When DoF is too thin

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by agentlossing, Feb 28, 2015.

  1. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Is it just me, or has the shallow depth of field look gotten really annoying? I remember all the classic NatGeo photos I liked having very deep DoF, so the eye could rove all over the image and take in a lot of details, but I almost never see those kind of shots anymore. I remember reading somewhere that Flickr popularized a sort of shallow DoF mania, but I couldn't determine the veracity of the source and have since forgotten where it was.

    This street photographer, for instance, is a pretty good one but his favored f-stop is f1.4 to f2.8, which I feel is just crazy for a street photographer. He likes his ISO very low but again, why be concerned about that for street photos? To each their own, of course, but the photos struck me as being mostly out of focus in a way that just wasn't pleasing. Here's the article I was reading:


    This isn't a rant in favor of m4/3 over any other format, but I do feel the depth of field difference in our cameras is one of the most overblown topics that relate to our format.

    Sent from my Nexus 6 using Mu-43 mobile app
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  2. Cruzan80

    Cruzan80 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    Denver, Co
    Sean Rastsmith
    Overall, I didn't find almost any shots of his that the DoF was too thin. The subject was in focus, and the rest was identifiable enough (aka. not blown out of definition). Also, he was at f4 or larger for the 90mm.

    However, I agree that the DoF differences are overblown between the formats.
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  3. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    The one that struck me was the second from the bottom, where the entire building front was out of focus. I get that he wanted to isolate the woman who was the subject, but these days it just feels like the eye can never rove. I can't spend much time looking at the photo, because all that it says is there's a woman, and she's somewhere in a city street. That interesting shop front is maddeningly blurry.

    I think I feel like this kind of depth of field limits the resonance of the photo. It doesn't let the viewer take what they want from the photo so much as hold their hand, and tell them what's of interest.

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  4. DaveEP

    DaveEP Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 20, 2014
    Here's the problem. Most of those shots would be fine if they'd been a little more attentive during post production.

    Shallow DOF when the background is totally blurred is one thing, but shallow DOF where the overall scene is still visible leaves the eye looking for something that's in focus, something that the photographer actually wanted you to look at - unless they added a subtle but effective vignette to draw your eye to the subject instead of making you 'look' for it. To me, that was by far the biggest problem with these images, no direction for the eye to 'jump' to.
  5. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    I agree with you on the post processing. When the out of focus areas so outweigh the subject, you almost have to hunt for it, and I am tempted to believe the photographer wants bokeh to be the secondary subject of the photograph. To me that just ends up distracting the viewer and competing for their attention.

    Sent from my Nexus 6 using Mu-43 mobile app
  6. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    Shallow DOF is just another tool in the tool box. Same as image stacking, HDR, slow shutter. Used appropriately, they can add dimensionality and style to an image. Overused and they become tired, pedestrian and turn into the new normal.

    I'm not "tired" of a specific technique, per say, but you can tell when people may not have thought about a composition enough or perhaps they are limited in the light they are shooting in.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2015
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  7. ripleys baby

    ripleys baby Part time philistine

    Aug 10, 2011
    I recently had the pleasure of viewing an exhibition by Ian Lawson, about The breed of sheep called Herdwick.
    Stunning large format prints. But for more than a few I thought that shallow dof actually (for me) ruined a great shot.
    I am sure they would have looked better with a smaller aperture .
    Or used full frame and not medium format Hasselblad.
    Stunning prints though. (although a few well over saturated too)

  8. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Impressive photos! Of course large format has it's own magic, too.

    Sent from my Nexus 6 using Mu-43 mobile app
  9. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 10, 2010
    Southport, OzTrailEYa
    Stop down a little.
  10. DaveEP

    DaveEP Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 20, 2014
    @ripleys baby But those shots are pretty much what I mean.... the post production, the processing makes my eyes go right to where I'm supposed to be looking (with the exception of one shot which I wandered for a second or so). The shots in the OP were not so clear cut.
  11. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    I think people forget why fast lens were needed, mainly because film speeds didn't allow crazy high ISOs like today and it also helped having a brighter viewfinder for focusing. In fact some of the best portrait shots have been on slower lenses like the Nikon 105mm 2.5 which shot the famous National Geographic Afghan Girl portrait.

    I also shoot Nikon FF and usually I hover around f/2 or smaller when shooting with fast 1.4 lenses. It helps getting the eyes and head in focus while blowing out the background. Honestly bigger sensors do have an advantage in that regards. The Olympus 17mm 1.8 could never achieve shallow DOF like a cheap FF 35mm f/2. In order to get decent subject to background isolation with M43, you have to shoot with longer lenses. On the flip side, the PL 25mm 1.4 allows me to shoot wide open and keep more of the image in focus which does help in areas like street photography and even night photography when I need wide open performance and more DOF at the same time.

