depth of field

All posts tagged depth of field


We’ve finally made it to the end of our 5-part series on exposure modes. We finish with the king of all creativity, Manual Mode. This is the mode that lets your knowledge of photography and creativity shine through. Manual Mode is the one where you basically tell the camera to “shut-up” and let you do the driving.

Are you in a dark room where the camera is telling you it’s too dark to make  a proper exposure? No problem, Manual Mode will let you take that photo. Do you want to take a photo with a very deep depth of field and also freeze the action, but don’t have enough light? Switch to Manual Mode, and give it a shot, you’re not paying for film!

Ok ok, so Manual Mode is not a magical cure for exposure problems, but it does allow you to go out of your camera’s, and possibly your, comfort zone to take some photos that the camera might not allow you to take while in one of the other exposure modes.

Let’s review a bit…we’ve already learned about the other 3 exposure modes..

Programmed Auto Mode (P-Mode) your camera does all the thinking. Aperture and shutter speed are set for you automatically.

Aperture Mode (A-Mode) you set the aperture and the camera determines the shutter speed for you.

Shutter Mode (S-Mode) does just the opposite, you set the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture value.

By now I’m sure you have guessed that in Manual Mode (M-Mode) you’re flying solo. You’re responsible for  setting both the aperture and the shutter speed yourself. That’s a big responsibility! Are you ready for it? Can you handle it? I think you can.

Even if you don’t think you’re quite ready, I implore you to try Manual Mode. Nothing will teach you about exposure settings and the relationship between aperture value and shutter speed faster than being out there on your own making your own exposure settings.

Plus, if you make a mistake, you might it’s a part of life, because you’re shooting digital it costs you nothing to try, and it’ll be our little secret if it doesn’t turn out quite right the first time. If you’re shooting film however, you may want to borrow your friend’s digital camera to try it out. You’ll most likely be going through a lot of frames, plus the digital camera allows you to get instant feedback, instead of having to wait for the film to be developed to see what worked and what didn’t.

The toughest thing to shooting in Manual Mode is picking a starting point. When choosing your aperture and shutter speed where do you begin? It can be very overwhelming. Sometimes when shooting in Manual Mode professional photographers will use a light meter. A light meter is a hand-held device that measures the light in the scene around you and gives you values for what your aperture and shutter speed should be.

Now wait a minute…that sounds just like what your camera does when it is in P-Mode. Well you’re right, your camera has a built-in light meter which is how it determines the proper exposure values for the scene you are shooting. So what do you do when you’re new to Manual Mode and your light meter is in the shop? Put your camera in P-Mode and press the shutter down half-way.

This is going to give you an exposure reading. In P-Mode the camera will use it’s built-in light meter to “read” or “meter” the scene and tell you the aperture and shutter values that it comes up with. So now armed with this new information we can switch back to Manual Mode and plug in those values we just got from the camera’s built-in light meter. You now have an excellent starting point for setting up your shot in Manual Mode.

You know these values are going to give you a relatively decent exposure to begin with, so now you can start getting creative by varying either the aperture value or shutter speed to achieve your desired results. Want a shallower depth-of-field? Go ahead and dial in a larger aperture value, just keep in mind that you’ll need to adjust your shutter speed to keep your exposure well balanced.

A good rule-of-thumb to remember is that for every full stop of aperture value you increase or decrease you should also change your shutter speed by a full stop to maintain the same Exposure Value (EV). We learned about this a while back when we discussed reciprocity.

So for example, if our light meter (built-in or hand-held) chooses an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/125 and we want a shallower depth-of-field. We can change our aperture value to f/4. That is a change of 2 full stops. So in order to keep the same Exposure Value (EV) we will need to raise our shutter speed by 2 full stops bringing us to a shutter speed of f/500.

This is because when we make our aperture value larger by a full stop we are letting in double the light. Since we changed our aperture from f/8 to f/4, 2 full stops, we are now letting in 4 times the light at f/4 than we did at f/8. So to compensate we use a faster shutter speed by 2 stops from 1/125 to 1/500. This causes 1/4 of the light to be let in at 1/500 than we had at 1/125 which cancels out the 4 times more light coming in from our aperture value.

