Grok Photography

Photos and words by Petter Senften

Depth Of Field

One of the many traits of a beginner who’ve bought a more serious camera than their phone or random point-and-shoot is the hunt for shallow depths of field and awesome bokeh. I’ve been there as well and I loved it when I could use my nifty fifty to create razor-thin depth of field in photos. It got so bad I was almost shooting everything wide-open, never caring to stop down simply because I didn’t see any reason for it.

Short depth of field serves it’s purpose but in many useful ways. The most obvious way is how you can blur the background in portraits and isolate your subject. However I’m starting to feel that most people are abusing the short DOF in ways that aren’t optimal. To the untrained eye, a photo with extremely short DOF looks artsy and serious. This is true in some cases, but in most cases an excessively thin DOF ruins a lot of shots.

Bokeh for the sake of bokeh is a great way to ruin a photo of a person. The eyes should always be in focus, something a lot of amateurs as well as professionals forget. This is especially true for photographers who like (or are forced to do it, for whatever reasons) doing what I call “lifestyle photography”. This is when you try to emulate the over-processed and plastic look of magazine photos. Everyone unto each his/her own, but I find most of those photos amazingly boring and while I was inspired by it when I was a newbie and still looking for my style.

The portraits I take for the Naked Portraits-project are almost always shot at f8. There are a few exceptions, the early shots that I took before I had even thought of the project are sometimes shot at such wide apertures as f1.8. The photo shown to the right is one such. It was however taken almost two years before I even thought of the project – I’ve included it in the project since I like it and since I needed shots to show a proof-of-concept to people. I will say though, that if I have the chance of taking a new portrait of that person I will not do it at f1.8 but rather at f8 as I want.

I like the shot and I’m still proud of it, but at the same time I feel it’s a bit ruined by the thin DOF. The eyes are not in focus and the details of the face are lost in the bokeh. When I was drafting the methodology for my naked portraits I decided to not use natural light since it’s so undependable. I also settled on a relatively small aperture, the largest I’ve used for some portraits is f5.6 but f8 has become the standard.

Detail is to me incredibly important, especially when shooting a portrait. I’ve come to realize that even though I like bokeh and blurring a background, the details in a persons face and related items is much more important to and I would feel as if I was cheating if I let it disappear in the blur of a short DOF.


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