How to achieve better “out of focus” shots
This sounds like an odd proposition considering how cameras and post production technology have evolved to capture whatever is in front of you with perfect clarity and sharpness. But knowing how to master this technique is something that many skilled photographers like to add to their arsenal.
Be warned: it does take work to master.
Some of you may think you’re already masters of this style, but terrible pictures don’t count; you can’t make art out of those. I’m actually talking about achieving intentional out of focus shots, where you limit the depth of field to make the background softer, hazy almost, with the desired subject matter becoming the contrasting, sharp focus point.
Using this method, you can impart incredible meaning on to the image your about to capture. Take a look at the image below for example. The focal point becomes a stray piece of wheat among a field of barely visible strands instead of the human figure now obscured in the foreground.
|Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/46629025@N02/ Victor BS|
Other photographers like to exaggerate the quality of the “bokeh” as it’s technically called, which basically refers to the quality of the out of focus or “blurry” part of the image, capturing quite ambiguous and ethereal imagery, like the next example:
|Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/damiel/ Geir Halvorsen|
In this scene the various points of light have become orb-like, drifting in clusters across a blurred vanishing point.
Now, to achieve these affects, it’s all in the lens. And different optical designs will achieve better quality out of focus shots.
Mostly, it’s all about controlling the f-stop of the lens; a wide aperture will give a shallow range of focus, whereas a small aperture will give you a lot of depth, with almost everything in focus.
So, if you want to have a go yourselves, here are a few tips:
F-stop is important, but it’s not a magic trigger
This is how you control the focus from any given subject’s distance, but you won’t dramatically change a sharp, in-focus background to a backdrop pertaining to dream-like qualities.
The closer you are the better
If you really want to make the background as blurred and out of focus as possible, you’ll have to get as close as you possibly can to your main subject. Even some wide angle lenses have a really shallow depth of field, so getting closer can have a big impact.
Relative subject distance matters, too
If your subject is a lot closer to you than the background, then you’ll already have a fair amount of control over the depth of field. But if what you’re focusing on is quite far away, and the background only a little further beyond that, you may find that a quick change of angle can help to put your desired subject in the foreground, and the rest, blurred.
For the “bokeh” technique, you make the orbs of light bigger by increasing the distance between your in focus subject and the out of focus light source.
If you’re trying to take a picture of something smaller than you, say a family pet at your feet, the background is near enough the same distance away as the animal. But if you crouch down, and attempt to line your eye-level with the subject, the background is now much further away. This technique was much easier to achieve with the old Rolleiflex film cameras because you could be old the apparatus lower down and view your subject matter from above. Take a look at this amazing depth of field captured by a Rolleiflex:
|Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7552532@N07/ Atomic Hot Links|
Choose a blander background
As a photographer, we generally try to extract the beauty in all that we see, but when placing significance on this particular technique, choosing a large featureless background is helpful because it’s harder to put a detailed background out of focus.
If you have a Point-and-shoot, invest in a DSLR – a whole new range of photography techniques will be open up to you. Your camera will be interchangeable with different lenses. And the science behind lenses is this: the larger the film or sensor, the less depth of field you’ll have. Points –and –shoots have very short focal ranges, which is why Point-and-shoots are remarkably popular because everything is almost always in focus.
Use your tilt-and-shift-lens incorrectly
The tilt aspect plays the significant role here. Tilting the lens to increase the depth of field has pretty much been used since the birth of photography, but what about using it the other way; decreasing the depth of field will also result in a cool photo.
When all else fails, I just use Photoshop. Specifically, the blur function. But be cautious: the effect you’re creating is artificial, and can often result in quite an unrealistic final piece.
About James Newhouse
James is only an amateur photographer, taking pictures purely for fun. His full time job is online marketing.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.