How do I know that is 2 full stops you ask? Well I have included a chart at the end of this article that shows the full stop values for both aperture and shutter speed. Some high-end cameras will let you change your aperture or shutter speed in 1/2 or 1/3 stops as well, but all cameras will let you dial in full stop values.

Manual Mode also comes in very handy when shooting with flash, especially external flash. A full discussion on shooting with external flash is a topic for another blog post, but we’ll touch on it briefly. When shooting with an external flash the cameras light meter may not take this into account. Therefore it might choose a very slow shutter speed automatically for you because it is metering the available light in the scene. The light meter may not know that an external flash will be used. This is the perfect time for Manual Mode.

By shooting the scene in Manual Mode you are able to tell the camera that you would like to use a faster shutter speed. We know this still will result in a good exposure because the flash is going to provide quite a bit of light to our scene. Shooting in Manual Mode let’s you choose the shutter speed and also the aperture value that will work for your flash lit scene.

There are some people who are perfectly content taking all of their photos in P-Mode and letting the camera do all their thinking. Most of the time this yields decent photos. However, you cannot truly begin to explore the creative possibilities of photography or take your photos to the next level until you turn that dial and try shooting in one of the other 3 modes.

Maybe you feel Manual Mode is a bit too much for you to try right now, but Aperture Priority Mode or Shutter Priority Mode are just begging for you to give them a shot. They let you start taking control of the exposure in your photos without having to fly solo. And as with most things, there is no better way to fully understand your cameras exposure modes than to get out there and shoot as much as you can!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this multi-part series about exposure modes, even if the end was a long time coming. Feel free to ask questions, leave comments, and share your creative photos. Until next time.

Exposure Value Chart

Chart of full stop values and Exposure Values (EV), Courtesy of thecrosseyedbear on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/thecrosseyedbear/2124175721/

I’d like to continue our series on exposure modes. I know it’s been a while, I was just waiting for your comments and photos from the last post. It’s ok, I forgive you, I know you were just waiting until we got to the manual exposure modes so your creative juices can flow free 🙂 So we pick up where we left off with Aperture Priority Mode (A).

Aperture Priority Mode is the first semi-manual mode that we’ll discuss. This is the first opportunity for you to have some say on how your camera sets it’s exposure. So let’s get to it. What is Aperture Priority Mode?

Aperture Priority Mode allows you to manually set the aperture on the camera and then have the camera set the shutter speed automatically. As you recall from our previous discussions, aperture, controls the size of the opening of the shutter, or how much light is allowed to hit your film or digital sensor during the time the shutter is open. It is measured in f-stops. So why would you want to set your aperture manually when your camera does a perfectly good job of setting it in P-Mode?

Well, you may recall that aperture not only controls the amount light entering the shutter, but also has the side effect of controlling your….come on, you know this one, depth-of-field! This is an excellent reason to override the camera’s settings and set the aperture yourself. Say your taking a portrait of a beautiful model in a lovely woodland setting…what’s that? No models around you say? No problem, let’s say you’re taking a portrait of your cute as can be 10 year old in a lovely woodland setting. Huh? No woods near you….hmmm ok you’re taking a portrait of your cute as can be 10 year old in a very crowded city park.

This situation is even better, you have all these other people around, and even worse they are in the background of this lovely photo that you are trying to take! What are you to do? You turn to Aperture Priority Mode (A) of course. By manually taking over control of the aperture and using a very large aperture setting of say f/1.8 or f/2.8 you can take that beautiful photo of your cute 10 year old and have all those people in the background become just a blur, so the cuteness of your subject shines right through. Like in the example below:

Bird with shallow depth-of-field

Bird with shallow depth-of-field f/2.8

Ok so my cute 10 year old happens to be a bird 🙂 The point is that this photo has a very shallow depth-of-field and a lovely blurred background because of the large aperture setting of f/2.8 that was used. Working with the camera in Aperture Priority Mode (A) allowed me to manually set the aperture to f/2.8 and ensure that setting is what the camera would use when it took the photo.

