Last year, I noticed that I’d fallen into the habit of leaving the camera at f/8 for almost everything I photographed. Worse still, when I did deviate from f/8, I found myself selecting apertures that were unsuitable for the task at hand. Commonly, they either limited depth of field too much, or resulted in diffraction that was severe enough to obliterate all fine detail.
I devised the “Shot Wide Open” project to reacquaint myself with depth of field. Theoretically, by using fixed focal length lenses and shooting them at maximum aperture, I would reacquaint myself with how shallow the depth of field is at larger apertures, and how it differs by focal length. This would also affect my composition skills, both through the placement of objects and selection of the background, and through the use of selective focus to maximise subject impact.
This post is here to serve as a summary of the project, in terms of a self-evaluation of its outcomes and my favourite photos from the blog posts in this project.
How Well Did it Work?
The first few days of the project, when I was shooting at f/1.4, were a short, sharp lesson in the relationship between focal length, aperture, and depth of field. Compared to my usual settings, I was so limited by depth of field, that I had to rapidly adjust to having less leeway, especially at closer focusing distances. Ultimately, I found myself using the depth of field to direct my composition; would I have too little or too much for the subject in question? At times, I got it wrong. However, rather than a loss, it was a gain: I started to develop a rough idea of how far to stop down a lens, without needing a depth of field preview.
Another issue that cropped up was the impact of focal length on the final picture. This was dictated by the environment to some extent, but a lot of it came down to the perspective I wanted. The project reminded me that focal length is not only important for how much can be fitted into a frame, but also for affecting the way those things appear relative to one another. One element of this was the isolation of the subject from the background.
Backgrounds have traditionally been a weakness of mine, in the sense that I often choose cluttered backgrounds that distract the eye, and opt for enough depth of field to increase the level of distraction. Thanks to the extensive use of legacy glass that performs sub-optimally on digital, I was punished for poor background selection with horrible optical effects, usually manifested as the subject being swallowed by a nauseating sea of awfulness. As a result of this, I started looking for more monochromatic backgrounds, or making sure that cluttered backgrounds were sufficiently out of the depth of field.
As a result of the project, I’ve successfully reacquainted myself with the relationship between focal length, aperture and depth of field. I’ve become more prudent in my selection of focal length, and more aware of selecting a clean or distant background to maximise subject impact. I am making a conscious effort to keep putting these lessons into practice, even for quick snapshots when I’m out for a walk. There is potential to revisit the project at a later date with lenses which weren’t used for it.
These photos are not ranked in any way. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
I devised my “Shot Wide Open” project as a means of forcing myself to become reacquainted with the technical aspects, and aesthetic implications, of depth of field. I think the project has been successful in achieving its aims, and some nice photos have resulted along the way. I might revisit the project in future, using lenses which haven’t yet been used for it.