    At the end of the day though I don't trip, they're all tools use the best one for the job!
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2015
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  12. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    It's funny that you should raise this, as I'm currently writing a blog post on just this subject; about background blur and its use/misuse (personal opinions only). I tend to agree that it's become a sort of fad and even an obsession with some, to the point that every photograph has a background that is simply a nondescript blur.
  13. DMLarson

    DMLarson Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 19, 2014
    I totally agree. I consider the shallow DOF to be a gimmick and a crutch.
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  14. bacil

    bacil Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 24, 2012
    I like the color a lot in many of the shots, but I don't think that's the original color produced by the camera/lens. More and more photographers can produce stunning photos because they get better in photoshopping.
  15. Andym72

    Andym72 Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 4, 2013
    Reading, UK
    Looking at the street photos from the OPs link, there is really only one photo there that really warranted the shallow depth of field effect, and that is the one he's titled "Want mail ?". And that's because there are perspective lines of objects with plenty of interesting texture (the building fronts, the trees, even the pavement tiling). And the photographer even acknowledges that image is a laundry list of "what ifs", he'd prefer to have got there a little earlier, when the girl was further back up the street, and to have also had the time to bump the ISO and so be able to reduce the aperture. Then he would have got the girl (who I'm guessing is the subject) in the mid ground along with more of that wall/floor/tree texture, the far distance would be out of focus but not such an indistinct blur, the guy would have been more in focus, with just his front arm probably going out of focus, and the very closest piece of wall with the J graffiti would also just be going out of focus. The result would have been more sense of depth, and still a good draw of the eye to the girl, but with more of the interesting texture in focus.

    Although "The girl at the corner" just seems to be a major miss due to his choices, the photographer states he really wanted a shallow DOF effect on that one, and yet the two things of interest in that shot are the girl, and the store. And they are either side of the street from each other, so why go for super shallow depth of field? He (again) focuses on something in the super close foreground, and what he gets is something that looks like a Diorama shot. She's clearly just used the zebra crossing, so maybe this was timing, that he wasn't ready to take a shot while she was halfway across the street. That's when I'd have gone for this shot, her in the middle of the crossing, more DOF so you get her and the store in focus, and then crop the bottom off the shot to make it more square. You'd even get to see that boutique shopping bag that she's holding, that's been lost off the bottom of the shot.

    I think this just goes to show why I'd probably find street photography so frustrating, so many great opportunities, if only you had enough time to get the camera settings right, and get stood in the right place, and get the framing good, and still have time to pick your moment as people walk around you. I guess you've got to put the camera in manual exposure and manual focus, pick an aperture and focal distance that gives you some depth and is a typical subject distance like the other side of the street, and a shutter speed that is going to freeze people walking, and just concentrate on being at the right place at the right time. Quite a different discipline.
  16. While I agree I see it often misused, its certainly a tool in the toolbox for the photographer. Is your intent subject driven or story driven? Is the space part of the intent?

    You can't have a fruitful discussion around whether or not a technique is cliche', misused, or over-used in a context that doesn't include the original intent.
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  17. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    The guy's problem here is that he likes to shoot ISO 200 and around 1/500 sec. If he would just bump that ISO he'd have the depth of field he needs, but by his own admission he likes to shoot at f1.4 to f2.8.

    I just feel like photos where the vast majority of the frame is out of focus rather than subject are annoying. It drives me crazy honestly, and makes me feel like I've got bad vision or something, looking at photos that are three quarters blurry. It's an effect that is hurting a lot more than it's helping.

    Sent from my Nexus 6 using Mu-43 mobile app
  18. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Isn't the space usually part of the intent in street photography? I know I looked for it in the guy's photos. If he wanted to be more subject focused, why not fill more of the frame with the subjects so there's not so much blurriness? Or use a longer lens so at least you get good subject separation instead of the in-between blur that's demonstrated here.

    Sent from my Nexus 6 using Mu-43 mobile app
  19. Vinpocetine

    Vinpocetine Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 25, 2014
    It's like... art, man. There aren't any rules.

    Assuming that he's picking his aperture with intent, he probably likes the transition between in focus and out of focus, and the rendering of out of focus areas of the photo. From his "about" page, it looks like he's somewhat accomplished, so I think it's a fair assumption that he knows what his aperture setting does, and it's also fair to assume that his style isn't universally disliked. He says that he likes to bring a surrealist dimension to daily life -- where a clinically sharp, everything in focus picture with a standard length lens would tend to be pretty "realistic" -- so perhaps the out of focus rendering is part of that.

    Maybe it's just not for you? That's totally valid, but I'm not sure why you're saying what he "needs to do" in some of your posts, he would probably argue that you need to open your aperture up! :)
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2015
  20. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    When I shoot street I am focused on fast shutter speeds to freeze motion, unless intent is to achieve motion blur. I rarely shoot with wide apertures in mind because capturing the "moment" takes precedence if light conditions are decent. It's only when light starts to dip, that aperture becomes more important, hence forcing me to shoot near or wide open.

    Saying that shooting wide open is a fad like HDR is just nonsensical. It's part of the essential, fundamental components of photography. Try shooting f/8 at dusk and see how that wide open "fad" is just messing up your photography! :rolleyes: