Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    | Photography Tutorials | Tutorials | 03/03/2012 06:00am
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    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    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

    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    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.

     

    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    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.

     

    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    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.

     

    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    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.

    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    In Auto-area mode, the camera sets the focus point according to what’s nearest, so make sure you swap to ‘Single point’ mode.

     

    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    05 Set the focus point
    With landscapes, you should aim to focus about a third of the way into the frame, but with close-ups such as this, pick a point nearer to the centre of the frame. You can use the four-way controller to move the focus point, which shows up in both the viewfinder and on the LCD.

     


    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    06 Use Live View
    You might find this much easier to do in Live View, where you can position the focus point more precisely. Here, for example, we’ve placed it right over the stalk of the second, orange pepper. This is the perfect position to maximise the available depth of field, almost halfway up the frame.

     

    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    07 Precise manual focus
    The alternative is to zoom in on the LCD in Live View mode, and swap to manual focus using the switch on the side of the lens. Turn the focus ring manually, judging when the area you want looks sharpest on the screen. This stops any tendency for the camera to refocus between shots.

     

    Still life photography: depth of field mastered in 8 steps

    08 Depth of field calculations
    You can look up precise distances with online tables, or use an app such as Depth of Field Calculator. Here, we type in the focus distance, focal length and aperture, and it calculates that the depth of field will be 6.5cm. If you need some help to work out hyperfocal distances, the ExpoAperture2 (£30, $40, www.expoimaging.com) covers a range of sensor sizes, focal lengths and apertures.


    Posted on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 at 6:00 am under Photography Tutorials, Tutorials.

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