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Depth-of-Field, Your Creative Tool

Depth-of-Field – Your Creative Tool

The creative use of Depth-of-Field (DOF) has been a journey of discovery, wonder and artistic joy for me my entire photographic career.

Even now, after many years of working with film, then digital cameras, it never ceases to amaze me what a huge difference the choice of how to use this technique makes to a photograph.

Learning to use DOF creatively to generate artistic impressions of the scenes and subjects you deal with is one of the most exciting discoveries you will have in photography.

Extreme Depth-of-Field example
Extreme Depth-of-Field example

Depth-of-Field is described as the distance within which everything is in focus. Think of having everything from 2 metres away to 10 metres away in focus, and nothing else; those 8 metres are the depth-of-field.

DOF is dependent on the aperture, focal length of your lens, distance the camera is from the subject and distance between the subject and the background.

Aperture, the opening in the lens, is measured in f/stops; the smaller the aperture, the larger the f/stop is numbered. For example, f/22 is a very small opening while f/2.8 has the lens almost completely opened.

Lenses with shorter focal lengths allow for a greater DOF than do longer focal lengths; the reason landscape photographers use wide angle lenses and hyperfocal distance in their work. This way they get the detail in the foreground in focus as well as the trees and hills in the background.

Hyperfocal distance is the closest distance you can be focus and still keep objects at infinity in acceptable sharpness. It changes with different f/stops.

Set your digital camera on aperture priority or use it in manual mode to gain control of the f/stop.

Using small apertures cuts the amount of light travelling through the lens and creates a need for longer shutter speeds.

Use your tripod.

Shallow Depth-of-Field example
Shallow Depth-of-Field example

Let’s take a look at the opposite end of the DOF spectrum; having a very short distance in focus. Portraiture is one photographic style where this comes into play often.

The closer your subject is to you and the further away the background is from your subject, the easier it is to have your subject in sharp focus while allowing the background to go out of focus.

Shallow DOF can create an image where the beautiful face of your child is in sharp focus while the background is blurry. This effect makes the portrait stand out from everything else.

Wide angle lenses are not usually used for portraiture as you have to get in very close to your subject causing facial distortion, and even wide open they still have quite a wide DOF.

Focal lengths of 50 to 85 are the norm for portraiture, allowing some distance between you and your subject and providing the capacity for a minimal DOF so you can create that wonderful bokeh – the blurry out of focus area of your photo.

The quality of the bokeh differs with each lens, lighting situation and any sharp highlights that may be in the background.

The more blades a lens has to control aperture, the better the bokeh. Their shape and the opening they create also impact on how it is displayed.

Lenses with large apertures allow for the shortest DOF so can be very versatile in doing close-up work. The wider the f/stop, the easier to separate the background from the item you want enhanced.

Longer lenses offer an opportunity to create a portrait while you are still some distance away from your subject. They may, however, cause some distortion.

However, long lenses are useful in photographing sports.

We’ve all seen the images of a football player making the great catch and it seems he is the only thing in the photo as the crowd and all the other players have been lost in the blurry background.

This is created with a very long lens and large aperture.

Take this information to use your digital camera to its utmost by experimenting with the creative use of depth-of-field. You won’t be disappointed.

If you have comments or questions post them in the comment section below.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Happy shooting and remember to leave the environment as you found it.

Norm Hamilton

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Three Steps to Sharper Photos

These three steps result in sharper photosAre your digital photos not as sharp as you’d like? Have you wondered why? Let’s consider the three most common causes.

  • Poor focus
  • Subject movement
  • Camera shake

Canada Goose at Quamichan Lake near Duncan, B.C.Poor focus. Take an extra second or two to check that the emphasis of the camera’s auto-focus is on the subject. Sometimes another part of the frame catches their attention.

Tie ring at Transfer Beach, Ladysmith, BC
This image was hand held with a VR Lens and high shutter speed. If I had been a couple of inches closer I would have lost the sharpness.