Now those of you have been reading carefully, might think I’ve made a mistake about something. You might even think I’ve completely lost it, because it seems I’ve made that mistake in more than one place. You may be thinking, “dingus over here doesn’t know that 2.8 is a small number..he keeps saying that f/2.8 is a large aperture, how can that be??!!” Let me assure you it is no mistake, and it is something that does take getting used to.

You can think of it like fractions, 1/2 is bigger than 1/10 even though 10 is a larger number. It turns out that aperture numbers work the same way. The larger the f-stop value the smaller the aperture size. You can see an example of this below:

Aperture sizes and depth-of-field (Courtesy of http://howtotakepics.blogspot.com/2009/03/basics-terms-of-dslr-photography.html)

Aperture sizes and depth-of-field (Courtesy of http://howtotakepics.blogspot.com/2009/03/basics-terms-of-dslr-photography.html)

The diagram above clearly illustrates that the larger the aperture, the smaller the f-stop number. You can also see that the larger the aperture, the more shallow your depth-of-field becomes. This is why photographers love to get lenses with the largest aperture possible. Since a larger aperture lets more light in, this allows you to use a faster shutter-speed when shooting in low-light (remember reciprocity from our previous discussion). For those of you that own DSLR cameras, you may have noticed that the lens that is included has an aperture range of approx. f/3.5 – f/5.6. This means that the largest aperture that can be set is f/3.5 and as you “rack-out” your zoom the largest aperture your lens can achieve is only f/5.6. By the way, to rack-out, means to zoom your lens out to the maximum focal length.

This is why camera companies can afford to include these lenses in the kit with your camera. As you can see they do not have a particularly large aperture. Or as we say in the industry, they are not very “fast” lenses. A lens that has a larger aperture compared to another lens is referred to as “faster”. The faster a lens is, the larger the aperture setting that can be used, and also the more expensive it is! You will find that most people who shoot with the lens that came with their camera always feel they cannot get great photos in low-light situations. This is because as we’ve seen before the kit lens is usually not very fast, or the camera companies wouldn’t be able to afford to give it away. It is not uncommon for a photographer to buy a faster lens, either an f/2.8 or f/1.4 after shooting with the kit lens for a while.

We’ve learned before that when shooting portraits a large aperture is usually used to achieve a nice shallow depth-of-field. So what if we’re shooting landscapes? Well for that we want just the opposite, we want to use a very small aperture like f/16 or f/22 (remember small aperture, large f-stop). This will give us a very large depth-of-field or high degree of sharpness throughout the photo. This is exactly what we want for landscapes. Picture a beautiful mountain scene with water, hills, trees, in a photo like this we want to make sure that everything in the scene from the water in front to the mountains in the distance are nice and sharp. How do we do this? With a small aperture of course!  Take a look at the example below:

Reservoir, large depth-of-field, f/16

Reservoir, large depth-of-field, f/16

Wow, look at that, not only is everything in the photo nice and sharp because of the small aperture we used, but the content of the photo actually matches what I was describing, how unusual 🙂 By the way when we want to refer to an area in the photo which stretches on as far as the eye can see past the horizon, such as the one above, we refer to that point as infinity. So for a photo like this you would actually set your focus to infinity when taking the shot.

Now that you have a new creative tool under your belt, go out and start shooting! Don’t be afraid to experiment with your aperture settings. Try out what we talked about above, or mix it up a bit. Sometimes using an unconventional aperture setting can create some very interesting results. Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode (A) really opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities. I actually find that I shoot in Aperture Priority Mode about 90% of the time. And don’t forget that the camera still sets the shutter speed automatically, so the camera still ensures that you get a nice even exposure. That is until next time when we discuss Shutter Priority Mode (S).

Until then, please feel free to comment, ask questions, and absolutely send or post some results!

Ok, ok, so it doesn’t exactly spell MAPS, it spells PASM big difference 🙂 But what do all those letters mean anyway?

