If you use a point-and-shoot camera or cameraphone, it’s often almost impossible not to get everything from your feet to the distant horizon in focus. But the large sensors built into DSLRs means it can be surprisingly difficult to get everything in the frame looking sharp.
That’s because the bigger sensors used on DSLR cameras mean less depth of field (DOF). While blurred backgrounds can be a real bonus for subjects such as portraits, the limited zone of sharpness can be a problem for other types of photography.
Outdoors, you need to set up your camera carefully if you’re going to get the boulder in the foreground and the mountain in the distance both appearing in focus in the shot.
However, the same difficulties present themselves when shooting subjects that are close together, such as still life photography in your kitchen.
This is where you need a proper understanding of depth of field. In theory, only the object you focus on will be sharp, but in practice there’s a zone of apparent sharpness that extends behind the point you’ve focused on and in front of it.
So you need to start thinking in terms of zones of sharpness rather than fixed focus points, and plan your camera settings accordingly.
Several factors affect depth of field, including the focal length you’re using, the lens aperture, your distance from the subject and where you focus.
Our photography tutorial below shows how it’s done. It’s a tricky subject, because our peppers are at different distances from the camera – so we need to make sure that we have enough depth of field to cover all of them.
Still life photography: master depth of field
01 Choose Aperture Priority mode
To control depth of field, you need a mode that enables you to choose the aperture setting directly. Aperture Priority (A) mode is best for this because the camera will then set the shutter speed automatically to produce the correct exposure. This leaves you free to concentrate on focusing and depth of field.
02 Select a small aperture
You can now use the command dial on your camera to close down the lens aperture to the smallest available setting. For most lenses, this is likely to be about f/22, although some macro lenses will stop down even further. This will increase the exposure time, which goes up to 1.6 seconds for the shot we’re taking here.
03 Use a tripod
You can’t get shake-free handheld shots with exposures this long, so a tripod is essential. It will also fix the camera position so that you can focus precisely. This is crucial for careful control of depth of field, because any slight shift in the camera position will affect the focus point.
04 Choose the focus mode
You also need to take control of the camera’s focus point, so open the menus to check the AF-area mode setting.
In Auto-area mode, the camera sets the focus point according to what’s nearest, so make sure you swap to ‘Single point’ mode.
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