The Digital Photo Guy

Back to Basics – Depth of Field & Focus

by on Nov.18, 2016, under Articles, Monday Morning Tips, Photos

Keep It In Focus

There are many different levels and interests in photography but, sometimes, I’m a bit surprised by what passes for “good” photography, especially when photos are out of focus (OOF) and basics of depth of field (DoF) are overlooked.

Here are some photos that illustrate good focus vs soft focus. The first is the minimum of what I consider “in focus.” Both models are ever so slightly OOF. The actual focus point is about where the shoulder strap attaches to the dress of the brunette on the right. I know this because at 100% I can make out details on her gold chain in that area. It may be difficult to see in small web images so the next two photos are 100% crops.

focus-101 focus-102 focus-103

The front of Vikki’s (left model) pompadour is OOF and her eyes are OOF. Eyes MUST be in focus. The eyes of the model on the right (camera left,) are barely in focus while the front of her bumper bangs are focused. The photo was made with my 5D MkII using a Canon 50/1.4 set to f/3.5 at a distance of ~5 feet. That gave me about 4 inches acceptable DoF. Since the image is focused on the brunette’s shoulder strap, we split ~4 inches (2″ in front and 2″ behind) and both models’ eyes are just beyond the 2″ back margin. The difference is more noticeable if you compare the models’ lips and teeth. The reason I selected f/3.5 and such a narrow DoF is simple, I screwed up. When you’re “running & gunning,” you’re prone to making mistakes, slow down, take a deep breath and make better photos.

All this may sound nit-picky but, if you’re into photography, it’s important to check focus before uploading photos to a public forum. Everyone screws up from time to time but it’s not necessary to show those to the world. More importantly, if you print OOF images, the softness will quickly become evident as the image is enlarged.

These last three show what good focus looks like. The eyes are clear, crisp and detailed. You can almost count the eyelashes. If your monitor is sharp enough, you should be able to see the fine “peach fuzz” around their mouths and skin pores will be quite evident. All these photos were made with a Canon 5D MkII and Canon 24-104/4L IS USM, my “go to” rig. All three photos were at 4-6 feet. Chandra (1st) and Jackie (2nd) were at f/4.5, 84mm with about 3.25″ DoF. Arya (3rd) was at f/4.5, 58mm resulting in ~7″ DoF.

focus-104 focus-105 focus-106

A good online resource for learning and understanding DoF is www.dofmaster.com. If you’re confused by depth of field, search my site for “depth of field” for a dozen or more articles. Keep in mind that DoF is controlled by aperture,  focal length and distance to subject.

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