Use Selective Focus To Guide The Viewer

Bryn Bonino Photo

When a photographer uses selective focusing, this tells the viewer exactly where to look. This can also give an artistic feel to the photo.

In the above photo, I wanted to create some mystery about the event, so I used selective focus and threw out the background. In order to be successful with this technique, below I’ve written about 4 things that you need to consider.

(1) A Low F-Stop

The lowest f-stop that a lens will ever have is f/1.4. But you may find that you don’t need a f-stop that low in order to get the results that you want.

When I am making a portrait, I don’t go any lower than f/4 because I want the person’s entire face to be in focus. If I shoot at f/4 this will get the face in focus but the ears will be slightly out of focus.

But if I am making photos of a candid street scene, I won’t drop the f-stop below 5.6. This way some of the objects in my photo will be only slightly out of focus, while I keep the subject in focus.

(2) Distance

When considering distance and depth of field, you need to think of the distance between you and the subject in focus. You also need to think about the distance between the subject of your photo, and the background.

The closer you are to the subject, the easier it is to blur the background. Also, if the subject of your photo is further from the background, it will be easier to blur the background.

This means that even if your lens doesn’t go below 5.6, you will still be able to show selective focus. You do this by having the subject at least three feet from the background, then getting within six inches of the subject to make the photo.

35 mm lens at f/2.8

35 mm lens at f/2.8

85 mm lens at f/1.8

85 mm lens at f/1.8

(3) Lens Length

When you use a wide angle lens, the subject appears closer to the viewer and the background appears further away. When using selective focus with a wide-angle lens, more of the background will be visible but it will be out of focus.

When you use a telephoto lens, the background appears closer to the subject. When using selective focus with a telephoto lens, less of the background is shown. This can result in a more surreal effect in the photo.

The two above photos are of the same rose bush. The one on the left was made with wide angle lens and the image on the right was made with a telephoto lens. Both are at the lowest f-stop each lens can go.

This is not a perfect comparison, but you can see the difference that the focal length makes on a selective focus image.

(4) Metering Mode

The metering mode setting on your camera will make a difference in how finely tuned your selective focus image will be.

In a previous blog post, I alluded to spot metering. This will give you more acute metering for your photos. Just as the name implies, the camera’s meter will focus one one spot of the frame.

This allows you to more finely focus on the subject of your photo, and allow the rest of the photo to fall out of focus or into the shadows.

(4) Focus Area

Your camera probably has an option for what type of focus the autofocus option should use. This will also have an effect on the selective focus that you want to create in your image.

Set your camera to flexible spot focus area so that you will have full control on what to focus your image on.

These four aspects of photography will allow you to manipulate your images so that anything in your frame is in focus, and the rest of through out of focus.

Test out these tactics and see how it goes for you. If you have any questions, I’d be very happy to help!

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