by Harry Flashman
My daughter who has shown an interest in photography has come up against
DOF, the contraction for Depth Of Field, so this is for you and daughter.
What’s DOF? Quite simply, it is Depth Of Field, and mastery of DOF really is
the second rule of photography in my opinion. Before you ask, the first rule
is to walk several meters closer to the subject to fill the frame!
The Depth Of Field in any picture can often make or break the entire
photograph, but knowing how to manipulate the depth of field improves your
The term DOF refers to an optical one and depends solely on the lens being
used and the aperture selected. Altering the shutter speed, does not change
the Depth of Field.
Depth of Field really refers to the zone of “sharpness” (or being in
acceptable focus) from foreground items to background items in any
photograph. This is different from what the eye sees, as the eye can
instantly focus on near and far objects, giving the impression that
everything in your field of vision is in sharp focus. The camera electronics
The first concept to remember is “1/3rd forwards and 2/3rds back.” Again
this is a law of optical physics, but means that the DOF, from foreground to
background in your photograph can be measured, and from the focus point in
the photo, extends towards you by one third and extends away from the focus
point by two thirds.
For those of you with SLR’s, especially the older manual focus SLR’s, you
will even find a series of marks on the focusing ring of the lens to
indicate the Depth of Field that is possible with that lens.
Take a look at this week’s photograph, and look at the background. It has
been made into a soft blur. How did I change this DOF sharpness? Answer,
with a flick of the wrist!
You see, for each focal length of lens, the DOF possible is altered by the
Aperture. The rule here is simple – the higher the Aperture number, the
greater the DOF and the lower the Aperture number, the shorter the DOF. In
simple terms, for any given lens, you get greater front to back sharpness
with f22 and you get very short front to back sharpness at f4.
For example, using a 24 mm focal length lens focused on an object 2 meters
away – if you select f22, the DOF runs from just over 0.5 meter to 5 meters
(4.5 meters total), but if you select f11 it only runs from 1 m to 4 m (3 m
total) and if you choose f5.6 the Depth of Field is only from 1.5 m to 3 m
(1.5 m total).
On the other hand, using a longer 135 mm focal length lens focused at the
same point 2 meters away, you get the following Depths of Field – at f22 it
runs from 1.9 m to 2.2 m (0.3 m) and at f5.6 it is 1.95 m to 2.1 m (a total
of 0.15 m).
Analysis of all these initially confusing, numbers gives you now complete
mastery of DOF in any of your photographs. Simply put another way – the
higher the Aperture number, the greater the DOF; the smaller the Aperture
number the smaller the DOF; plus the longer the lens, the shorter the DOF,
the shorter the lens, the longer the DOF (just remember the ‘opposites’ –
the longer gives shorter).
Now to apply this formula – when shooting a landscape for example, where you
want great detail from the foreground, right the way through to the
mountains five kilometers away, then use a short lens (24 mm is ideal) set
at f22 and focused on a point about 2 km away.
On the other hand, when shooting a portrait where you only want to have the
eyes and mouth in sharp focus you would use a longer lens (and here the 135
is ideal) and a smaller Aperture number of around f5.6 to f4 and focus
directly on the eyes to give that ultra short Depth of Field required.
These optical laws hold good for all cameras, be they film or digital.
Master DOF this weekend.
Trials and Tribulations
What is professional photography really like? Is everyone a new
Richard Avedon with a retinue of assistants and conferring with
art directors? Or do you imagine it is all pressures, deadlines
In actual fact, it is all of the above and more, as much depends
on what branch of professional photography you want to be in.
There are very few “generalists” in pro photography these days,
though all professionals have to be able to be flexible.
One of the most difficult branches is food photography. This is
so specialized that there are people called food stylists who
make the food look appetizing and even place the food on the
Dedicated food photographers have a kitchen in their studios so
that the food stylist can do their job of making great looking
food, which in most instances is not edible. With dry ice being
used to simulate steam, oil colors to give meat that nice pink
color and shaving cream instead of real cream. There is
legislation in some countries to stop these practices, but where
are the inspectors?
If you are looking at photographs in a menu and everything is
green, that is because the photographer shot under neon lights.
