Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge: Unfocused

by Rick Diffley on May 5, 2012

Unfocused or Controlling Depth of Field?

Depth of field means how much of the image is in or out of focus. The depth of field is controlled by the aperture inside the lens. It is also controlled by where in the image you point your camera and make it your main focus point. Other important considerations are: <> How close the background is to your main subject. The further away the easier it is to blur the background. <> What lens you are using and how close you are standing to shoot your main subject. I can’t say it enough. It simply takes practice, but the results are worth it.

For the above image I used my Nikon D300 in manual mode with a 18mm-200 zoom lens, and the focal point at maximum zoom or at 200mm. I focus right in the middle of the cactus using f/10. Doing so made the foreground “unfocused,” the middle in focus, and the background out of focus. In most cases this not a great composition, but it all depends on the look you are after. I shot this for demonstration purposes. Depth of field or what you choose to bring in focus plays a big part in planning your image composition.

Image shot using f/5.6

Shooting at Smaller F/Stop Numbers

Here’s a soft focus shallow depth of field image. I shot this in manual mode with my Nikon D300 using f/5.6. This makes the main subject dominant and the colorful background sightly out of focus. Doing so makes an attractive background but it does not distract or compete with the main subject. Often, I see great images that could be “picture perfect” if it was not shot in automatic mode which makes everything in focus. The challenge is to learn how to use your camera in manual mode or aperture priority where you set the f/stop and control what is or what is not in focus.

Latourell Falls F/22

Shooting at Large F/Stop Numbers

This water fall was shot at “The Gorge” in Oregon using my Nikon D300 in manual mode with f/22. I wanted the maximum depth of field with everything in focus. Each lens varies as to what f/stop numbers are available.

Which F/Stop Do I Use?

You can only change your lens f/stop by making sure you are in manual mode or aperture priority. The easiest is to switch your camera from auto to aperture priority. Then, you can change the f/stops.

Just remember, think of f/stops by remembering the bigger the number (f/11, f/16, f/22, f/28, f/32) the bigger the amount of your image will be in focus. Smaller f/stops numbers (f/2.8, f/3.4, f/4.5) produce a smaller amount of your image that is in focus. Typically this mean you point your camera and focus on a flower or a person in the foreground and the background will be out of focus.  You can vary the amount of out of focus background, but it simply takes practice by using different f/stops. Remember, each lens has different f/stops available.

Concluding and the Challenge

So, what is your shooting preference?  Have everything in focus or go for having your main subject in focus and blur the background?

The challenge? Take a week and shoot in aperture priority. If you dare, learn how to operate and shoot your camera in manual mode.

Thank you for stopping by. Please contact me if you have any questions.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebekah May 5, 2012 at 5:03 PM

Great post, and the photos are beyond words … wonderful!
Most of the time I use f/8 in A priority — unless there’s something special I’m after, like DoF … my camera is a Nikon D90 and my favourite lens is 18-200mm. Been shooting for three years, but I still feel like a hopeless newbie :)


Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 1:39 PM

Thank for stopping by and for the nice comment (-: The D90 is a very good camera.

>> Been shooting for three years, but I still feel like a hopeless newbie.

Feel free to ask any questions.


ritarivera May 5, 2012 at 6:05 PM

stunning pictures! – rita


Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Thank you for your comment.


Kate May 5, 2012 at 9:50 PM

Pictures for the photo challenge and a photography lesson. I love it! The second photo of the leaves is my favorite in this series. Simply gorgeous!


Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 1:45 PM

Kate – Thank you for coming by and for the comment on my images.


Cassie May 5, 2012 at 11:37 PM

Thank you so much Rick for this entry! I always wondered about the auto-focus and surely will consider your advises! Great pictures!


Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 1:46 PM

Glad that the article was helpful. Thank you for your comment.


Wilderness Escapades May 6, 2012 at 3:42 AM

Thanks for the helpful post! We just got a Nikon D3000 last year and are still learning how to shoot in the different modes. Do you remember the corresponding shutter speed that was used to take the waterfall picture (just curious what shutter speed you need in order to see the motion of the water)?


Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 2:04 PM

For this shot I used the ND8 & polarizer which gave me a shutter speed of 5 seconds using f/22 in manual mode.

To get the silky smooth look for water falls you will need to attach a Neutral Density filter to your lens. In short, the filter stops or darkens the amount of light reaching the camera sensor, therefore allowing you to shoot with a higher aperture for a longer amount of time. Or another way of saying this would be: It darkens the scene which allows you to use a longer shutter speed exposure. So with the water flowing you get the silky smooth effect.

