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Shallow depth of field: are we becoming obsessive about it?

Carabosse 15 41.1k 270 England
20 Jun 2012 1:18AM
Came across an interesting article , via a (rare) visit to another site. The proposition is that we have become unnecessarily obsessed with shallow DoF.

A motoring analogy, which comes to mind, is manufacturers of performance cars who have, in recent years, become obsessed with how quick their products can get around the Nurburgring in Germany... sometimes leading to a suspension setup which gives a bone-shaking ride when the car is used on an everyday basis.

Quotes from the article:

Quote:Consider the irony here. For most its history, among the greatest technical challenges of photography was obtaining even adequate depth of field. From extreme lens movements to big lights, tiny apertures, long exposures, and multiple flash pops, photographers bent over backwards simply to get enough of their subject into focus. So why aren't more of us welcoming the ease with which we can do it today?

One answer might be that most enthusiasts coming into photography since the start of the digital era did so via small-sensor cameras. To them, larger sensors with their greater focal lengths produce the exotic shallow-focus look they associate with "serious" photography.

The richest photos—the ones we return to again and again, seeing more each time—most often work in layers. They show more rather than less, taking in the full spatial depth of our world rather than just one razor-thin slice of it.

I do see what the author is getting at. What are your thoughts? Smile

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Paul Morgan 17 19.1k 6 England
20 Jun 2012 1:23AM

Quote:I do see what the author is getting at. What are your thoughts?

Every day, people often say what a good or great depth of field, instead of saying what a lovely shallow depth of field Smile
mattw 14 5.2k 10 United Kingdom
20 Jun 2012 1:29AM

Quote:Shallow depth of field: are we becoming obsessive about it?

Carabosse 15 41.1k 270 England
20 Jun 2012 1:33AM


Lol! Grin Did you actually read the article........... and do you agree/disagree with it?
Paul Morgan 17 19.1k 6 England
20 Jun 2012 1:41AM
A read it and yes I agree Smile
Overread 9 4.1k 19 England
20 Jun 2012 3:34AM
Depends what you look at really.

If its portraits then yes shallow depth of field and subject isolation is something many people do desire to have in their photos - in fact many specifically go out to get a DSLR just for the ability to get shallow depth of field over their phone or compact camera with their much smaller sensors.

Shift to macro though and the world is totally the opposite, people hunger after more and more depth of field if they can get it. Focus stacking, tilt shift, small apertures etc.... are all the rage in the majority of macro work. Whereas the slight depths of field are far more rare (and fewer work with them, often miss understanding macro and assuming that it must have great depth to be macro).

Shift to landscapes and we are again in the world of increased depth of field.

Shift to wildlife - back to subject isolation for the most part, but more restricted lighting control often means the choice isn't fully in the photographers hands and sometimes its a product of the nature of long lenses and low light. Then again look at any habitat based shot and - yep -back to greater depths of field.

Often people do get in a creative rut. They think a specific type of subject must be shot with a specific type of depth of field. Furthermore they tend to work within limited creative concepts - not being quite as adventurous to try new things or different slants upon the same subject. Nothing wrong in that of course, and someone who works with a specific view or style can often polish it to a very high level of quality.
StrayCat 14 19.1k 3 Canada
20 Jun 2012 6:26AM
Sometimes with wildlife it's difficult to see the subject without making it stand out with shallow depth of field. The main defense of many species is how well they can blend into their habitat, so it is necessary to use a shallow DOF to make them stand out sharply. Also, as mentioned above, we are subject to available light; most wildlife is active in early morning and late evening, hence dim light.

With the philosophy of micro 4/3 format, we are leaning toward smaller and lighter lenses, so we are getting zooms with smaller max apertures and a return to primes for wider apertures, each having their own inherent limitations.

One of the most creative tools available to us is the control of DOF, and it's up to us how we use it. As a beginner, I didn't much notice the background in my photos till I saw the finished product in a print or on the PC monitor, but with experience, you become aware of clutter and distractions in a photo as you compose it, and in many cases shallow DOF is the only, or best way to clean it up and draw the viewers eye to the intended subject.
Sooty_1 8 1.5k 221 United Kingdom
20 Jun 2012 8:56AM
Having read the article, I don't think it's entirely accurate. Some, I agree with (the fact that we become obsessed with certain techniques) but the initial premise is flawed.

