Monday, May 12, 2014

How little depth of field do you really need?

I photograph sports.  I've been past the cutesy, gotta do all the trick photos phase for quite a long time.  I just want to get the job done, precisely, correctly.

Since digital photography arrived en masse, a number of people have been going on and on and on about proper depth of field, and how only a larger sensor can do it correctly.

As far as I can tell, these people aren't photographers.  No, holding a camera in your hand and pointing it at something and then, pressing the shutter release doesn't make you a photographer.  You don't have to quote the rules of photography, either.  We get it, you've been practicing to impress someone.  You've just bought a 50mm f/1.8 lens for almost nothing and it's so much better than your kit lens that you don't know how you've lived without it.

I've seen a number of photos recently that don't have enough depth of field.  For whatever reason, these people have been pushing the need for a narrow depth of field that other people are taking the need seriously.  It's a bit ridiculous.

If I'm photographing a person, I want more than just the nose in focus.  The entire face should be in focus, unless we're selling reconstructive surgery.

If I'm photographing a product, I want to focus on the product so that the markings on the product are clearly legible.  (If you don't want serial numbers, license plates, or addresses, blur them after you get the rest in focus.)  The customer should be able to see what they're buying in great detail, not think that they're buying a cheap knock-off of some device.  "Wait, does that say Rolecks?"

If I'm photographing a landscape, which I don't normally consider doing, I want the deepest depth of field possible.  Of course, if I'm photographing one tree in that landscape, I want to get just that tree into focus.

I can understand the desire to set yourself apart by using tricks, such as the slowed-down water look.  It's cute and people will ask "how did you do that?" but once you're past that phase, will you know how to tell a story with an ordinary subject on an ordinary day?

I've seen many people finally responding to the flamebait about the same aperture on a smaller sensor.  If the same aperture requires the same shutter speed, how is the smaller format really different in light gathering as far as the final photo goes?  It isn't.  You can get the shot with both formats.

Yes, we know that the effective depth of field will be different but the light is the light is the light.

For all those purists who think that a larger sensor is critical for casual photography that will never be printed, please buy the latest Pentax 645z.  It should buy you bragging rights beyond anything you've previously owned, even 135 Format camera bodies.

Yes, it's easy to become cynical, jaded, etc. after so many years of just getting the job done.  However, it's sadly amusing to see people write things into the "how it should be done" book when it's not really necessary.  My suggestions for people would be to put down the cameras and imagine and think and then, go shoot with every available setting.  We need more stories.  We need fewer tricks.

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