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Using a Wide Depth of Filed for Sharp Images

Controlling aperture to make your shots sharp from foreground to background


Using a narrow depth of field is a really important technique when you want a shot to be crisp and clear throughout. It's one of the fundamental tools in your arsenal for producing stunning, pin-sharp photos.

It's especially crucial for landscape photographers like me. Capturing the wide arc of an open mountain range, or the vast expanse of a windswept beach is one of the ultimate photographic challenges.

But to do so really effectively you have to get used to using a narrow depth of field. It allows you to reproduce all the little details in a scene, from foreground objects all the way to infinity, with satisfying clarity.



The Key Bit - Aperture

The most important part of creating a broad depth of field in your photographs is to select a small aperture setting. Don't let the term 'small' confuse you though: Smaller aperture settings correspond to a higher F numbers! So f/22 is is very small and f/2.8 is very large.

The smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field. When you know you want a certain shot to be nice and clear throughout, try using apertures of around f/11 - f/22.

With respect to the workings of your camera, 'aperture' refers to the the hole in the lens which admits light on to the sensor. With a small aperture, your camera lets in a narrower, more focused band of light, which results in a larger proportion of your image being in focus.

Thus, this is a great approach for wide, scenic shots. Rather than sacrificing detail or content, you can ensure that as much of the scenery in front of you is preserved in your final image.


Balancing Exposure With ISO

As you probably know, the aperture controls bo


Before you snap the photo however, you need to make a secondary adjustment because using a smaller aperture results in the camera letting in less light for a given time so you will have to adjust other settings to compensate.

At this point, you have two options: you can either increase your ISO or decrease your shutter speed, or perhaps both. ISO measurements, also known as ASA indicators on film cameras, refer to the digital sensor or films sensitivity to light, the higher the ISO or ASA the more quickly the sensor/film is able to gather light. So for example ISO 200 would be able to gather light twice as fast as ISO100.

Because your aperture setting has been adjusted to limit the amount of light reaching your sensor, the ISO settings should be readjusted accordingly. Higher ISO levels, which are used for low light photography purposes, increase the grain on the image. Once both the ISO and aperture have been adjusted, your camera will be able to capture a greater depth of field while still catching enough light to produce the correct exposure.


Balancing Exposure With Shutter Speed

An alternative to changing your ISO is to adjust your shutter speed. If you change your shutter speed, you are effectively altering the length of time that the camera’s shutter is open. Like changing the aperture, this changes the amount of light allowed through your lens and onto your sensor and in collaboration with aperture and ISO, controls your exposure. By increasing your shutter speed, you have longer exposure times that allow your camera to take in more light. Like ISO adjustments, this setting also comes in handy for nighttime photography.

You may wish to experiment a little with different combinations of all three of these as different combinations can produce a technically correct exposure but give a very different look to an image.

An image shot with a high ISO, and fast shutter speed may look very different to one shot with base ISO, slow shutter speed and equivalent aperture. It is up to you to decide which combination of settings will result in the “look” that you wish to create.


The Best Solution...? Triopods

As a landscape photographer I am always looking to ensure maximum quality in my images, so I very rarely increase my ISO setting as this can increase digital noise in an image. Therefore I usually have to use slower shutter speeds so the use of a tripod becomes imperative. The added benefit of using slower shutter speeds is that it allows you to capture movements in your photo that can add to its dynamism. I’ll tell you more about that in another article.

It’s possible to combine a small aperture with high ISO and fast shutter
speeds to create amazing photographs with a wide, focused depth of field. The steps referenced above present a simple approach to photographing those broad, expansive views that take your breath away without having to resort to panoramic shots.

Now, you can create images that offer a broad depth of field and retain almost everything in sharp focus. You will see the effects in the faces of your audience as they gaze into your photos studying all the intricate details.

Now, you can create images that offer a broad depth of field and retain almost everything in sharp focus. You will see the effects in the faces of your audience as they gaze into your photos studying all the intricate details.


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