ND filters come in different strengths. I have ND4 and ND8. In some situations, if it is bright out, you may have to use both to get the slower shutter speed. In some cases, you can even at a circular polarizer.

Hope this helps?


Wilderness Escapades May 6, 2012 at 2:33 PM

I have never heard of an ND filter – thanks for the explanation!


Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 2:48 PM

You are welcome. I don’t shoot a lot of water falls, but I’m glad I have the ND filter when I do!


Paula May 6, 2012 at 3:47 AM

I have enjoyed looking at these Rick :). I understand what you did and what you wanted to achieve. This week’s challenge however, judging from the displayed challenger’s model photo confused me as there was nothing in focus in that one and it was obvious the picture was a mistake. I made an effort to come up with something that means unfocused to me.


Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 2:16 PM

You image for the challenge was good. The complete out of focus look is a little to artzy for me. There are other techniques, such as…

Point you camera at a group of flowers making sure they fill your frame. If you can make your shutter speed slower do so. Just when you press the shutter button move your camara if a quick, tight circle. It may take a few practice shots, but it can produce a pretty cool effect. Or, zoom your lens in and out very quickly while pressing the shutter button.


Misky May 6, 2012 at 3:49 AM

This is a wonderful blog, and I’ve just subscribed. There’s info here that I’ve been looking for that I’ve never found elsewhere. Fab! Your photos are brilliant, too, by the way. Hope you’ll have a chance to view my ‘unfocused’ photo also at http://miskcooks.com/2012/05/06/weekly-photo-challenge-unfocused/



Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 2:17 PM

Glad you enjoyed the information and images. And yes, I did stop by your website.


Anne Freeman May 6, 2012 at 12:38 PM

Thank for the article, Rick. I like the way you described how to remember the f-stop function. I think I may be able to remember it now. Nice photos, too.



Rick Diffley May 6, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Hi Anne – Glad the article was helpful. If you have any future questions, keep me a shout.


Ade May 6, 2012 at 8:38 PM

Nice photos! Unfocused but really nice. Great post too! :)


Rick Diffley May 7, 2012 at 5:58 AM

Thank you Ade for wonderful comment about the article and images.


canoe communications blog May 6, 2012 at 9:04 PM

This was very helpful post. I’m bookmarking it. Thanks.


Rick Diffley May 8, 2012 at 4:12 PM

Glad there was some useful information for you! Thanks for stopping in and bookmarking the site. BTW – Like your website title and that it is about Midwestern culture.


amar May 6, 2012 at 9:37 PM

nice pictures. did you edit them ?


Rick Diffley May 7, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Did I edit my images?

Yes, to varying degrees. With almost all of my images and articles I share the specific steps I use in post-processing. Software I use includes: Nikon Capture NX2, Photoshop Elements, and various Nik Software plug-in filters. Please drop me a note if you have any further questions. Thanks for stopping by.


harikuhariini May 6, 2012 at 10:30 PM

its awesome…


Rick Diffley May 8, 2012 at 6:09 PM

Wow about your “wowww…” comment (-: Thank you.


milkayphoto May 7, 2012 at 2:39 PM

I tend to shoot wide open as I love a shallow DOF (but that is probably because I truly LOVE the macro world where the “field” I am working in is quite smal to begin with.

Shallow DOF’s also have the ability to “blur reality” somewhat. Your first image is a fine example of this as, you shot a cactus but I see something more reptilian. Cool stuff, Rick. Cool stuff. :-)


Rick Diffley May 9, 2012 at 6:18 AM

>> but I see something more reptilian

Freaky huh? Thanks for hanging out and the comments!


Patti Kuche May 7, 2012 at 3:59 PM

I am learning so much from your fabulous posts Ricks and your images are more than inspiring! My settings tend to be all over the place if only because I never quite know what might happen next . . .


Rick Diffley May 9, 2012 at 6:20 AM

It is all about sharing what I’ve learned along the way with photography so it is good you are hearing learning.

>> My settings tend to be all over the place if only because I never quite know what might happen next . . .

If you come back and read this, speak to me a little more about what your are concerned about, ok?


lynne ayers May 7, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Particularly like the leaf shot. It’s a great composition.


Rick Diffley May 8, 2012 at 6:13 PM

Thank you! It was shot outdoors in last fall at the Spokane Finch Arboretum. Unlimited photo opportunities. Here’s a clip of what it looks like… http://spokaneparks.org/Parks/page/99/


Inge May 7, 2012 at 5:44 PM

It’s very worth lesson from you! Thanks for the tutorial.

Stunning pictures! :)


Rick Diffley May 8, 2012 at 6:14 PM

Thank you Inge and happy you learned one or two things!


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