Saturday, October 18, 2014

Do you ever wonder how professional photographers get those nice soft and blurred backgrounds? Well, you don't need to apply photo editing software tools after the fact--that doesn't require photography skills. You can create what I call "backdrops" easily, in camera!   
All you need to do is understand some key concepts regarding f/stops, those numbers like f/2.8, f/8, f/16, f/22, etc. F/stops, as you might know, are used to control for depth of field. In other words, by understanding how f/stops work, we can either get everything sharp (in focus) from the closest subject to us to the farthest subject from us, OR, we can decide to get only the closest subject(s) from us sharp and blur the background.

There are two basic concepts to understand. I go into detail in my upcoming book, RIGHT BRAIN PHOTOGRAPHY, but for now this is all you need to know to create your magic in camera.

Concept #1: The larger the f/stop number (f/16, f/18, f/22, etc.), the smaller the lens opening (diaphragm), therefore MORE depth of field. More depth of field means more subjects, from closest to farthest, will be in sharp focus.
Concept #2: The smaller the f/stop number (f/2.8, f/4, f/5, etc.), the larger the lens opening, therefore LESS depth of field. Less depth of field means fewer subjects, from closest to farthest, will be in sharp focus.

Now are you ready for some visual examples? This is what you will see when you apply these two basic concepts. Please don't try to memorize rules. It is more important to understand concepts. By understanding concepts, you can apply the same concept to any scene you run across! If you try to understand rules, you will always be asking, "What f/stop should I use?" Know the power of understanding concepts.

Here is what happened when I applied these two concepts.

In this first image, I focused on the closest subject, with an f/stop of f/22. Read concept #1 above. Not only was my main subject, those red autumn leaves in the foreground, in focus, but also some of the background. In other words, my background is not blurred enough and therefore distracts from the leaves in the foreground. The background "competes" with the foreground for attention.
This is what can happen when you rely on your camera to auto focus for you. The camera, no matter how expensive, cannot think for you. It doesn't know what you want. In this case, the camera randomly focused on the background. Although this image was also shot at f/22, it was not enough to render both the background and the foreground leaves in sharp focus. In fact, my main subject, the leaves, are out of focus!! That's not what I wanted.
I bet you've seen this before in some of your photos, right?
Okay, let's try this again. What I wanted was to blur the background. This time I focused on the foreground leaves and used an f/stop of f/5. I chose that f/stop for this demonstration because most lenses allow you to use at least f/5, or something close to that. So, how did I do? Well, this time, my leaves in the foreground, especially that first one, are in focus, AND I got a nice blurred background. Re-read concept #2 above.
See how simple it is to get it right at the time, in camera? So, go out there, apply these two basic concepts and have fun with it. If you do it right, your family and friends will ask you, "Did you take that?"