Is ultra-shallow DOF a fad?

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by TetonTom, Dec 31, 2013.

  1. TetonTom

    TetonTom Mu-43 Regular

    I was at a recent gathering of pro photographer friends and acquaintances (mostly wedding and portrait) and people started showing online portfolios. So many of the shots were similar, almost cliche; ultra-narrow DOF.
    It's nice to see once in a while, but the more I see the effect, the more it seems a bit overdone these days. Even food and product photography is playing into the same gimmick.
    So much of what people try to pass off as great photography seems more like show- off wide apertures and bokeh...
    Or is it just me?
    • Like Like x 14
  2. AceAceBaby

    AceAceBaby Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Jan 21, 2013
    With super shallow DoF you stop having to consider your backgrounds in composition. It's both a crutch, and a cliché.
    • Like Like x 5
  3. mister_roboto

    mister_roboto Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 14, 2011
    Seattle, WA, USA
    Yeah it's a thing. I think it has to do with the early days of digital cameras when they came to the masses, where you basically had infinite dof with every camera that didn't cost $5000 USD. Now it's a little more easily available the amount of APS-C DSLR's out there, and that most people don't print photos anymore- they're all viewed electronically now. I like to call it the "bokeh race." (although "bokeh wars" might be more appropriate)

    I think it was DPR forum, or front page comments, where I said something along the lines of "you know, there really isn't much of a real world difference in the dof of a APS-C camera vs a µ4/3 camera." I got a whole host of "oh no- I can definitely tell the difference."

    I admit, I like shallow dof, but it depends on what I'm doing. I like fast lens mainly for exposure before shallow dof, people treat dof as a be all end all top priority- which is a little odd. I still kick around my old 5D, but I only have a kit f2.8-4 lens + 50mm f1.4, and never plan on getting another lens for it (well... unless I find an un-passable deal :wink:), it's basically become a "play" camera for me. I can you know, get a nice sharp photo with the 50mm @ f2.8... or use my µ4/3 25mm at f1.4 :wink: It's all a balance between dof, sharpness and exposure, which is something I think a lot of people miss, they all have to work in harmony to get you what you want. With full frame, digital or film... I pretty much almost always stop down a bit, you know- so there's more in focus than 1 eye ball + I get some texture to stuff :wink: With µ4/3, I use them a lot wide open, because they're sharp wide open.

    It probably also has to do photo education etc and not understanding basic photography principles. I still use film cameras, SLR's + MF + rangefinders, and on another forum for rangefinders a wedding photographer was having trouble with theirs. They didn't know how to work the exposure + didn't know they needed a light meter (had never heard of sunny 16 before). Someone noticed that they were a pro wedding photographer, and said it was similar to using the manual controls on their work camera, the response was "oh, I just set it on A and shoot." :tongue:
    • Like Like x 5
  4. RoadTraveler

    RoadTraveler Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 23, 2012
    I happen to like shallow DOF, but that doesn't mean I always like it without good exposure and composition too. Often, for people, I like the background OOF to draw attention to the subject, or at least not distract.

    That doesn't necessary mean I want an eye in focus and nothing else, this is what I might call 'ultra' shallow DOF. I like ultra shallow DOF but I agree it can be overdone. Maybe some of the perceived popularity is that it's not as easy to accomplish as excessive DOF is, unless one has a camera/lens/mind with more abilities that a common ‘point-and-shoot’?

    Recently I purchased some very fast prime lenses for my kit, all capable of very shallow DOF, at least at close focus distances. As stated above, I like and have been using the shallow DOF available for some test and familiarization shots, with some good results.

    It depends :smile:

    P.S. At a given focal length/angle-of-view the added DOF available with m4/3 is generally a positive in my mind. It allows me to shoot at a wider aperture and still maintain adequate DOF depending on the subject and idea for the shot.

    I traveled to m4/3 from FF Canon about a year ago, so I don’t have dreams about the pros (and cons) of FF DOF.
    • Like Like x 2
  5. Mstoeckle

    Mstoeckle Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 23, 2013
    <iframe src="" height="360" width="500" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen></iframe>

    When I took this I was thinking f2.8 would have been a portrait of a leaf, mehh... f8, then it would be lost in the background, I met in the middle with f4. Just enough of the colors and shapes to remind me of where I was and when I was there, It get conveyed to the viewer as well Using the right amount of depth of field gives more of a story I think.
    • Like Like x 17
  6. dolbydunn

    dolbydunn Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 28, 2013
    Of course, shallow DOF is a cliche. Lousy for "Street Photography" though.
  7. entropicremnants

    entropicremnants Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 16, 2012
    John Griggs
    It's part of the language of photography. In the hands of a master, it's poetry. In the hands of a hack, it's a fad.

    If all you saw in their shots was the narrow DOF, maybe you don't understand things like composition and so forth. I didn't see the photos you saw, but I can't comment whether they were in fact "off" in someway.

    DOF is to simplify or reduce the photo to put the emphasis somewhere -- it's not just a special effect and it's not the point.

    I think your very question itself indicates you need to study photography a bit more.
  8. mister_roboto

    mister_roboto Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 14, 2011
    Seattle, WA, USA
    or simply, you know- all of the photos were loaded with shallow dof to the point of being distracting to everything else.
  9. fredlong

    fredlong Just this guy...

