Where you focus, in photography as in life, can make your vision clear to others. As the unfurling sago palm leaves, above, show, sometimes there’s just too much going on to pay attention to. Which is where controlling your focus comes in.
And when your photo subjects clamor for attention, you’ll have to make a choice: only one can have the camera’s full adoration.
The flower with the most visual interest, below, wins, but how to demonstrate your choice to your viewer? There’s an easy tool at hand in most cameras, even the basic point-and-shoots. It’s called depth of field, and you can access it by selecting Aperture-Priority from your automated settings, as I did for the sago palm and the geraniums I shot with my Canon Rebel XSi.
Aperture-Priority lets you choose the most wide open aperture and pre-focus on the chosen one to gain the most clarity and best exposure; the shutter speed will be determined automatically, and will most likely be (almost) fast enough for a speeding bullet, so you can shoot moving subjects, as well as still. Counterintuitively, the most wide open aperture, or f-stop, is actually the smallest numerically—in this case, f 5.6 using my macro setting, which has a small range from f 3.5-5.6—plenty wide enough to throw the immediate background out of focus, and bring the eye’s attention to the yellow-tinged red geranium’s intricate center pattern, with its bonus raindrops.
When you’re shooting wide-angle or normal (and not macro), you’ll have an even wider range to play with; depending on your lens, you could be able to open up your aperture as wide as f 1.4 (sweet!). You’ll want to cover your shot by bracketing a few different f-stops, like 1.4, 1.7, 2.0, 3.5, perhaps even 5.6, and by varying your proximity to your subject, to find the depth of focus you prefer.
Your iPhone photography offers you a choice to focus, too, right at your fingertip, as I did using my iPhone 5s on the cactus closeups, above.
To bring the power of a crystal-clear subject into focus as you take aim, the iPhone has a rudimentary method of letting you ‘choose’ your depth of field. Just tap the screen before you shoot, and you’ll see a yellow box outlined with a sunshine symbol. That’s where your iPhone will give you maximum sharpness, within a certain range, and that’s where it’s taking a light reading. (You can choose to brighten or darken it then and there, just by sliding the sunshine symbol up and down along the yellow vertical line, or you can take care of that later in an editing app or Adobe Lightroom.) But back to your focal point.
The focus point you’ve tapped makes a difference, especially in extreme closeup situations like my three iCactus pictures above. The top image shows the overview scene, where aiming without tapping any area brings the entire scene into focus. In the bottom right photo, I tapped the detail closest to me, and the result is a crisp foreground, but the background is a blur. That’s as it should be; I wanted to emphasize the new growth nearest the camera lens.
But in the bottom left photo, where I tapped the area farthest from my camera, the result is a foreground that’s blurred. That’s a scenario that works often, depending on composition and subject matter, but not in this case, because what’s sharpest is also too far away—and thus too minimal within the frame—to draw the eye. Agreed?
So with just one tiny tap, you’ve summoned the power of depth of field to your iPhone. And using depth of field for emphasis in your photographs lends your voice to your work.
Where you focus is where you’ll go, and shows others where to go, too. And if that sounds a bit like a Yogi-ism, I’ll accept the compliment, because it’s as true in life as it is in your photographs. ♣