Make sure you are not too close to if you want the image to be tack-sharp or your camera may not focus clearly. This is true in all cases unless your lens is a true macro lens.

A second source of soft photos, subject blur, happens when the person or thing you want to capture is moving faster than the digital camera can record it. Low light that calls for slow shutter speeds is often the cause.

Fast shutter speeds stop motion. The faster your subject is moving, the faster the shutter speed needs to be. So how do you increase manage that? You need more light.

In most circumstances you cannot increase ambient light so you can add flash, raise the ISO or increase lens’ aperture. Flash provides its own quick light while the latter two will allow you to use faster shutter speeds. Again, the quicker the shutter speed the more likelihood your subject is caught without movement. (Future posts will explain flash photography and controlling exposure with ISO, F/stops and shutter speed)

The general rule is set your shutter speed higher than the reciprocal of the focal length of your lens. Trust me, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

When shooting with a 50 mm lens keep your shutter speed faster than 1/60th of a second. Similarly, with a 100 mm lens, your shutter speed ought to be 1/125th of a second or more and with a 200mm lens, 1/250th of a second or more.

Camera shake. Ah, yes, the bane of all photographers. Simply put, this is movement of the digital camera during exposure. The tiniest shiver during the split second when the shutter is open can result in a soft image.

When shooting, grasp your camera in both hands, cradling it close to your body. Keep your elbows in close, resting against your body. If possible, race yourself against a solid object such as a wall, a signpost or a tree. A tripod is your best friend. It is the one tool guaranteed to improve your images.

Taken in a dark rain forest. I set the camera on the ground for stabilization.

Many digital cameras have a mirror-up and remote release feature. This eliminates vibration caused by mirror movement. One caveat: remember to turn off vibration reduction features when using a tripod.

Many digital cameras, or their lenses, have a feature that reduces vibration is known as VR, IS, OS or another notation, depending on your camera manufacturer. This reduces camera shake but will not eliminate it entirely. Nor will it reduce blur caused by your subject’s movement or poor focus.

Now that we’ve mentioned them, the difference between a mediocre lens and a piece of high-quality optics is reflected in both sharpness and cost. Keep your expenses lower by using prime lenses. They are usually less pricey than their zoom counterparts.

Each lens has what is commonly known as its “sweet spot” – usually a couple of stops down from maximum aperture. Try f/5.6 or f/8. (Maximum aperture is where the f-stop number is smallest.)

Lenses and sensors benefit from a thorough periodic cleaning. If you’re uncomfortable cleaning your sensor, have a reputable technician tidy it for you.

My suggestion? Get a tripod, take your time and enjoy making tack-sharp photos.

Norm Hamilton

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Resolution And Digital Photography

How important is resolution to digital photography?
How many megapixels is enough?

An article on “The New Camera” website titled, Megapixel Monsters Coming in 2015 discusses the new Canon and Nikon 46 megapixel sensors that are expected this year.

Sigma first introduced its SD-1 flagship camera with a 46 megapixel image sensor in 2010. (4800 x 3200 pixels in three layers.

I’m not one that believes you need the latest and greatest of electronic gadgetry to create exceptional photos. Most marketing is designed to generate a desire for higher megapixels and auto everything. But does that serve you, or the manufacturer’s bottom line?

Ask yourself what you need. Will you use all the features of the higher priced systems? Or are your shots for emailing, putting on social networks and make the odd 4×6 inch print?

For the latter it takes very little resolution so a simple, low cost system may suit you best. If you regularly make large prints, a higher end Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera may be preferable.

I’ve made excellent digital images and prints to 8×10 inches with a 15-year-old, 3-megapixel pocket camera. See image below as an example.

Scene on the Haines Road by Norm Hamilton, Photographer

Damien Tremblay, a talented Yukon landscape photographer I know, used to work with an old, 10-megapixel camera and a 50mm lens as his main equipment. He regularly produced fine art quality 16×24 inch prints. He now uses a Sony NEX-5 that can easily print 20×30 pieces.

