post by bucky » Thu Dec 29, 2005 1:05 am

ok here goes again , so much for my isp's free photo album :evil: .

Image

Image

Hope thats better :D

As can be seen , in the second pic , it was far better to use a bigger aperture number of say f11 or more , than in the first pic at about f5,6 .

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Blurred Background

Unread post by clever dog » Mon May 15, 2006 5:47 am

I have made a lot of shots where my subejct is very clear (in focus), but in some cases almost "hidden" as it has the same colours as the background of the shot which is also in focus (due to the situation not possible to zoom in on subject to make background blur).

1. Anyway to avoid this when taking the shot?
2. Anyway to create a blur background using Photoshop (more important here and now)?

Cheers,
CD
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Unread post by richardharris » Mon May 15, 2006 9:29 pm

Hi CD.

A frequent problem, especially in the drier months when a lot of green disappears. Of course, this is exactly what the animals want to happen!

If your camera allows, use a wide aperture (small F number); this will give you a narrower depth of focus, and blur the background. This may help - though too narrow a depth of focus can be a problem in it self.

It is also more of a problem with small sensor size - so compact cameras have an apparent greater depth of focus than SLRs.

As to part 2; yes this can be done, as PS has a number of filters which will blur a picture. The greater problem and where skill and practice are needed, is in protecting the object of the shot. This is done by making a complex selection around the object (and being an animal it is likely to be complex!). Again there are a number of tools available within PS - perhaps the 'extract tool' is the most useful for this type of selection.

There are several resources out there with good instructions on the extract tool - books, webvideo clips etc. Hope this helps.

Richard

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Unread post by Jay » Tue May 16, 2006 7:57 pm

Richard, would it help if one uses both a polariser and warming filter, thereby letting less light in, so camera will open up lens thereby reducing depth of field? Do I have this right?

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Unread post by richardharris » Tue May 16, 2006 11:49 pm

Jay

In theory this might happen, but your camera (depending on setting) may reduce shutter speed instead / as well as, and this may not be desirable.

Fully auto settings are difficult to predict - its worth playing around with them though.

Richard

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Unread post by bert » Wed May 17, 2006 10:00 am

Sounds obvious, but never use autofocus in these situations.
Camera would hunt to much


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