Depth Of Field Photography Assignment Ideas

What’s It All About?

Shooting with the aperture wide open is a really good way of taking soft, naturally lit photos, as the aperture produces a shallow depth of field which allows the maximum amount of light in.

It’s also a great way of drawing the viewers eye to a certain part of the photo; the majority of the image will be out of focus.

The photos in this post were shot on 3 different lenses; a 24-70 f/2.8, a 35mm f/1.4 and a 50mm f/1.8. Even though the maximum aperture varies, they were all shot at their maximum.

The reason for this is because the bokeh of the photo is much better. For those that don’t understand what that means, I suggest reading my article.

For the purpose of this post, think of it as the aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photograph. It relates to how ‘nice’ the background blur looks when out-of-focus.

Although the numbers 1.4 and 2.8 seem close together, 1.4 actually allows 4 times more light into the lens than 2.8.

If you’ve read my post on aperture, you’ll understand what this means but here’s a quick explanation of how it works:

f/1.4 is 2 stops wider than f/2.8: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8… for every f-stop, the lens allows half as much light in, so f/2 allows half as much light as f/1.4 and f/2.8 allows half as much light as f/2.

Because these photos were shot with the aperture wide open, a lot more light can enter, creating much softer photos.

Tips and Photos

The wider the aperture, the wider your bokeh will be. Anything other then wide open will cause the bokeh to be the shape of the aperture rings (usually pentagonal or octagonal).

It’s a great way to produce soft backgrounds like in the photo below, shot at f/2.8.

When you’re shooting indoors, there’s a lot less light available; bouncing the flash off a wall and shooting with a wide aperture creates just the right amount of light for a good exposure.

When your aperture is wide open, your depth of field becomes extremely shallow and it’s hard to find a good focal point. You can choose to worry about this or, as I would advise, not worry at all.

In the photo below, shot at f/1.8, the lack of focus actually makes it look better in my opinion.

4 – Focus Attention

Shallow DoF helps draw the attention to a certain part of the body, leaving the rest blurred.

When you have multiple subjects in a scene, a wide aperture will only allow focus on one person, making it a great tool for selective focus in photography.

The photo below was shot with the aperture wide open. This kept the background blurred even though the subject wasn’t far away from it. That gives the photos an eerie feel in my opinion.

To emphasise the DoF, place the subject in the scene moving away from you.

Shot at twilight, the wide aperture allowed me capture a lot of natural light in the background that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

The foreground may be out of focus but that doesn’t matter to me. Consider what’s in your foreground and how you can use it to spark some interest in your photo.

Be very careful where you’re focusing. Rather than on her nose, I focused on the light on her cheek underneath her sunglasses because that produced the best overall focus. 

Natural light is your best friend when shooting with a wide aperture. 

You can be more adventurous with placement of key features in a photo when using a shallow depth of field. The viewer’s eyes will be drawn to whatever you’ve focused on.

A wide aperture is important when shooting into the sun. The lens flare will be the same shape of your aperture. Anything other than wide open will cause the bokeh to be the shape of the aperture rings (usually pentagonal or octagonal).

Wide apertures are great if you want the viewer to only look at a single part of a photo.

Top Tip! If you focus on the eyes of your subject, the rest of the face will appear in focus too. Even at f/1.4.

Wide aperture captures loads of light. This allows you to turn up your shutter speed and take photos while you’re walking, of other moving subjects.

If there’s movement in your photo, focus on the stillest part of the photo, like the lips in the photo below.

Wide apertures are particularly effective if you’re shooting through objects in your foreground. It turns them to a soft blur.

If you’re going to be shooting with a wide aperture, consider what else you can put on that same focal plane and have multiple points of interest in the photo. Not only did I focus on the model’s face but the flowers she was reaching for too.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief: Thank you for reading... CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera. It's my training video that will walk you how to use your camera's functions in just 10 minutes - for free! I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects: You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos! Thanks again for reading our articles!

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Taking on a photography project is a great way to get yourself out of a photography rut and to bring some focus to your picture-taking. Placing some constraints on what you're going to take photos of or what camera gear you'll use really does force you to become more creative, too.

Photography projects are also great if you've just got your first proper camera - rather than shooting everyone and everything, taking on a photography project is a great way to learn as you shoot, while you'll end up with a coherent set of images at the end of it.

We've prepared 52 fantastic photo ideas - one for every week in 2018. These are split into three sections: easy home projects you can do today, ideas you can try outdoors at the weekend and a series of ongoing photo projects that you can start now but keep topping up in the coming weeks and months.

Home photography projects

1. Water drop art

The basic idea with this project is to suspend a container of liquid and let drops fall through a small hole, then capture the resulting splash. Timing the shutter as the splash is created is everything. We achieved good results using two flashguns set to their lowest power (1/128th), an aperture of f/22 and water mixed with Xanthan gum to make a more viscous solution. We also used a SplashArt water drop kit from PhotoTrigger, which helped to regulate the size and frequency of the drops.

2. Indoor splash shots

For this project you'll need a flashgun that you can fire remotely, a container with clear sides for your water, a coloured background and a tripod. Set up the container and backdrop, then position the flash over the container. With the camera on a tripod and set to manual focus and exposure - f/8, ISO200 and the fastest shutter speed that will work with your flash - drop the object into the water and fire the shutter as it hits.

3. Create smoke art

Smoke trails are a firm favourite among still-life photographers. But how about taking it to the next level and using the shapes in a creative Photoshop project. Once you've taken a few good smoke art photos, make a blank document in Photoshop, then copy and paste one of the smoke images into it. Set the blending mode to Screen and use Warp Transform to reshape it. Continue the process to combine a range of smoke shots into a new image.

4. Try cross-polarisation

This fun project exploits the effect that polarised light has on some plastics. You'll need two polarising filters - ideally one of these should be a sheet of polarising film. You can pick up an A4 sheet of Lee 239 polarising film for £50 (try www.robertwhite.co.uk or www.pnta.com). The sheet of film should be placed on a lightbox or in front of the only light source. An iPad screen and most computer screens have a polarising filter built in, so if you don't have a sheet of polarising film you can always experiment by creating a white document to fill the screen. Simply attach the circular polariser to the camera lens and rotate it to make the colours appear in clear plastic items

5. Food landscapes

Spice up your food photography! All you need is a set of model figures - Hornby 00 gauge figures are perfect, as they're available in a wide range of poses. Preiser has a great range too. The most important aspect is to establish a sense of narrative. Here you can see that there's a conversation between the characters, with the mountaineer on the 'mash face' being helped by his colleagues on the ground.

6. Fine-art food

Try turning your dinner ingredients into photo art using just a lightbox and a very sharp knife. Slice fruit and vegetables as thinly and evenly as possible, then place them on the lightbox. With the camera positioned directly above, use Live View to focus manually on the details. Set an aperture of f/8 to give adequate depth of field, and dial in some exposure compensation of +1 to +3 stops as the bright light can fool the camera's meter into underexposure.

7. Flowers in ice

A relatively inexpensive way of taking 'kitchen sink' close-ups that look great blown up as wall art. Freeze flowers in plastic containers of distilled or de-ionised water (available through your local auto or hardware store). The flowers will float, so try to weigh them down or fasten them in place so that they freeze under the water. Place the block of ice on top of a clear bowl or glass in a white sink or plate, so that the light can bounce through from below. Position a flashgun off to one side, angled down towards it, and shoot from the opposite side.

8. Abstracts in oil

Oil floating on the surface of water is a great way to make striking abstracts. This table-top photo project exploits the refractive quality of oil and bubbles to accentuate and distort colours. All you need to do is place a few drops of cooking oil on the surface of water in a glass dish. Make sure the dish is supported about 25cm about the table top, then place coloured paper under it and use an anglepoise lamp or flashgun to light the paper.

9. Oily reflections

This project follows a similar theme to the previous one, but here the patterns are created by a cover over the light rather than a coloured background. First, make a cover for an anglepoise lamp using acetate, card and tape. Use masking tape to attach it, but make sure it isn't touching the bulb, and keep the light off when you're not shooting. Place a full bucket of water in front of the lamp, add a few drops of cooking oil. Stir up the oil, get in close and shoot.

10. Psychedelic soap film

This is a wonderful project that makes for vibrant desktop wallpaper or abstract wall art. You'll need liquid soap mixed with glycerine for long-lasting soap film, plus a wire loop, a black cloth background and a macro lens of at least 100mm. The colours created by soap film only appear when hit by light from a certain angle, so set up near a north-facing window and shoot from around 45 degrees.

11. Refractive art

Light bends when it passes through water, causing the objects behind to change appearance. This is called refraction, and you'll make use of this phenomenon in this arty photo project. All you need is a few glasses, a flashgun, a tripod and a black-and-white pattern print. Simply place the pattern in the background with the glasses in front. Fill them with different levels of water and move the pattern backwards or forwards to fine-tune the effect.

12. Kitchen close-ups

Your kitchen is an ideal location for shooting a macro project. Its reflective surfaces can be used to create interesting backgrounds for your shots, and a shallow depth of field can transform the most mundane of objects you'll find there. Creating a triptych of images can result in a piece of fantastic wall art for your kitchen too, although it's important to think about how they're going to work together before you start shooting. Here, 3 objects - a fork, a bowl of cereal and coffee granules - were all shot from a similar angle, with the impression of height linking the sequence.

13. Still-life bokeh

Something as simple as a crumpled piece of foil can be the basis for a creative photo project. Position a still-life subject on a sheet of glass with a piece of dark material underneath it. Scrunch up the kitchen foil then smooth it back out and place it in the background. Shine a table lamp or torch on the foil and, with a tripod mounted camera, dial in the lens's widest aperture to create some beautiful 'bokeh'. During the exposure, shine a flashlight onto the subject.

14. Bokeh bubbles

Small highlights often create nice bokeh, so fairy lights are perfect for this project. Position them far enough away so that they will be out of focus at a wide aperture. Position your subject, in this case a glass, close to the camera and focus on it. Tweak the position of the fairy lights until it looks like cool coloured bubbles are floating out of the glass. This technique can also be used to create bokeh 'steam' from mugs of hot drinks.

15. Still life light trails

Light trails can be used in all kinds of photography, but they're perfect for a creative still life project. You can use a regular Maglite torch, but try removing the end to reveal the bulb and make the light more direct. Use some electrical tape to attach a coloured sweet wrapper, which you can use as a makeshift 'gel'. Set the canera's shutter speed to around 30 secs with an aperture of around f/8, then start moving the torch within the frame before pressing the shutter. Continue the movement throughout the exposure. Here, we suspended the torch from a piece of string and made a gentle circular movement to create a spiral around the bottle.

16. Light spirals

You'll need to attach a torch, suspended by string, to an open area of ceiling. Fit the widest lens you have on your camera, and mount it on a tripod pointing straight up. With the light turned on, autofocus on the tip of the torch and set the lens to manual focus to lock the setting in. With an aperture of f/11 or f/16 dialled in, use Bulb mode and a remote release to keep the shutter open for a minute or so as you send the torch spinning in the dark…

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