Photographing the Smalls…Selective Focus

“Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus.”  ~Ann Voscamp

It’s that time again! Get your cameras out and get ready to practice improving your kid photography. This edition of the series can be intimidating…but I promise,  if you don’t over-think it, you’ll master it quite quickly. Have you ever looked at a photograph that had only a bit in focus and the rest of the photo was blurry and wonder how they heck they did it? Well, it’s pretty simple once you know the tricks. You just have to show your camera how to become near-sighted; to no longer have the ability to see at a distance.

In order to do this, we need to understand the term “depth of field”, or DOF. Have you heard the term flying around in conversations and completely been confused by it? What the heck is a DOF? Well, here is the abridged Wikipedia definition…To help make it a bit clearer, let me show you some examples.

The first is a LARGE depth of field…the photograph is in focus from the foreground to infinity…Sometimes you don’t want any part of your photo to be blurry. Sometimes it’s prettiest and most effective to have it crisp and clear from front to back. You know that little mountain icon you all have on your camera dials? This is a shortcut to a large depth of field. If you want everything in focus, turn your dial to “landscape” mode and you are well on your way to a large depth of field.

So far, so good. See? I told you this wasn’t so hard.

Now for the shallow depth of field…the part where we make a bit, or a lot of our photograph blurry like this…Why do we want to make our camera near-sighted? Why do we want only a bit of the photo in focus? Well, there are a couple of good reasons. First, it’s pretty and far more interesting. Secondly, it brings focus and emphasis to your subject.

By making your DOF shallow, you are deciding which parts of your photograph are truly important to the message you are sending in your picture. It is also a great way to disguise a busy or messy background that can be distracting to the subject…I did not need my whole kitchen in that shot. I didn’t even need her face to be crisp. The bottle of water was the focus of the photo, so it is crisp. Her face is clear enough that we can still see her goofy expression. The rest of the room is unimportant. Now you want to know how I did it, right?

If you have a “point and shoot” camera, you can achieve this by setting your dial to the little flower icon/macro setting. This setting is designed for getting close up crisp shots with a blurred background. Now, please note that you will not always get this effect with the macro setting. This setting will also depend on how close you are standing to your subject, and how much you have zoomed in with your telephoto. I will say however,  that you will have better luck if you really zoom in. The key with this setting, is practice. Trial and error.

For those of you who have a DSLR, this shallow depth of field will be a little easier to achieve. You know that dial on the top of your camera that you usually keep on the little green square? You know the one…the one one that makes it so you don’t have to think? Well, today you are going to turn that dial. Get it off automatic for a little while and play around with your DOF.  You want to set your dial to Aperture Priority. For those of you who own a Canon, you can turn yours to the letters AV. If you are not sure which of your letters or icons mean Aperture Priority, look it up in your manual. If you can’t find your manual, go online and google it. There are no excuses! DO IT! Lol!

Okay, now that you’ve got your dial turned to Aperture Priority, go ahead and look at your manual to see how to change your aperture. Aperture Priority is a setting that allows YOU to be the master of the aperture, while the camera figures out the rest for you. If you open your aperture ALL THE WAY, you will have made your camera nearsighted. You will be shooting “wide-open.”

*Important: A WIDE OPEN APERTURE IS THE SMALLEST NUMBER IN YOUR APERTURE DIAL, NOT THE BIGGEST. This is where people tend to over think and get a headache. But don’t let yourself, it’s just not worth it. A 4 is a wider, more open aperture than a 22. Some of your cameras may show a little “f” in front of your numbers. This is good…this says you are turning the right dial. An f4 is a wider, more open aperture than an f22. So turn your dial to the smallest number you can. Now you’re ready to do this…And this…Just make sure you point your focus on the object you want crisp and clear. Your camera will do the rest.See?  Not so hard. Now take a deep breath, go change the dial on your camera and start practicing. It’s really so much fun when you get the hang of it.

p.s. For those of you who are interested, a really good lens for giving you a nice shallow DOF, is a 50mm 1.8. That 1.8 is a really small number, right? That means it’s REALLY nearsighted. Oh, it also lets in LOTS of light, which makes it great for indoor photography. The best part? This lens is very inexpensive as far as lenses go…like under $150 here in Canada.

Thanks for stopping by!

~Arlee, Small Potatoes


21 thoughts on “Photographing the Smalls…Selective Focus

  1. You’ve certainly made ME happy. Have been thinking about turning that automatic button off for so long… So thanks !

  2. Fantastic – have had so much fun practising the last tip can’t wait to learn more with this tip – Such a great series of posts, you explain things so well yet so simply, thank you so much.

  3. Thank you so much for explaining that in simple terms. I’ve had so much trouble with aperture that I just gave up. I think now with your explanation, I may have more success. Thanks again.

  4. Great stuff thanks Arlee..I’ve been using this without understanding it but so many people explain it in such a technical way that I just switch off in frustration. Now I know what I’ve been doing and I can probably take things a bit further now 🙂 GREAT! Thank you!

  5. I own a Sony a350 and was getting confused and frustrated trying to change my AP. As luck would have it, I was in a Thrift store and found a 50mm Minolta lense for $0.50! (The Sony is backwards compatible – that’s one of the reasons I chose it) I have now been able to practice what you have taught and I am so excited! I may yet become a half decent photographer

  6. Pingback: Grab that DSLR out of the closet and focus on your subject | The Digital Press

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