    Apr 18, 2011
    Massachusetts USA
    I think more of us are hacks than masters :)
    • Like Like x 10
  10. jamespetts

    jamespetts Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 21, 2011
    London, England
    I rather suspect that shallow depth of field is especially popular at present because, as pointed out above, it has become something of a status symbol because it is visual evidence of having an expensive camera. Selective focus (as the technique of using shallow depth of field to isolate subjects from the background is conventionally known) is, of course, a valid technique and has been around for almost as long as photography. I remember reading about it when I was learning photography (with manual film SLRs) in the 1990s (where I seem to recall one magazine regarding it as somewhat clichéd in certain circumstances and somewhat redolent of television production). Then, when everyone used film, there seemed to be more discussion about maximising depth of field than minimising it (medium format cameras, which would naturally have the shallowest depth of field, were generally used for landscape photography and set up on a tripod with a small aperture). Older lenses were generally not so sharp at their maximum aperture, and having a shallow depth of field did not distinguish one's photographs from those taken using disposable cameras.

    The fashion for shallow depth of field is likely to last so long as having a shallow depth of field is a reliable indicator of having an expensive camera. Fashions are generally similar: the fashion for light skinned people having a tan as a status symbol that they can afford a foreign holiday, for example, has endured because the evidential value of the tan showing financial ability to travel has not much diminished (formerly, having pale skin was the status symbol, as it indicated the fact that a person could afford to spend the summer months indoors or under a parasol, rather than outdoors doing hard work).
    • Like Like x 8
  11. Dalton

    Dalton Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 24, 2010
    Portland, Oregon USA
    Dan Ferrall
    It has a legitimate use in certain compositions. Only you can decide which ones. It sounds like you were witnessing a group trendy thing with your recent experience.

    Ignore what you don't like in other's image styles and techniques and focus on the good energy that comes with your own creative spark.

    It's not a fad. It's been around as long as lenses have been around. It will continue to be available for those times when it makes sense in a given image capture.
    • Like Like x 2
  12. rbelyell

    rbelyell Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 15, 2013
    Mountains of NY
    of course its been around forever. what hasnt is the imo mindless preoccupation by the vast majority of internet posters of shooting fast lenses wide open in virtually all situations. just today i read a 'professional' bloggers review of the rx1 wherein he stated unequivocally he shoots either at f2 or 8! when i asked the previous owner of my x100 if it had the sticky aperture problem, he replied that he never shot beyond f2, claiming 'after all thats why you buy this kind of camera'. i see and read that foolishness with a constancy that belies any understanding of what photography is. and as for ignoring what we dont like in images, well i was looking for 'hard' info on the new A7 lines usefulness with legacy glass, and all i saw for weeks were the worst oof photos taken with the most expensive cam and lenses that i had ever witnessed. so i guess you know where i come out on this topic.
    • Like Like x 4
  13. fredlong

    fredlong Just this guy...

    Apr 18, 2011
    Massachusetts USA
    I don't know if it's a fad, but talking about shallow depth of field and f-stop equivelance across formats seems to be. Hand wringing while bemoaning the fact that one's depth of field may not be shallow enough seems to be quite popular too.

    • Like Like x 3
  14. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 14, 2012
    New Mexico
    I imagine there will always be some fashion du jour. Narrow DOF is one at present. f64 and everything sharp was once an ideal. Even medicine and law enforcement (unfortunately) go through fads. You know, EGGS ARE PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE.

    And know you can use your f1.2 (or better yet .95) lens light and egg and watch see it slope into OOF.

    Let's see what preoccupations 2014 will bring.
  15. jamespetts

    jamespetts Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 21, 2011
    London, England
    I do wonder whether, when light field cameras eventually take off, infinite depth of field (without diffraction) will become a fashionable status symbol.
  16. Jeff1:1

    Jeff1:1 Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 2, 2013
    It's more of a retro thing because the low speed films without flash required f1.8 lenses, unless used slow shutter speeds (1/4 sec.). Zooms lenses typically start at f3.5 and arrive at f5.6 by 50mm, being sold with camera in last 20+ years, built-in flash, and 400 speed films or higher ISO's all made the f1.8 or f1.4's not needed and considered too time consuming to change lenses.
  17. Ultra shallow DOF with no contribution to the intent is a failure.. not a fad.

    If it contributes to the intent... then its a success.

    DOF is a fact of photography which cannot itself be a fad.
    • Like Like x 13
  18. val

    val Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 19, 2013
    it's not a fad, just a type of photography that's really popular with weddings and the like.

    To me it's more important to use bokeh to show something than just to use it because everyone else does.
  19. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    This is from the Jackar website..

    "Today, photographers no longer pursue a clear picture and perfect picture quality only, and the expression of atmosphere and feeling is also very important. The Jackar Snapshooter 34mm f1.8 Prime Lens's highly individualized imaging characteristics enable you to shoot unique pictures"

    Have fun shooting and don't judge everything too critically though. Not every photos need to be done in the ultimate perfection. It's about conveying a message to the viewer and if it needs atmosphere and feeling to it all the better.
  20. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    But then on the other hand,
    "we" continue tell new shooters that they must get a fast prime instead of a kit zoom....:wink:
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