with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Creative Closeups

The magic of the closeup world is not just the technical expertise it takes to create dramatic macro photography, but also the artistry used to capture the magic.

Depth Of Field Creativity

Depth of field is the amount the image is in focus from back to front. It is controlled by the aperture of the camera. The smaller the aperture (f22, f32 or greater) the deeper the depth of field. The closer you are to your subject, the shallower the depth of field. Landscape photography measures depth of field in miles or kilometers. Closeup photography measures depth of field in millimeters.

Measuring Depth of Field in Millimeters

1:1 magnification
Depth of Field test of quarter against dollar bill at f2.8, photograph by Brent VanFossen
Aperture of f2.8
Depth of Field test of quarter against dollar bill at f32, photograph by Brent VanFossen
Aperture of f32

To show you the difference, we have photographed a US quarter against a US dollar bill at 1:1 magnification or life size. At an aperture of f2.8, focused on the quarter, only the front of the quarter is in focus and the dollar bill behind it is out of focus. At this aperture, our depth of field is literally the thickness of the coin, bare millimeters. When we close down our aperture to the smallest opening, in this case to f32, the collar bill is now in focus. At extreme closeness, our depth of field is barely the depth of the coin.

Understanding how depth of field works is very important for closeup photography. Almost all point-and-shoot cameras do not give you information or the option to adjust your depth of field, so every picture is taken at approximately the widest aperture available, thus the narrowest depth of field. As most point-and-shoot cameras are hand held, a fast shutter speed is essential to prevent camera shake. Some point-and-shoot cameras will not even allow you to take a picture if there isn’t enough light or the focus is off or not found. You must experiment to discover the limitations of your point-and-shoot camera.

Depth of field now becomes part of the compositional elements as you choose what to put into focus and what not to. The out of focus elements can become just as important to the image as the part that are in focus. For example, let’s examine this series of three photographs of the same flower. Moving through the flower from front to back, adjusting only our focusing point as the depth of field is at maximum, look at how the picture and composition completely changes. Which one you like best is up to you, but the point is that you can choose where to focus to change the composition of the image.

Changing Only the Aperture for Changing the Composition

Closeup of inside red flower, focus is in the front, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenCloseup of inside red flower, focus is in the middle, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenCloseup of inside red flower, focus is in the back, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenWhen the depth of field is in millimeters, so shallow that even a focusing shift can create a completely different image, you have what is called “selective focus”. This is where the focus point becomes the subject rather than the subject itself. This is not a series of pictures of a red flower, but much more – artwork.

Selective Focus

Cllseup of the inside of rose petals, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenWhen you increase your magnification, you enter a new world where what is in focus is the main focus, allowing everything else to fade off into blurs. This process of deciding what to have sharp in the image and what not to is called selective focus. Developed extensively by nature photographer, Mary Ellen Schultz, her amazing studies of the inside of flowers, where focus and depth of field is measured in millimeters if measurable at all, have become classic works of art as she took abstract art and impressionism to new heights. Here are some samples of our work which recall the magic of her work.

Closeup of a poppy flower edge, photograph by Brent VanFossenAs you work with this technique, a depth of field preview is required to help you choose your focus point and determine exactly what is in focus as well as what isn’t. And at extreme closeup magnification, lighting becomes a problem. Use a flashlight or studio lamp to assist you in focusing and composing, then turn it off to capture the natural light, if possible, or use fill flash.

A daisy becomes magical with a purple blur of another flower in front, photograph by Brent VanFossenExpanding upon this notion of selective focus, you can also creative your own selective focus “blurs” to enhance your images. Especially when working with wildflowers, you are often challenged with difficult lighting situations as well as distracting foregrounds and backgrounds. By photographing with out-of-focus colorful flower pedals in the foreground, with your main subject in focus, you can create a watercolor wash of color in the foreground of your subject. If the neighboring flowers don’t cooperate, you can pick up some fallen or damaged flowers (we do not recommend picking wildflowers for this process) and hold them up in front of your lens to recreate the same quality. By understanding how your lens sees and working with the depth of field preview or by experimentation, move the flowers in your hand forwards and backward between the lens and the subject until you achieve your desired result.

Using Selective Focus to Change the Foreground

Brent holds up a damaged and fallen flower in front of his subject. Understanding his depth of field range, he moves it around until it blurs the distracting foreground, isolating the subject flower in the background.

Brent holds up a damaged flower, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenPoppy without the foreground blurred, photograph by Brent VanFossenPoppy with the foreground blurred by another flower, photograph by Brent VanFossen


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