That dial on your camera with all of those letters P, A, S and M are actually different exposure modes that you can use on your camera. These particular settings control how much of the decision for the exposure you want to use is left up to the camera. In other words, do you prefer to choose your own exposure settings, or would you like the camera to make all the decisions for you. You use the different exposure modes P, A, S, and M to tell the camera just how much of it’s brain it should use when setting proper exposure for your photo. For those who don’t know, exposure describes the light that is hitting your film or camera sensor (in digital cameras), used to create your image. Specifically, exposure describes the amount (brightness) of light hitting your film or digital sensor, and for how long that light is recorded by the film or sensor.

This is actually quite a large topic to discuss so let me tell you a bit about what’s to come. The next 4 blog posts will be related to just this topic. Today’s post is an introduction and overview of all 4 of the exposure modes, and then in subsequent posts I will explain each one in detail. Back to the content…

There are 2 terms you should know about before we continue as they are going to come up a lot in this discussion, shutter and aperture.

The shutter – is a very small opening in your camera that sits just in front of the film or digital sensor. It can open and close like a window. Most of the time the shutter is closed and does not allow any light to reach your film or digital sensor. However when the shutter release button is pressed on the camera, to take a picture, the shutter opens and allows light to strike the film or digital sensor for a pre-determined length of time which creates a photograph. This length of time is known as your shutter speed, and is usually measured in seconds or parts of a second. It can range anywhere from 1/8000 of a second to 60 seconds depending on the type of camera you use.

Aperture – refers to the size of the opening in the lens of your camera. This determines the amount of light that will be allowed  through your shutter and ultimately reach the film or digital sensor. You can almost think of aperture in terms of a water pipe. The larger the pipe, the more water that will flow through it. The larger the aperture setting used, the more light that will flow through your lens and shutter hitting your film or sensor. Aperture sizes are usually referred to as “f-stops” and range from f/1.2 to f/22 depending on the lens used on your camera.

So if those letters don’t spell MAPS, or PASM or even PAMS, what do they stand for? Programmed Auto Mode (P), Aperture Priority Mode (A), Shutter Priority Mode (S), and Manual Mode (M). Let’s take a look at what each one does.

Programmed Auto Mode (P) – This is the full automatic exposure mode of the camera. Basically in this mode the camera makes all the decisions for you when it comes to exposure. The camera will automatically set the aperture and shutter speed for you in this mode. Not only that, it will decide which aperture and shutter speed will work best for the particular photo that you are shooting. This is the mode where most beginning and intermediate photographers live. It’s very easy to let the camera decide how your photo should be exposed. But not always the best choice as the camera is merely an electronic piece of equipment and lacks the creativity and artistic eye of a human being. One way to vastly improve your photos is to take a trip out of the P mode once in a while and make some of the exposure decisions yourself. I know it can be scary, but remember #4 from the last blog post, this is digital, it doesn’t cost us anything to play around and try new things. If it doesn’t turn out quite right you can always delete it before someone else sees, the camera won’t tattle on you, promise!

Now this is where the apprehension and panic will begin to set in for some of you. In fact, there may be a few of you out there who will come to this point and say “Scott, I’m perfectly happy living in P mode and letting the camera think for me” and actually not continue to read the rest of this post. First, everyone take a deep breath, count to 3, and RELAX. There is nothing to be worried about…even if P mode is your “happy place” to shoot photos, and I’m sure for some of you it is, I do request that you at least give me a chance and read through the rest of this post. It may just make you think twice about keeping that camera in P mode for the rest of it’s life. Do cameras even have lives? Well I suppose that’s a topic for another post, anyway moving forward…

Cactus with a shallow depth-of-field, large aperture

Cactus with a shallow depth-of-field, large aperture, 75mm, f/3.5, 1/500s, ISO 200

Aperture Priority Mode (A) – In aperture priority mode you set the aperture manually and the camera automatically calculates the optimal shutter speed for your photograph. This mode allows you to take some control over your exposure while still allowing the camera to make some decisions for you. Why would you want to do this you ask? Well we know from above that aperture controls the amount of light coming through your shutter, but what you may not know is that aperture also controls your Depth of Field or (DOF). Depth of Field refers to how much of your photo is in sharp focus. Take a look at this photo of the cactus. The cactus is perfectly sharp and in focus, but if you notice the flowers in the background they have a nice soft blur on them. This draws the viewers eye directly to the cactus which is the main subject of this photo. This shallow depth of field is controlled by your aperture. The larger the aperture the “more shallow” your depth of field will be. In other words the larger the aperture setting the smaller the area that will be in sharp focus in your photo. To achieve the results shown in the cactus photo, use a larger aperture. We’ll discuss aperture and depth of field a lot more in a future post.

Stuntman captured mid-fall, fast shutter speed

Stuntman captured mid-fall, fast shutter speed

Shutter Priority Mode (S) – This mode is the opposite of the A mode discussed above. In this mode you set the shutter speed manually, and the camera determines the optimal aperture setting. As we discussed before, the shutter controls the length of time that light will be allowed to strike your film or digital sensor. However, it also controls how “frozen” the subjects are in your photograph. For example, at a baseball game when a player is just about to slide into home plate and a photographer snaps the award winning shot perfectly freezing the moment when the players hand makes contact with the plate. Or when you take a photo of a beautiful waterfall and the water looks like beautiful creamy flows. The sense of movement in these photos are all controlled by the shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed, the more “frozen” and sharper, the action will be in your photo. Take a look at this photo of a stuntman captured in mid-fall. To freeze his motion a very fast shutter speed was used for this photo. We will discuss shutter speed more in depth in a future post.

Manual Mode (M) – For those who want the ultimate control over their exposure, this mode is for you! In this mode the camera does no thinking at all. Both aperture and shutter speed are set manually by the photographer, hence why the call it Manual Mode. This mode can seem a little daunting to use at first, but after you play around with it for a while you’ll get a very intuitive sense of which aperture and shutter speed to use for a particular situation. As they say necessity is the mother of invention, and when you don’t have the camera helping you out with exposure settings you pick up real fast what works and what doesn’t.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of exposure modes in this post, but I implore you to take a trip out of the P zone every once in a while. Please comment with your experiences and share some photos with us. Next time we’ll begin to look at the 4 exposure modes more in depth. Until then, go out and shoot some great photos, it’s the only way you’ll become a better photographer.

Dengrove Studios - Fireworks over building - f/11, 1/3s, ISO 1600

Dengrove Studios - Fireworks over building - f/11, 1/3s, ISO 1600

With the 4th of July upon us, I figured I would touch on a topic appropriate to the occasion. Who doesn’t love Fireworks? Well maybe there are some who don’t like the loud noise, but you have to admit they sure are beautiful and mesmerizing.

So mesmerizing in fact, that anywhere you see people watching fireworks you also see plenty of people photographing fireworks. Unfortunately, for various reasons most of those fireworks photos never come out the way people hoped they would. They may be too blurry, or too dark, or just not have the same sense of awe that they had when they were bursting above your head. So what can we do about it?

I present to you some excellent tips to make this 4th of July the one where you capture your best fireworks photos ever! Ok, maybe not the best ever, but certainly better than last year 🙂

The first tip I have is to TURN THE FLASH OFF! I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been at a night event of some sort (fireworks, a ball game) where people are taking photos and all you see is *FLASH* *FLASH* *FLASH*, come on, you guys who are guilty of this know who you are, don’t deny it. Maybe it’s because you didn’t realize you had the flash on, perhaps it’s because it’s easier just to leave the flash on, or maybe you never learned how to use all the buttons on that shiny new camera you bought? Don’t worry about it, whatever the reason I won’t tell on you, because I know after reading this you’re going to make sure to turn that flash off next time you’re photographing those beautiful bursts in the sky and you’ll be well on your way to making those photos better.

Now, some of you may be saying, “but Scott…I’m taking photos at night time, and the flash makes things brighter and light up, so shouldn’t I use it when taking pictures of fireworks, since they are shot at night time”? Allow me to explain… the effective distance of a standard pocket-sized digital camera’s flash is about 10-15 ft depending on your exposure settings (aperture and ISO). Basically what this means is that when you take a photo in the dark with your pocket-sized digital camera it will only light up objects and people that are 10-15ft away. Most fireworks shell bursts occur between 300 and 1200 ft up in the air. As you can see your camera flash, which can only reach a couple of yards at best won’t do anything for a burst of light in the sky (or at a pitcher throwing a ball while you’re sitting way up in the stands for that matter).

Once you’ve turned your camera flash off it is extremely important that you follow my next tip, or your fireworks photos are guaranteed to come out blurry if shooting with your camera in a full auto mode. You must find a way to steady your camera. The absolute best way to do this is to use a tripod. However, some of you may not have tripod’s available, so then what do you do? Leave the camera at home and don’t shoot the fireworks? Of course not! Find useful objects nearby that can help you. If you’re in a park for example, find a nice bench with a bit of an angle, or a trash can, or lamp post, that you can rest your camera on while you shoot. This will help to steady the camera and will undoubtedly sharpen those fireworks photos right up.

For those intermediate readers that have ventured beyond the “automatic” mode on your camera, I have some tips for you as well. For those that are happy with the camera making the decisions, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. When photographing fireworks you want to use a slow shutter speed. You may think that you want to use a fast shutter speed as fireworks seem to burst in an instant, but in reality it is the long trails of light that give fireworks their awe. These trails of light are around for a bit of time after the initial burst of the shell. This is why if you want to capture the full beauty of fireworks you must use a slow shutter speed, so that you can get all those gorgeous light trails in the photo as well. I recommend a shutter speed anywhere from 1/2 second to 4 seconds. You should experiment a little bit to find the shutter speed that works best for the types of fireworks they are shooting at your display. Incidentally, this is why it’s important to turn the flash off on your camera. When the flash is on it typically sets your shutter speed much higher than 1/2 second, usually a minimum of 1/30 – 1/60 of a second. This is much to fast to adequately capture the beautiful light trails of the fireworks.

Don’t forget your aperture while shooting fireworks. Ideally your aperture should be set anywhere from f/8 to f/16. Why do you want to use such a small aperture while shooting at night? Typically at night we would want use a large aperture to let more light into our camera for a better exposure, but now when shooting fireworks. Here’s why, the light from fireworks are actually quite bright, even though they only last a few seconds at most. In addition, as I mentioned before fireworks bursts can occur quite high in the sky, nearly at infinity distance. With that type of range you want to have the greatest depth of field possible. In other words, you want the greatest amount of focus you can get in the scene. Choosing a small aperture of f/8 to f/16 will allow you to have a very large depth of field. Combined with a tripod or other steadying technique I talked about those fireworks are guaranteed to be crystal clear and perfectly sharp.

Now I know there are some of you out there who would love to take better fireworks photos, and follow my advice, but feel it seems like a lot of work. Good photography often is, but there is a shortcut… most digital cameras today come with a “fireworks” mode. By setting the camera to “fireworks” mode the camera will automatically turn off the flash, set your aperture to a the right range, and the shutter to a slow speed all with the touch of a single button. You’ll still need to find a way to steady the camera though. For more information you should check your cameras user guide. You remember the user guide, it’s that thick book that came with your camera that you’re probably using to balancing your table leg 🙂 Well replace it with a stack of napkins and take it out and learn a bit about your camera.

I would like to wish everyone a great 4th of July, stay cool, stay safe, and have a hamburger for me. Most importantly though, go take some amazing photos of those fireworks tonight! Feel free to comment on this post, ask questions, and share some links to some of the photos you have taken.

Dengrove Studios - Multicolor Fireworks Bursts - f/8, 1/2s, ISO 100

Dengrove Studios - Multicolor Fireworks Bursts - f/8, 1/2s, ISO 100