And look at the wine photos – the reds come out looking black,
but you have to know how to get over that problem. Food
photography is filled with tricks and it can take a day to get
the definitive shot. I once took a day and a half to shoot a leg
of lamb, and that didn’t include catching and killing!
Photographing six ice cream cones sitting in a row was another
nightmare with melting ice cream everywhere.
Many photographers live by shooting brochures. The job comes
from an art director who gives the photographer sketches of what
they want and how it should look. Unfortunately, sometimes it is
impossible to reproduce art work as images.
One job I did took one week of constant shooting with the slides
processed every night. This was for a Japanese company which was
going to build a five star hotel on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
This was more like a book than a brochure, and the catch was
that the hotel was not yet built, it was a vacant lot.
First item was to place the architect’s model of the proposed
hotel on the vacant lot. To do this we had to hire a helicopter
and shoot the vacant lot from a known height and the sun’s
direction. Next was the photograph of the architect’s model in
the studio and scaling it so that it fitted in with all the
other hotels surrounding the vacant lot. The lighting had to
mimic the sun’s lighting with the direction as seen from the
helicopter. My calculations as to the angle of the sun and
height of the model were spot on, and I was rather pleased with
myself over that one.
The next day’s shooting called for the models sipping champagne
on the terrace in the late afternoon. This would have been very
easy if it hadn’t been raining! Fortunately I had a couple of
tungsten stage lights which makes everything look as having an
orange tinge and simulate the afternoon’s rays.
Why didn’t we just wait till the next day, which could be better
weather? Simply because the “talent” (the fancy name for models)
had been hired for one day only and there were penalty clauses
if we couldn’t complete that shoot within that day.
We managed to complete the shoot on time and the book was
printed and bound and sent to the Japanese company’s agents in
Australia. They however, were unable to raise enough interest in
the project and did not pay.
Fortunately, the art director had previous dealings with the
company and had taken out insurance to cover production debts,
so we did receive our money, but it was such a shame as the book
was a work of art.
Of course, pro photographers look ahead to when they will
retire. Placing images in a photo library was the usual
practice, but with now everything an electronic image it is too
hard to track down your own photos.
But No! I don’t do weddings.
Bringing a 12 year old up to speed
The eyes have it - remember the Rule
My 12 year old daughter had expressed an interest in
photography. Her only prior forays into the realms of Daguerre
were taking ‘selfies’ with her phone camera. So when she said
she was interested in doing more I encouraged her.
We found an old camera at home, which had been abandoned a
Samsung ST70, a compact with a mini-zoom and several modes
We spent one afternoon with her trying to take shots that were
pleasing to her, and the first basic mistakes soon became
obvious. Composition and softness of the final image were what
we had to get over first.
All good photographs follow the rules of good composition. The
best known one of these is the Rule of Thirds, which by
following it, made sure she improved her final photographs. Mind
you, this rule does expect that you have moved close enough to
your subject, to fill the frame! Tiny people against vast
expanses of background cannot be saved by any rule, other than
the one that goes “Walk several meters closer!” Teaching her to
walk closer, or even by simply using the zoom finally got the
For those of you who are not aware of the Rule of Thirds, here
it is. Position the subject of the photo (that’s the hero) at
the intersection of one third from the top or bottom of the
viewfinder and one third in from the right or left side of the
By just placing your subject off-center immediately drags your
shot out of the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats called this
the “Rule of Thirds”, but even just try putting the subjects
off-center. While still on the Rule of Thirds, don’t have the
horizon slap bang in the center of the picture either. Put it
one third from the top or one third from the bottom. As a rough
rule of thumb, if the sky is interesting put more of it in the
picture, but if it is featureless blue or grey include less of
it. Simple! If you also start looking critically at movies, you
will see the Rule of Thirds being used with close ups.
The other problem with the ‘softness’ we found by using the
internal zoom when looking at the shot on the LCD screen on the
back of the camera. If it did not hold its sharpness to X 4
magnification, then it was deemed ‘soft’. There were several
reasons, despite the image stabilization features in the camera.
One was the photographer (the daughter) waving the index finger
in the air to attract the attention of the subject. All of the
image was soft caused by camera movement. Another reason for
overall softness was the photographer not waiting till the
camera indicated that the AutoFocus was set before depressing
the shutter button. The other was the background sharp and the
subject soft, where the focusing was done on the background
resulting in a soft foreground.
