Getting Creative with Close-ups: Depth of Field

What's Sharp - and What's Not - in Your Photograph Can Be the Key to Success

by Kerry Drager

Focus on Distant Subject
Focus on Distant Subject
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Same Composition, Different Focusing Points

In the warm light of late day, I ventured out to my collection of old trucks and ranching equipment. For this photo, I couldn't decide which should be the main focal point and, thus, sharply focused - the diagonal yellow subject or the distant wheel ... easy solution: I shot two versions! In this picture, I focused directly on the wheel, and then used a small aperture in order to make the grass at the lower right fairly sharp too. Note: Due to the extreme closeness of the foreground subject, it was impossible to get total front-to-back sharpness (deep DOF). Data: f/22; 1/6th sec.; 105mm lens; 100 ISO; tripod and cable release

Focus on Close-up Subject
Focus on Close-up Subject
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
In this second image (right), I switched focusing points. As shown, the subject was super-close to the camera, thanks to my macro lens. But, although it was impossible to get both foreground and background sharp, I still chose a small aperture (high f/number), in order to ensure crispness throughout the front subject. I'm not sure which version I like best, but I'm glad that I photographed the scene both ways!

Data for Focus on Close-up Subject: f/22, 1/6th sec., 105mm macro, 100 ISO; tripod and cable release


More Depth of Field
More Depth of Field
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Same Composition, Different Apertures

Photogenic government buildings can make great subjects ... when they're closed, that is! Normally busy, this stairway outside the front entrance to a courthouse made a fine subject for the soft overcast light on a weekend day. I used a telephoto lens - 105mm - to zero in for a tight composition, including a very close subject (green railing). Since I wasn't sure how much - or how little - Depth of Field would be best, I shot it two ways: at right, with a small aperture (high f/number) at right; and, below, with a larger aperture (lower f/number). It turns out that I like both versions! Data for More Depth of Field: f/32 for a fairly deep Depth of Field; 105mm lens; point of focus on close-up green railing; polarizer (to reduce glare and deepen colors); and tripod!


Less Depth of Field
Less Depth of Field
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
In Less Depth of Field, I wanted a narrow range of sharpness, in order to isolate the focused subject (railing) against a blurred backdrop. Because the railing is very close to the camera and I was using a telephoto lens, I needed to stop the lens down a little - to f/8 - in order to keep the entire railing sharp. A wider aperture would have made the background even blurrier (nice!), but wouldn't have kept the entire railing sharp (not so nice). Data: Overcast, f/8 for a shallow Depth of Field; 105mm lens; point of focus on close-up green railing; Polarizer (to reduce glare and deepen colors); tripod!


More on Kerry Drager...

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About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
The content manager and course advisor for BetterPhoto.com, Kerry Drager is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography (2011) and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (2012). In addition, he teaches photography online at BetterPhoto's digital photography school.

Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.