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- p52 : a play on light
- p52.2 : framed
- month 01 : framing
- month 02 : balance
- month 03 : lines
- month 04 : lens choice
- month 05 : aspect ratios and camera position
- month 06 : patterns & contrast
- month 07 : tonality
- month 09 : portraiture
- month 08 : color theory
- month 10 : complexity
- month 11 : classic rules of composition
- month 12 : creative techniques
- photographer’s choice
- p52.3 : perspectives
52.2 month 10 : creative complexity
Depth of Field, Filling the Frame, Subject Separation, Layering within the Frame
Depth of field is a fundamental technical concept in photography. It refers to the amount of the field of view that is in sharp focus, and results from three factors: the lens aperture, the length of the lens, and the distance from camera to subject. In a photo with a very shallow depth of field, only a few inches—or even less—may be in focus. The blurred background that results is often considered ideal for portrait or macro photography, ensuring that the viewer’s eye is not distracted from the subject. For landscape photography, more depth of field is generally desired, so that all elements of the photo will be in focus. In this week’s post, we go beyond the basic understanding of depth of field that is typically gained in an introductory photography course and use depth of field as a creative compositional element. A shallower depth of field can bring a sense of dimension to what would otherwise be a “flat” photo, strengthening the separation of foreground and background. Alternatively, shallow depth of field can be used to bring focus to an unexpected element of the composition. Conversely, the photographer may choose a wider depth of field combined with carefully placed background elements to create a sense of movement through the photo. Wide depth of field is also frequently used in environmental portraiture, where background elements are important to the context of the portrait.
While the setting is often important in a photograph, sometimes our artistic intention is to draw full attention to our subject. Filling the frame edge to edge by moving closer, zooming in, or cropping the image in post-processing eliminates background distractions and forces the viewer to examine the subject in close detail. The technique can be used to great effect with a single subject occupying the entire frame, but we might also fill the composition with multiple elements, ensuring that there is a minimum of unused space within the borders. In a portrait, filling the frame with the subject—particularly close-ups of the face—can capture personality or mood that would get lost at more of a distance. Non-human subjects also benefit from this close inspection of all or part of the object, and filling the frame is often used in macro photography to isolate important details. While filling the frame is a compositional technique in itself, combining it with other techniques, such as repetition or rule of thirds, can lend even more impact to the image.
This week we explore different ways of emphasizing the subjects of our images, making sure that they stand out sufficiently from the background to communicate our intention to the viewer. There are a variety of methods to achieve this aim. Keeping the background free of distracting elements is a most basic approach, which can be further enhanced with other techniques: shallow depth of field, selective focus, careful placement of light (such as rim light from back or side lighting), or a pop of color are just a few examples. In a busier scene with a number of elements, calling attention to the main subject is all the more important and challenging. The same techniques are relevant but others, such as framing the subject or having the subject break a pattern, are also options. One effective technique is to have physical separation between the subject and other people or objects, also making sure that there is space between the background elements as well.
In our final week of creative complexity exercises, our compositional goal is to use layering within the frame. Layering is a powerful narrative and compositional technique which uses the foreground, middle, and background of the frame to tell a visual story and keep the viewer’s eye moving throughout the entire frame.
Compositionally, the utilization of layers can add balance to an image or emphasize scale between a subject and its surroundings. As a story-telling technique, the inclusion of multiple details in a scene can bring life and context to an image. Creating a clear separation between each layer – spatially or using colors – further strengthens images built around this technique.
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