Great depth of field in people's photos

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by ruslan, Oct 30, 2017.

  1. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Generally the choice is a matter of intent and purpose in context of the photo, except in the case of absolute beginners.
  2. SCL


    Bokeh by choice is a relatively modern thought. In the past depth of field (or lack thereof) was an important consideration, not the quality of out of focus areas (a rough definition of bokeh). In the past, what we call bokeh today, was often considered an aberation. On the DOF issue, in my opinion, inclusion of background can place an individual into a context instead of a stand alone isolated from surroundings shot.
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  3. Its based in history.
    Marry Ellen Mark started photography with a box brownie camera (fixed focus?) got a degree in art history and painting in 1962, learned her trade 1963-66 and started to do social critical work partially abroad, supported by a scholarship in the beginning. She was also focused on the fringes of society.
    Let's translate that: Art history & painting are more likely to mimic human vision instead of getting bokeh crazy.
    Being abroad on a scholarship during film days means: You have limited funds = limited shots.
    Shooting "fringes of society" means you have to somehow slightly blend in. - It is odd enough that you intend to shoot them at all. When people are used to putting different Xmas trees on both ends of their roll of film, it would be extremely weird, if you cranked an entire brick of film through your camera to bring a portrait home.
    Integrating the folks she shot into their environment had probably additional meaning for her images.
    Common sense: "Being professional means getting the job done."
    If your future depends on that, it is a smart move to do portraiture with an "f8 & be there" approach, till you believe you nailed something and if you have a chance you can try to do some bokeh shots later, maybe on the modeling lights of previously used studio strobes.
    If you are using backdrops shallow DOF becomes way less important. - Why bother? Isn't it more important to get the desired expression out of your subjects?

    I believe it must have been during the 90s or early 2000s that I stumbled across "bokeh" as a word for the 1st time, while I've been sponging photo related literature since the mid 80s and of course borrowed old stuff dating back to the 1920s too.
    Without claiming expertise on my end I can easily imagine that Mary Ellen Mark's generation of photographers simply didn't care.
    I think in the old days we opened up when we had to. Coming from zone focused compact cameras I was usually quite DOF conscious and film wasn't cheap enough to wager it without being forced to do so.
    Wealthier amateurs had different approaches. - I recall a buddy doing "high end Lomography", trying to shoot his Noctilux wide open without bringing something in focus home and my dad preaching "boy, you can't cheat physics; give it up" when I looked at another roll of pushed film shot with my 50/1.7 without much success.
    Today amateurs can click away for dirt cheap. They don't shoot much and a camera should do 15K clicks per year to wear out in a timely fashion or buying it was kind of a waste of money. Amateur thinking includes frequently acquiring unproportionally expensive cameras and lenses, while cheaping out on other aspects like timing and location of outdoor shots or lighting and studio gear, etc. + Maybe even a shifting of goals from "I#ll try to shoot Jill to have a picture of her" to "I'll do a session with Jill to try out *** and look if I can do ### with my #*#"

    Nothing wrong about bokeh shots, if you have the means to get them done successfully. I think so far I don't, so I'll rather avoid them. - YMMV. Portraiture isn't my field of employment; just a hobby and I feel embarrassed about the lack of results.
    johnny_hfour and PapaTango like this.
  4. I can only speak from my own experience. I love depth of field portraits and I love shallow depth of field. I make a deliberate choice based on whether the composition of the portrait will be stronger with or without depth of field. If I want to tell a story in one shot as in an environmental portrait then the background better be in focus to help communicate that. If its only about the subject then I like a shallow depth of field. If the background is less than perfect or undesirable then out of focus it goes. You see its not about whats the preferred lens or the best F-Stop but rather what is the right lens and F-Stop to achieve what I want my final image to communicate.
    Ricochetrider and gungajim like this.
  5. Michael is absolutely right. As a photographer, you are responsible for everything in the frame including the background. It is up to the photographer to make the decision if the background contributes to the purpose of the shot. He must then decide how much in or out of focus is needed. Like Michael said, if the environment explains or contributes to the shot, by all means, stop down and have it more in focus. If it distracts or does not support the purpose of the shot, if you or the subject can't be moved, then throw it out of focus. Also, remember the viewer's eye goes to the sharpest and area of highest contrast, so making the subject sharp and the rest of the image out of focus drives the viewers eye to the subject. Michael placed the most important word last in the most powerful part of a message, communicate, what he wants communicated. That governs everything from distance to subject and bg, setting perspective, lens angle of view cropping the scene, lighting, camera height, aperture and shutter speed. These are the grammar and vocabulary of photography that transforms a snap shot into an image that has a something to powerfully communicate. I compare making an image to sitting down to your keyboard. You don't just hit random keys. You know what you want to say, then use the keys to make words, sentences and paragraphs that most forcefully expresses what you want to say. Aperture and dof/bokeh is just one of those. Someone who does this isn't taking a photo, he is making one.
    gungajim, sjmurray and michaelmowery like this.
  6. Were people really shooting for a few pixels on the Internet? - Images look different when printed large.
  7. For those fans of Dali, we have a permanent Dali museum here in Tampa.
    gungajim likes this.
  8. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    Wow, I have been gone from there for quite a while, but I had not heard that Tampa took over St. Pete... :cool:
  9. PT, Tampa bay area. Most folks who haven't lived in FL know where Tampa is from the sports teams, but St. Pete so much.
  10. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    OK, just poking at you!

    I remember St. Pete from the 60s, back when Webb City was still in full glory--and the shuffleboard courts downtown. It was a big deal when the city landed the award to host the museum in the early 80s. Back then, it was adjacent to the USF campus on 3rd Street. Many happy hours spent wandering about the place... :)
  11. Does its “magnificence” come from the DOF? I think it’s got a lot more to do with the subject’s eyes, the flowers growing out of his mustache, the connection of surrealism to surrealist, the gesture of his head, and his being in the water. Yes, DOF of the water was a good choice. A good supporting choice. Not why it’s a good portrait, though, IMO.
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  12. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    ^^^ Right there! ;)
  13. PT, great museum and had an intriguing exhibit last year showcasing Dali's appreciation of Picasso by making his own version of numerous Picasso works. The 2 versions were hung side by side for viewing. Not sure if the Museum of Fine Art was down the street at the time you were there or the Chihuly exhibit that has now been moved a few blocks away closer to Morean Art Center that I believe was there in those days. St Pete now has a substantial number of art galleries as well.
  14. No. HOWEVER... Imagine the background in focus. Distracting? Still a great photo?
  15. Imagine the foreground out-of-focus. Same problem. It would be distracting and would pull the eye away from the subject.

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