shallow depth of field

Choice of Aperture for a Clematis in the Garden by Todd Henson

One day while visiting my folks I was taken by the sight of this beautiful purple clematis flowering in their garden, hanging from a black metal trellis. Thankfully I had my camera with me that day, though only a single lens, the 16-35mm f/4. I don’t often use this lens for photographing flowers, but it seemed like a good time to start.

The photos in this post show 3 different angles I tried when photographing these lovely flowers. They weren’t all that high off the ground so I used the 35mm end of the zoom to focus in on the flower without too much distracting background. Then I experimented with framing and with aperture.

I most often use the 16-35mm when I’d like a lot of depth of field. Wide angle lenses are usually good at providing this. But when photographing these clematis I was more interested in a shallow depth of field. The widest aperture of this lens is f/4 and that ended up being the aperture I used for my favorite shots of this series. I did, however, create 2 images at f/8 to show you the difference this makes.

I held the lens physically close to the subject, probably very close to the minimum focusing distance of the lens. Even with an aperture of f/8 the background is nicely blurred, but it does still have some detail. Notice the difference when I opened the aperture one more stop to f/4, its widest setting. It throws the background even more out of focus, but it also throws some of the main flower out of focus.

There’s no right or wrong in these situations. It all depends on what look you are going for. For myself, I tend to prefer the images with a shallower depth of field. Which do you prefer?

Young Ringless Honey Mushrooms and Depth of Field by Todd Henson

Small cluster of young Ringless Honey Mushrooms

I found the mushrooms above in one of my favorite parks along a wooded path in late August. I believe these are young Ringless Honey Mushrooms, also known as Armillaria Tabescens, that grow on the roots of hardwood trees in eastern North America. There were several small clusters in the area, all growing on the forest floor below hardwood trees.

It was still early in the day and the trees were filtering the sunlight, creating a soft light on the mushrooms. I thought these might look nice shot with a shallow depth of field and a completely out of focus background, so I took the camera off the tripod and lay down on my stomach, resting the camera on the ground in front of me to get a ground-level view of the cluster of young mushrooms.

Achieving a shallow depth of field was fairly easy with the long lens I had with me. I shot at 440mm and was as close as I could get to the mushrooms and still focus (around 6 or 7 feet). I used an aperture of f/6.3 and given the level of light I boosted the ISO to 1600 to get a shutter speed of 1/60 second. As you can see, this allows for a fairly shallow depth of field.

But looking at the photo now I realize I should have attempted a few shots with smaller apertures to increase the depth of field and get a little more of the mushroom cluster in focus. There wasn’t anything directly behind the mushrooms, so I could easily have kept the background out of focus. I love shallow depth of field, but I need to constantly remind myself to also create images with a larger depth of field. Maybe an aperture of f/8 or f/11 would have been better. I should have experimented more.

So next time you’re out in the woods, take a moment to look down. Maybe you’ll find an interesting mushroom along the forest floor, something worth photographing, or at least worth studying. And if you do choose to photograph the mushroom take the time to work the subject, experiment, try large apertures for shallow depth of field, but also try smaller apertures for more depth of field. Perhaps even try a very narrow aperture to capture the entire scene in focus showing the mushroom in its environment. It only takes a few extra minutes to work the subject, and it’s almost always worth the time.

The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Eastern Box Turtle Along A Paved Path by Todd Henson

Eastern Box Turtle on pavement shot from ground level.

Any day I can photograph an Eastern Box Turtle is a good day. This particular turtle was along the side of a paved trail in a local wildlife refuge. It used to be a road, but is now just part of the trail system.

We found the box turtle stopped maybe 6 feet from the edge of the pavement. There were trees on either side, and a stream nearby that passed under the road. This was a perfect environment for the turtle.

To capture these images I used a long telephoto lens to help blur the background. I wanted to look right at the turtle, from its perspective, so I set aside the tripod and instead lay down on my stomach on the pavement with the camera in front of me resting on the ground.

Closeup of Eastern Box Turtle

Then I slowly crawled forward to get as close as I could but still capture the entire turtle in the frame. I moved in a little closer to capture the closeup image. I love the eyes on this turtle, all the colors and patterns.

One of these days when I find a turtle like this I want to stick around long enough for the turtle to get used to me and begin walking. But this part of the trail was somewhat busy and I didn’t want to attract too much attention to the turtle, or agitate it. So I moved on after capturing these images.

For another example of this technique check out my post about photographing a green frog where I show images shot from different perspectives. As with that photo, I think I could have stopped down the aperture a bit more to capture just a little more depth of field, putting more of the turtle in focus. I often gravitate to the wider apertures, which limit depth of field and create nice blurry backgrounds. But sometimes more depth of field can also be a good thing, even when shooting these animal portraits.

The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.