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Embracing shallow depth of field in macro photography

There are no shortage of articles which seek to help the photographer overcome the depth of field limitations of macro work. I’m taking a different approach and advocating for creating images with a sliver of depth of field! Why? For artistic and creative reasons, using a small depth of field can create images which, while perhaps short on detail, are rich with feeling.

There are of course subjects that will benefit from the largest depth of field possible, for example, insects. But most macro subjects can be adapted to work with a very limited depth of field to create abstract, soft, impressionistic and even romantic images.

 "I'm on the brink of everything"

Choosing where to place your sliver of focus is part of your creative process - aligning the most interesting part of your subject with the plane of sharpest focus will result in a strong and compelling image. 



Let’s talk specifics. When creating these types of images, I generally (although not always) use a tripod and live view mode for greater control and accuracy. Using a USB cable and tethering to your laptop can really make the process easier on your eyes and your back!

Set your camera to the largest aperture available. I generally use my Canon 100mm macro lens, set at f2.8. Manual focus is a must - this is the part of the process that you will need to play with to see how changing the focal plane changes your image. Turn your focus ring and watch as that lovely sliver of focus slides across your subject. Perhaps that sensual curve in the petal will be a good focal point. Or maybe that luscious droplet perched on the edge of a leaf. Play around until the most intriguing aspect of your subject is focused and composed.

"Razzle Dazzle"

Another method for expanding your creative options is using the reverse lens technique. This lo-fi technique involves taking your lens and holding it up against your camera body in reverse. This results in a magnified image, allowing you to focus extremely close to your subject. The wider the angle of your lens, the closer you can get. I find that my Canon 50mm F1.8 lens works very well for this technique. In order to focus, you will need to move yourself and your lens closer or further from the object. This takes the tiny depth of field to a whole other level! The image will have a very soft and often surreal quality to it. It’s fun to experiment with and can return some very unique results.

 "She wanted to leave a good impression"

There is more fun to be had in post-processing! I use Adobe Lightroom to make standard adjustments such as levels and contrast. Playing with vibrance and hue obviously bring a whole world of creative options.  If you're considering using the sharpening tool, I recommend against sharpening the whole image- instead use the adjustment brush to paint a mask only on the area of greatest focus. This will further enhance the visual difference between the sharp and the soft parts of the image.

So, don’t be afraid of a shallow depth of field! A wonderful world of delicious bokeh and painterly softness is waiting for you! Open up the aperture and observe as an entirely different type of shot reveals itself.

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Reader Comments (1)

Wonderful macro images, Sinead and I love the article, too with great macro tips. I especially love the droplet on a peacock feather. Beautiful work!

July 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAda (AZFoto)

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