From that simple beginning, we moved to post production editing,
with simple cropping, getting rid of non-important items from
the final photo, by literally slicing them away. These are items
which do not add anything to the photograph you have in your
mind’s eye. This can be extraneous details, such as a dog
relieving himself against a tree, which never does anything for
landscapes. Or it may be that the hero is too small – because
she didn’t walk several meters closer (or use the zoom)!
You can do all this with post-production ‘edit suites’ or even a
good Photoshop style program, with electronic crop lines. Call
up your print on the computer screen and with the cropping tools
you can move them around until you feel you have the correct
(most pleasing) crop. However, always work on a copy, so you
have the original safely tucked away in your photo folders. With
judicious cropping you can also move the hero inside the frame
to get closer to the rule of thirds.
So the first lesson was to remember to fill the frame to give
your photos more impact. Remember to position the subject at the
intersection of thirds, and learn how to crop for dramatic
effect. That will improve her shots immeasurably.
Lartigue – the man who shot what pleased him!
Photo by Jacques-Henri Lartigue.
Studying famous photographers from the past can help you understand the
art of photography, even in this electronic age.
Jacques-Henri Lartigue was the first photographer to show that equipment
comes second to imagination. He was a great individualist taking
photographs of “…everything which pleases me, everything I am keen on,
which delights or amazes me. The rest I let pass.” Famous lensman
Richard Avedon called Lartigue “The most deceptively simple and
penetrating photographer in the history of that art.” I can only agree.
Lartigue was born into an upper middle class family in Courbevoie, near
Paris. He was a child prodigy, who began to photograph in 1901 at age
seven when he received his first camera from his father, who was also an
amateur photographer. This camera was no auto everything point and
shoot, but a large 13 x 18 cm box on a wooden tripod. He is reported as
having said, “Now I will be able to make portraits of everything,
everything. I know very well that many, many things are going to ask me
to have their pictures taken, and I will take them all!” And he did,
keeping a diary illustrated with sketches, in which he recorded the
details of each shot. Just the same as I encourage you all to do today.
The amazing aspect of J-H’s photography was that he was able to show
movement in his images. Remember that no one was there to teach this
young boy, and the cameras, lenses and films were not fast enough to
allow him the luxury of fast shutter speeds, yet he could find that
split instant in time to stop the action. He would capture the subject,
mid-frame, as if posed in mid air waiting for the shutter to click.
Truly remarkable stuff for a young boy. And he was young. J-H was born
in 1894 and has been resident in the Great Darkroom in the Sky since
1986, yet his influence keeps on.
Fortunately for us, he took plenty of photographs, but the enormity of
his collection was not discovered till 1963, by which stage he had over
200,000 photographs catalogued in albums! On his 90th birthday he was
still snapping away and had a major exhibition in London. He also
donated his photograph collection to the French nation. In addition to
his black and white photography, Lartigue made several short films in
1913 and 1914.
What J-H Lartigue gave us, however, in addition to all those photographs
was twofold. The first is called ‘Anticipation’. As a photographer
wanting to record action subjects, you have to anticipate where the
action is, and get yourself ready to record the height of the action. Be
that tennis, soccer or golf, the great action shots are at the zenith.
It is a lot easier now, because these days even compact cameras have
shutter speeds faster than poor old J-H’s first camera, and the top of
the line SLR’s have shutter speeds as fast as 1/4000th of a second
combined with motor drives exposing multiple frames per second. This
makes action photography today much easier than at the turn of the
century. However, there is still the need for “anticipation”, Lartigue’s
The second gift from Lartigue is his diary. He recorded all the
pertinent details so that he could reproduce the same concepts later.
Photography is always a learning process, and the quickest way to learn
is to have records so that you can see what went wrong, or how you got
So let’s have a crack at some “action pix” this week. Take a motorcycle
– it leans into the corner and you can see that it was in motion. Or
even better, riding through a puddle, with the spray coming up from the
wheels. People jumping convey movement too, or skipping rope, water
skiing, running, swimming or diving, like Lartigue’s shot of the tennis
player, or other physical activities. Anticipate the action and get that
I am not saying it is easy, but it is well worth the practice. You can
set the camera on Auto – but anticipate for a great shot.