Join Steve Simon for an in-depth discussion in this video Critiquing images with selective focus, part of Photo Critique of the Week.
- You know, I'm often amazed when I see an image that's shot at a wide F-stop and something in the frame is completely out of focus, yet it's amazing to me how clearly I understand what I'm looking at. Hi, I'm Steven Simon, The Passionate Photographer, and welcome to another edition of Photo Critique of the Week. This week, we're going to look at a variety of images, all shot with the one common element being they're shot close to wide open. Alright, let's take a look. So I've been photographing the political conventions for quite a number of years and I'm going to show you some images from these conventions and talk a little bit about why I choose to use selective focus, to keep the viewer's eye on where you want them.
And I do like having fast lenses, mainly because I like to use them at fairly wide apertures, but interestingly, I don't necessarily want to use it completely wide open because in my experience, particularly with lenses that are larger than f/2.8, f/2, 1.8 and 1.4, I tend to get a sharper image by using F-stops that are a little bit smaller than the widest opening, yet I still get the really interesting bouquet.
And the bouquet, even though things are completely out of focus, really do help to tell the story that you're trying to say. You can see these are American flags. You can see what happens to point light sources when they're completely out of focus. The viewer's eye is going to tend to go to the brightest and the sharpest area of the frame, so you can use this to your advantage, no question. Even here in this image, a younger Obama, and again I've been covering these things since 2004, so I've got variety of different imagery here.
Little bit of movement there, but that's still okay. There's an energy, I think, that's created sometimes with movement, and hey, maybe sharpness is sometimes overrated. It doesn't have to always be sharp. So you can use selective focus as a way to move the viewer's eye to where you want them to be. These guys are putting leaflets on the chairs and because the out of focus chairs and the rhythm of them, the rhythm of the lines will lead you further down because your eye does tend to go to the sharpest area of the frame, again, along with the brightest area.
So in this particular instance, this guy in discussion is where you end up because he's the sharpest part of this particular image. And again, you got the foreground out of focus, the background out of focus, but you definitely get a sense of all these cowboy hats and you kind of see what's going on. In this protest shot, selective focus can make things a lot more three dimensional. This is an 85 millimeter lens that tends to compress things a little bit. She's sharp, but even though these other protestors are out of focus, you definitely can see their faces.
You can see what's going on. And it helps to tell the story, so in essence, you create almost a three dimensional story by having less in focus and keeping your viewer on where you want them to go. This is another example. You can see that this woman in the foreground is the sharpest area of the scene, but there's no questioning, even though something's out of focus here or this woman's out of focus, you totally understand what's there, but by using selective focus, you're forcing the viewer to go here and then start to look around the frame, but it all contributes, and the amazing thing to me was the realization that something that's very, very out of focus still has a huge communication power and you can use that to your advantage when it comes to taking pictures.
And of course the added bonus is that you end up, because you're using a wider aperture, you can use a lower ISO and a faster shutter speed, so you'll have sharp images. These are two images taken, again with selective focus. You can see that the aperture is almost the same. F/2 and f/1.8, but this is a longer lens, and with a longer lens that compresses more, the foreground elements tend to be a little bit more out of focus than here. But it's quite obvious where your eyes go, not only from centrally locating this particular gentleman in the middle here, but also the fact that he's so sharp and these guys are out of focus, so it's really interesting to consider using selective focus by putting background out of focus, but one area that maybe you haven't played with that much, and it's something that I'm doing more and more is to place those foreground elements out of focus as well, and that could be very powerful.
Here's an example where you have both foreground and background out of focus, so the focus is on this woman in the middle. So, it's something that I think you should become a little bit more conscious of if you're not already, by staying, if you're in automatic mode on your camera, in aperture priority, you can easily choose the wide aperture that you want, and if you're new to using very wide apertures, I would experiment a little and see what happens.
The closer you are to your subject, the more you're going to throw out of focus the foreground and background depending. And of course, the longer the lens, the more compressed and the more out of focus that selective focus is going to be. It's one of the most powerful techniques that we have in our arsenal in terms of photography and it's something definitely worth exploring. Well there you go. I'm a big fan of using selective focus as a means of making my images stronger when appropriate.
Thanks for joining me. I hope to see you next week on another episode of Photo Critique of the Week.
Check back each week to watch as more critiques are added, covering new work from many different genres. This series is designed to help you discover how to improve your work as a photographer. By heightening your awareness through analysis, you can harness the information to enhance your photographic eye.
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