My current system, Sigma SD15, is inexpensive (comparatively speaking), a few years old, has 4.7 megapixels (effective 14.1), and prints to 20×30 inches beautifully. The bee photo in the header and the hummingbird photo below show the detail, colour and depth possible with the Sigma system.

Anna's Hummingbird by Norm Hamilton, Photographer

I also have a Sony NEX-6 for those times with low light or when I need a pocketable camera. See the puppies for an example from this 16.1MP mirrorless camera.

Puppies photo by Norm Hamilton, Photographer

Consider your needs before you choose your equipment, you don’t need to break the bank to make great images. Remember, a camera is of use only when it’s with you — so keep one within reach. (The reason I have the NEX-6)

Norm Hamilton

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The Importance of Composition in Digital Photography

Community Beach seawalk in Parksville, BC

What makes an image memorable?

Sharpness? Exposure? Capturing the moment? All these may be important to the success of your photo but there is one thing that sets a great photo apart from the rest—composition.

In layman’s terms that means

• Don’t drop your main subject into the middle of the frame. Instead, use the “rule of thirds.” Divide your frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically and then place the focal point of your main subject at one of the spots where the lines intersect.
• Place your subject where it has the most impact. Embed it into the heart and mind of the viewer.
• Curves and lines can draw attention into your creation. Find converging lines, a winding path, look for the flow of direction from foreground to background.

Let the "rule of thirds" improve your photography.Even in the movies, the main subject is usually set off to one side or the other, making the framing more interesting.

A subject that is taller than wide may be more intriguing in the same orientation. You may wish to change your orientation from horizontal to vertical (i.e. landscape to portrait). Conversely, using the opposing orientation may help to include more of the surrounding and tell a greater story.

Portraits are a good example of this. Shot horizontally with the subject smack in the middle of the frame is the hallmark of the snapshot. Turn your camera to the portrait position, move closer to your model, and capture them. Or, as mentioned above, place them according to the “rule of thirds” in a horizontal image and include a background or objects that help the viewer know them better. (I’ll say more on portraits in another post)

Norm Hamilton is a photographer who, after 40 years in Yukon, is living in Duncan, BC.Photography is an artistic form of self-expression. The creation of an image is a rewarding and pleasurable experience in itself; more than just a recording of events.

Take time to move around your subject. View and feel the light and shadows; find the best angle. Set your subject to one of the points from the “rule of thirds.” Then shoot and share the results.

Oh, did I mention the “rule of thirds?”

Norm Hamilton




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The Peel Watershed – Frack It Or Leave It

Joseph O'Brien - Northern Tutchone citizen speaks at a Peel Watershed protest in May 2012.

By Norm Hamilton

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.

– Ansel Adams

Antagonists in the confrontation in Yukon over the Peel Watershed are polarized between protecting the environment and creating economic opportunity. The Peel Watershed is not only a pristine wilderness; it is potentially rich in fossil fuels that could be extracted using a hotly disputed method.

Hydraulic Fracturing—“Fracking”—is the shattering of rock, usually shale. A cocktail of water, sand and chemicals is introduced into the earth under high pressure causing the shale to split and allow the oil or natural gas to find its way to the well. While the industry claims safety, there have been many instances of poisoned water wells and pollution of the air around the fracking. Extraordinary amounts of water are required to implement fracking, reportedly around five millions gallons per well. In some US states it is now illegal to state what chemicals are used.

In the quest for economic increase we create pipelines, perform fracking and allow careless mining. All these have been responsible for adulterated water supplies and polluted environments. At the same time, because we live and die based on economic circumstances, jobs are necessary to the working public.

Dave Loeks, former chair of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission at a Peel Watershed protest in May 2012
Dave Loeks, former chair of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission at a Peel Watershed protest in May 2012

There is more to the argument to protect the Peel Watershed than retaining the pristine beauty vs monetary growth. The watershed is one of the few remaining vestiges of pure, clean water left on earth. Plundering it for imaginary wealth may be a death knell.

Will the Peel Watershed be fracked?

