While I was becoming a more serious SLR photographer, I was obsessive about getting everything in focus. I think this came from having used box cameras that had small maximum apertures, and compact 35mm cameras that had wide-angle lenses. Small lens apertures and wide-angle lenses lead to what’s called a “large depth of field”. This means that everything from the foreground to the far background is in focus. As I improved, I realised that you can get much more creative images if you control the focus point carefully, and limit what’s in focus to a small area. It’s called a shallow depth of field. Here’s an example:
I’ve focussed on the foreground poppy, used a telephoto lens and a wide lens aperture, to throw the background wire fence out of focus. It makes for a much more evocative image, with a relevance to Remembrance Day.
You can also use control of the focus area to make images that are ambiguous, and open to many interpretations.
The warm-toned out-of-focus circles in the background mimic the patterns of the in-focus sequins in the foreground, but we’re not sure what their spatial relationship is, or even their sizes.
With portraits you need to focus on the subject’s eyes. If you let the rest of the image go soft, it allows the viewer to really concentrate on the “windows to the soul”, and gives great communication. Here I’ve taken it to another level by only focusing on the nearer eye, which gives even more impact to the image.
If you are inspired to try and take these sort of images, the best way is to use a telephoto lens, or zoom your compact camera’s lens out to its maximum, and use a wide lens aperture.