Monday, April 21, 2008

Review: Depth of field and ways of conveying depth

A photograph is two-dimensional, with width and height but no depth. Oftentimes, when we look at our pictures, they look so disappointingly different from what we saw with our eyes. The primary reason for this is that we have failed to adequately and deliberately play up the illusion of depth in our pictures.

There are several other ways to create and more adequately convey the illusion of depth in your pictures. These are (1) converging lines; (2) selective or differential focusing; (3) sidelighting or backlighting; (4) atmospheric haze; (5) contrast of same-sized objects; (6) natural frames; (7) overlapping objects or forms; (8) diminishing detail; and (9) the difference in the intensity of tones or colors.

Simply put, “depth of field” is the distance between the nearest and farthest point from the camera that appears in focus (meaning sharp and clear). In practical terms, the depth of field extends, in terms of area, about 1/3 in front of the subject and about 2/3 behind the subject. Any object or portions of the subject below this 1/3 area and beyond this 2/3 area will appear blurred or out of focus.

A “wide depth of field” means that everything is sharp and in focus from the foreground up to the background. You need a wide depth of field in the following situations: (1) to convey the mood and atmosphere of your subject; (2) for landscapes, sceneries and interiors; (3) for group shots; (4) when focusing is difficult; and (5) to give maximum visual information about your subject by bringing out the details. Below are some examples of pictures with a wide depth of field.

On the other hand, a “shallow depth of field” means that the area of sharpness or clarity is very limited, and the background (and/or the near foreground) is blurred or out of focus. You need a shallow depth of field in the following situations: (1) for portraits, so that your subject will “pop out” of the background; (2) to hide a cluttered background; (3) to avoid distractions or obstructions in the background or foreground; (4) to convey depth; and (5) to isolate certain details of the subject.

The pictures in this post have great depth of field. Notice in the first picture above that the image is clear from the bottom portion (where you can see two men walking past each other), to the middle ground (where you see various houses and structures), up to the deep background (where you can see the various skyscrapers dotting the Ortigas Complex in Pasig City).

Please review our lessons "Photojournalism (22): Conveying depth" and "Photojournalism (37): Depth of field."

No comments: