Your The Camera’s Aperture Affects your Focus

Single Exposure using my focus technique

We’re focusing on focusing this month. How do I focus my photos is one of the most asked questions of me by other photographers. It’s a great question, and one that one would think would be pretty basic and simple. It’s usually the last skill that a beginning photographer considers when starting out but seems to be the toughest to master. I mean it seems that it would be pretty basic, what with the sophistication of the Auto Focus features in modern digital cameras, but once one takes a few photos and is let down by the Auto Focus Mode it’s easy to see why in many cases, especially landscape and portraiture, you will want to manually focus your photo.

There are several things that will affect the focus or clarity of our photos including a completely out of focus image, one where the focus is so far off that nothing is clear or in focus. That issue is obvious, of course, so we won’t discuss this in depth. We will assume that we are focusing but want to refine the clarity and focus of the shot. I’m going to try to proceed without citing mathematics or terms and theories such as Hyperfocal Distance, Circle of Confusion etc. The purpose of this article is to just understand the basics enough to understand how to overcome a common problem with focusing. Trust that this could become so lengthy that it would require another ten pages of the Mountain Times to cover it. Sometimes when someone is learning something new more information beyond what it takes to understand the concept causes confusion and discouragement. Once the basics are learned the understanding can be broadened in the future. I always tell people that if it requires mathematics to take photos I’d be a C-Minus photographer.

First let’s consider blurring caused by the camera moving or objects in the scene moving. This is not a focus issue but it can affect the clarity and areas of focus in the photo as you affect it. If movement is causing problems then your shutter speed is too slow. You’ll need to make sure that your shutter speed is sufficiently fast to freeze the movement. There are times where a slow shutter blur effect is desirable such as in creeks or waterfalls. This typically requires one to make an aperture adjustment to vary the shutter speed. Opened more to make it quicker and closed more to make it slower, but the depth of field will change with each aperture change.

So what’s this depth of field of which you speak you ask? The depth of field is how deep the area that will be in focus is from front to back. The wider your aperture the shallower or narrower your depth of field will be and then when you stop down, or close the aperture down, the depth of field becomes deeper. Remember that the larger the aperture opening the smaller the f/stop number and the smaller the aperture opening is the larger the f/stop number. Something to consider when you’re trying to maximize your focus is that the closer you are to the subject or foreground narrower your depth of field will be as well. If you’re having trouble getting everything in the scene within acceptable focus stand back a little. The same with portraiture. If you’re shooting with a wide aperture to blur the background intentionally you may have trouble getting the person’s whole face in focus. There’s not a lot worse in portrait photography than having the eyes in focus but the nose out of focus or vice-versa. Either stop down (close down the aperture) or stand back a little further or both. This works best with a zoom lens so you can recompose as you move away.

Hyperfocal Distance – I know. I said that I was going to try not to mention this but I think that curiosity will eventually lead a photographer to wonder. Simply and basically, the hyperfocal distance is the point where you will focus to allow everything from the foreground to the background to be in “acceptable focus”.

There’s a mystical mathematical formula to determine what that the hyperfocal distance is, but if you remember this advice you will get by like I have been for a long time without taking a calculator into the field with me. Here goes – I remember that I want to be in my lens’s sweet spot, which is the upper and lower limit of the aperture’s clearest settings. Each lens is different but the average lens is approximately f/8 to f/14. Compose your shot but try not to get too close to the foreground unless you don’t mind the background to be soft – Remember the closer to your foreground the less likely the object in the background will be in focus – And then focus to infinity on your lens focus ring and then focus back until the foreground just comes into focus. Then you will usually have the depth of field maximised and pushed out as far as possible while still maintaining a focused foreground. It’s easy to understand once you try it.

That may have been a long road to a short conclusion but just a basic understanding of how your aperture and depth of field affects focus allows you to take control of exactly how you will focus your photo. I hope that I made that as clear as possible.

Shallow Depth of Field Photo
Shallow Depth of Field Photo
Focus Stacked Photo
Focus Stacked Photo

What Lens Should I Use?

Mt Hood at 20mm lens

What Lens Should I Use? – The most asked question of me is typically advice in what camera that one should get. I have addressed this in a previous blog post. The second most asked question may be what lens to choose.

In SLR (single lens reflex) photography there are basically two types of lenses that one can choose. Fixed focal length (prime lenses) and zoom lenses. It was common back in the old days when I first started for photographers to have a whole set of fixed focal length lenses. A full set typically consisted is a 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm macro. Beyond those focal lengths one bought large telephoto lenses such as a 200mm or a 300mm. We had zooms back then but they were of poor quality. After the 1970’s zoom lenses became much better and eventually became the choice of most photographers, especially hobbyists. Today the quality of a zoom lens is fantastic.

Mt Hood at 20mm
Mt Hood at 20mm lens

A zoom lens allows you to magnify the scene that you’re photographing, enlarging an area to give a closer view. It will also help in aiding your composition. You can start wide and zoom in until you have removed all that you don’t want in the shot creating a much more solid and stronger composition. A zoom lens is very handy as it allows you to have one lens instead of a set. Zooms are available that will allow a range from 28mm-300mm in one lens.

The most valuable tool in my bag is the right lens for the right purpose. In landscape photography the most common lens used is a wide angle lens. A focal length range from 24-70mm on a 35mm camera or a full frame digital camera, or 18-55mm on a cropped sensor camera, is the most effective and most used range for landscape work. Although it’s the most commonly used range it’s certainly not the only one that a landscape photographer can use. I love to use my 70-200mm zoom to get some details of the scene of more abstract interpretations of the

Mt Hood at 50mm
Mt Hood at 50mm lens

scene as well as my 14mm and 20mm ultra wide angle lenses, both being “fast” prime lenses.

The next consideration in choosing a lens is how fast the lens is. Fast meaning how wide that you’re able to open your aperture. The most common maximum aperture setting is f/3.5, but better lenses typically will allow f/2.8 to f/1.8. This means that you can use a faster shutter with more light coming through the lens at the maximum aperture setting. The wider the opening the more light that’s able to make it inside the camera. Another consequence of the wider maximum aperture opening is a narrowing or decrease in the depth of field which will allow one to separate the subject from the background by keeping the subject sharp while blurring the background. The better lenses will usually have a wider maximum aperture but with the quality and extra feature comes an increase in cost.

I have been talking a lot about landscape photography but the same principles apply in all forms including portraiture, for instance. A typical prime focal length for portraiture is 85-105mm. When you own a zoom lens, you have that range. A note concerning portraiture use a wider aperture to narrow the DOF to separate your subject from the background by blurring the background as described above.

Mt Hood at 85mm
Mt Hood at 85mm lens

For those who don’t own a camera with removable lenses, all of this applies to your camera as well. A typical prosumer camera will have a built in zoom as well as the ability to switch to manual and set your aperture. Learn to manually adjust your camera and use the aperture to control the DOF to allow you to enhance the look and quality of your photos.

It’s easy to complicate photography in one’s mind with the perception of mathematical complication. I leave the math to the engineers and learn simple practical application. Experiment, practice, make mistakes, experiment more and in time it will all come together into an instinctual understanding. In this day and age of digital photography film is cheap. Take a lot of pictures.

Photographing Lightning

Lightning at Simnasho Oregon

Photographing Lightning – With Spring and early Summer comes transitional weather that will cause some amazing photography opportunities. Everything from blue skies with majestic thunderheads, rainbows and lightning. It is photographing lightning that I’m asked about how to capture the most. 

A lightning bolt typically lasts about 10 to 50 microseconds (0.000050 sec). That’s a lot faster than your ability to react to it so we will need to discuss methods and conditions that must be understood prior to going out into the field to get that awesome photo of a bolt of lightning, but I must preface the information with a warning about safety.

Standing in the rain with a lightning rod in your hand

Of course when we’re trying to get our lighting photo we’re venturing out into a storm. Be prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately, of course, but also remember that you are standing out in the storm with a tripod and a camera. One can’t help but be reminded of the fellows who are struck by lightning on the 18th hole as they celebrate a great putt with a golf club in their hand.

When the storm is surrounding you, go inside. Do not stand in the middle of a thundering tempest and think that you’ll come away with something more than a quick trip to the hospital, if you’re lucky, to treat you for the effects of a 100 million volt electrical shock. Your best photos of lighting will be when the storm is in the distance.

Equipment

You will want to use a camera that you are able to control manually. Many cameras will allow you to switch to Manual Mode to allow you to control your shutter speed, the duration of the exposure. You will also want to use a tripod to establish a platform for you to put your camera on. It’s easier than trying to hold your camera while you’re working and a necessity for a longer exposure photograph.

Additional gear which will improve your chances of success are a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter (ND filter). And another piece of gear that can be handy is a Lightning Trigger. I will cover the use of both of these pieces in the text of this article.

Daytime or Nighttime

When photographing lighting there are two basic conditions that will require different methods to be successful. Daytime with a lot of light and darkness with little or no light.

It’s easier to capture a lightning strike during the night than during the day. At night time it’s easy to set your camera to make a long exposure, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. Because the light is dim or even completely dark your photo won’t be exposed unless there’s a lightning strike during your exposure. I set my camera up on the tripod and point it in the direction of the storm, set my exposure to 30 seconds and click the shutter and wait for a lightning strike while hoping that it will happen in the direction that I have the camera pointed. If, once you’ve captured some lightning, your photo is too bright make your exposure a little shorter or stop down your aperture (smaller hole, bigger number) and try again. The lightning becomes it’s own flash bulb.

Daytime is a bit more challenging. It’s much more difficult to set your camera up to make a long exposure when there’s so much light that you will need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It blocks light allowing you to extend (make longer) your shutter speed which will allow you to photograph the scene using the same method as at night. Make your exposure as long as possible, click the shutter cross your fingers and wait.

High Tech Toys

Of course there’s always the easy way. Technology is your friend when it come to photographing lighting. Many people are just hobbyists and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a toy that they would rarely use, but there is that option.

A lightning trigger is the solution. A lightning trigger can react to the flash of the lightning and click the shutter in time to capture an image. The mechanism mounts to the hot shoe flash connection on top of your camera.

Although handy a lightning trigger is certainly not required to capture lighting.

Have Fun – Be Safe

The most important part of capturing lightning in a photograph for me is the experience. I love being outside and watching sever weather. To be able to make a beautiful and dramatic photo is a bonus.

I can’t stress enough the safety aspect of doing this. Please be safe and don’t put yourself in any dangerous situation to try to make any kind of photograph. There will always be more opportunities in the future.

Give these methods a try. Good luck and as always, have fun with your photography.

Mount Hood Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon

 

Mount Hood Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon

An Introduction to Lightroom

An Introduction to Lightroom

Hi folks.

I have been asked by a lot of people to create a video introduction to Lightroom. I stayed up late last night and put together an informal video explaining Lightroom’s basics.

This should get you started. I hope that this helps to get you motivated to start shooting raw and processing your own photos instead of relying on your camera’s automatic settings.

I promise that the videos will improve in time. 😉