"For most its history, among the greatest technical challenges of photography was obtaining even adequate depth of field."

Not really true. For most of it's history, photographers have been struggling to get as wide an aperture as possible - not the same thing, in fact the opposite. With film speeds above 25 ASA being exotic for over a century, lens makers tried all sorts to make an aperture as wide as f/2 (including all the aberrations that go with it), even to f/1.5, for the new-fangled 35mm hand-held cameras.
Most serious photographers were using plate cameras, with max apertures of smaller than f/8, and it wasn't unusual to be using f/64 or f/128 - hence the big flashes and long exposures - and extremely deep depth of field (cameras with movements could also make use of Scheimpflug to change the plane of focus).

Digital cameras have an inherently bigger depth of field, allied to the fact that most cameras are now sold with a zoom (with a max aperture usually around f/3.5-f/4.5 or worse). Photographers starting in the digital age, or graduating from a film compact will usually have no experience of fast prime lenses, and thus the idea that they cannot achieve the "shallow look" makes it seem like something only great/gifted photographers can do, or it's a PS trick.

In any case, most fast primes do not give great rendering wide open (stop down a little, and it changes), but then they were generally not designed for shallow DoF, but for maximum light gathering.
I think the depth of field is largely dictated by the shot - wildlife shooters are usually close to max aperture where they can't control the subject, because they need as fast a shutter speed as possible (but then the subject is often the only thing they want sharp anyway), or serious landscapers often use a tripod, so shutter speed is less important than showing the sharpness of the world. After all, the ground at our feet isn't really blurred, it just looks that way out of the corner of our eye, so why not show it as well defined?

It is a technique to be used, the same as any other, and when you have a choice, it is something else to be considered.
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
20 Jun 2012 9:10AM
I read the article and concluded it was written by some goon who has very little to say but likes the sound of his own voice. There are a lot of us about.

And I don't think that Caraboose's motoring analogy holds any water whatsoever.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the important factor is that technological advances, from the development of fast lenses through to the more recent advent of digital sensors, have given us the tools with which to control depth of field to meet our artistic objectives.
conrad 13 10.9k 116
20 Jun 2012 9:26AM
I do agree that dof control is more important than shallow dof. But I think it's about having a choice, and about using that choice to your advantage. Shallow dof for the sake of shallow dof is probably wrong, but than having anything just for the sake of having it is probably wrong. There's a place for everything under the sun, and that goes for shallow dof too, in my opinion.

And as for the analogy, well, they're never perfect, are they, and that goes for the motoring one as well. (I do feel that manufacturers are exaggerating the supposed need for more megapixels, but that's a different discussion altogether.)
20 Jun 2012 10:21AM
I heard about a wedding photographer who produced a beautiful photo of the bride and groom, making full use of shallow DOF to blur the background, only for the Mother of the Bride to snarl that it was no good because she couldn't make out who was in the background. Wink
puertouk 6 1.1k 17 United Kingdom
20 Jun 2012 10:30AM
It's the same as many things in this World, FADS. They come and they go. Long exposures to make the water like milk, etc. I wonder what the next fad will be?
conrad 13 10.9k 116
20 Jun 2012 10:34AM

Quote:I wonder what the next fad will be?

Low viewpoints for landscape shots? Just guessing... Wink
strawman 14 22.1k 16 United Kingdom
20 Jun 2012 11:00AM
People react against what the majority are perceived to be doing. So with the rise of smaller sensor cameras there are a lot of shots with low depth of field so a desire to do shallow depth of field. With the increasing competence of entry cameras you get the fad for using lenses that have terrible optical properties or Lomo type cameras. Wide angle lenses were once hard to get so a rush for landscapes with very wide lenses.
joolsb 13 27.1k 38 Switzerland
20 Jun 2012 12:20PM
I think the article was more complaining about people who use a technique simply for the sake of it without much thought as to exactly what is being added creatively. Like all techniques, it should be used sparingly, knowingly and with a specific purpose in mind.

Shallow DoF just happened to be a convenient example.

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