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission (PWPC), was established in October 2004 with the express purpose of providing recommendations for the Peel Watershed. Their mandate was to maintain “wilderness characteristics, wildlife and their habitats, cultural resources, and waters” while managing resource use. Seven years, countless studies and consultations resulted in recommendations that 80% of the area be protected with 1% available for minimal development, up to 11% be used for conservative development – and 8% for major development.

However, the Yukon government has a different agenda.

“This remote area holds resources that have the potential to be of great value to Yukon’s economy, both now and in the future,” said Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Scott Kent.

The Yukon government’s unilateral plan protects up to 29% of the region rather than the 80% recommended by the PWPC. Government’s focus on the economy, ignoring the environment, causes people to wonder if their decisions and information are disingenuous. The press release includes the term “enhanced regulatory and permit processes,” ostensibly designed to assure people of the safety of the development.

The Yukon Conservation Society and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon along with the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in have filed a lawsuit hoping to protect the 42,000-square-mile watershed. They argue that the government breached the planning process as provided by the PWPC.

Prominent lawyer, Thomas Berger represented the Plaintiffs in court in July 2014. Berger said the lawsuit is unwanted but the government has forced the issue. The plaintiffs wish to defend First Nation and environmental values as well as principles rooted in the Constitution.

Joseph O'Brien, Northern Tutchone citizen and Stephanie Sidney, Teslin Tlingit Council member sing at the Peel Protest on May 5, 2012
Joseph O’Brien, Northern Tutchone citizen and Stephanie Sidney, Teslin Tlingit Council member sing at the Peel Protest on May 5, 2012

Then there is the much ballyhooed billion dollars plus budget presented by the Yukon Party. The budget address presented by Premier Pasloski states, “The Government of Yukon’s Budget for 2014-2015 is $1 billion and $318.4 million. ($1,318,400,000).

In reality, $898 million of the budget is federal money provided as Health Transfer, Social Transfer and Territorial Formula Financing. That leaves $410,400,000, approximately 31% of the total, to be collected from citizens, industry and commerce. At one time mining provided $300 million, but that figure is now closer to $85 million.

Statistics of July 2013 show 19,000 people employed in Yukon, 700 in forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas. This is less than 3%; not all Yukon residents. To be fair, there are some jobs in the businesses that supply mines as well.

Economy is artificial, existing because we agree it does. Environment exists whether we agree it does or not.

When only the economy is taken into account, the environment suffers. Conversely, if we consider just the environment there may be a lack of employment and economic growth. Governments at the federal, provincial and territorial levels are taking the paternalistic position of entering into agreements contrary to the wishes of constituents.

An example is the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) signed September 9th, 2012. Some of the highlights of concern are as follows:

  • The negotiation was conducted behind closed doors.
  • It is a 31 year agreement with 1 year release clause effective after the initial 15 years have lapsed.
  • The FIPA causes us to relinquish control of our labour laws, natural resources and removes full ability to protect our environment.
  • Chinese corporations (owned by the Chinese government) can sue any level of government in Canada for creating rules or regulations that interfere with their ability to create profits.
  • The hearings for those suits will be before an international tribunal, rather than courts, and the resulting decisions will be paid for by Canadian Taxpayers.

This was not the first agreement of its kind, nor was it the last. To get an idea of the full extent of these go to

Peel Protesters in front of the Yukon Legislative Assembly May 2012.
Peel Protesters in front of the Yukon Legislative Assembly May 2012.

Today’s issues include the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposed by Enbridge and promoted by the federal government. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Chiefs, said this project is destined to cross critical watersheds, streams and rivers, placing the environment in jeopardy. Enbridge claims there will be 3,000 construction jobs and 560 long-term jobs, all here in B.C.

In 2012, Marc Lee wrote a paper that questions the accuracy of these claims. Recently, the citizens of Kitimat, BC have voted against having this pipeline in their area.

Meanwhile the BC Liberal government is pursuing Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) agreements under protest by numerous environment groups.

So, the question remains, “Does the economy trump the environment or can equilibrium be reached?”