Expanded depth of focus: Philosophy

dahl red c stamens cropped shp copyrt“Keep close to Nature’s heart. Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ” John Muir

One limitation of film photography is that only a portion of the subject or scene is precisely in focus. One of the marvels of digital photography is its ability to allow portions of multiple images to composite into a final image that is more fully in focus and more life-like. Expanded depth of focus is such a technique. After taking multiple similar images with the depth of focus being the only variable, only the precisely focused portions of each photo are combined into a final image in which everything, or at least as much as is wanted, is crisply in focus.

My blog post from July 16 is an introduction to this technique. Here, I describe the some of the attitudes and states of mind that I have found highly effective for happiness and success with this type of photography. I welcome others comments, suggestions and additional thoughts.

Appreciating the moment is, for me, the key to happiness with all of my photography. I usually hurry around oblivious to the details of the miraculous nature around me. Photography not only allows, but requires, me to slow down and pay attention to the details of my surroundings. The more aware I am of the sun, breeze, colors, textures, shapes, sounds and smells around me, the more I feel  alive and connected  to  the magic that is nature.  Having achieved that feeling of fulfillment, getting usable results from my shoot is just like the sprinkles on the frosting of the cake. I’m serious about this. One day I spent 2 ½ hours shooting multiple series of freshly cut hibiscus. I realized that I may not have waited long enough for the pistils and stamens to have fully regained their original shape. I knew that any further change of shape during the shooting of each series would produce enough change of position on the sensor to render it unusable for a composite. However, I was feeling alive and connected to my surroundings. I ended up throwing out 150 frames, having only the last series usable. But I truly felt only happiness and satisfaction regarding my morning’s shooting experience.

 The two goals: When I begin each shoot, I have only two goals in mind. The first is not to damage any of my equipment. The second is to be alert and aware of the incredible intricacy that is nature. 

 Mountain climber’s deliberateness:  When moving around the camera, tripod, focusing rail and lens, it is easy to bump one of these. This is particularly likely when unlocking, adjusting and relocking the focusing rail or when leaning forward-looking for small movement of the subject due to wind. It is easy to bump some part of the equipment. A light bump may move the tripod imperceptibly, but enough to change the position of your subject on the sensor, making the remainder of the series unusable. Also, when manipulating the focusing rail, I often simultaneously support the camera with my other hand, particularly when the focusing rail is extended or when the camera is in a vertical position. If I touch the lens’s focusing ring/collar even lightly, the focus of the remainder of the series is likely to be way off. To avoid trouble, movements must be thoughtful and deliberate. I have a picture in my mind of a mountain or rock climber, half way up a steep granite cliff. On a single outing, the climber makes thousands of decisions regarding hand or foot placement or weight shifts.  It takes only one mistake out of the thousands of decisions to produce a slip, a slide or even a serious fall. The climber must be continually alert, thoughtful and deliberate in order to succeed. Similarly, it takes only one large mistake out of hundreds of decisions to render a set of images unusable for a successful composite. (Luckily, however, few people have sustained serious injury as a result of a mistake while shooting images for expanded depth of focus.)  I call this mountain climbers deliberateness. It has decreased my errors greatly.

 Patience is crucial, particularly for outdoor shooting. It’s possible for the smallest movement of air to move some part of a. This can also occur indoors due to air circulation and ventilation ducts. If I’m impatient and accept frames that might have movement, I usually end up without enough good frames for a good composite. I must be willing to wait until I’m certain that there is no movement of the subject or anything touching any portion of the support of the subject. Here I am referring to movement of a nearby flower, leaf or stem which is in contact with my flower, its leaf or stem. This can mean, at times, taking 35 min to shoot 45 frames. If I take of shot that I think might have had movement, I delete that frame and . It’s not worth the risk of sacrificing the whole series.   

Hurrying usually wastes my time. Although I get quicker results, often these results are unusable for successful composites.  

 Start small and gradually enlarge your subject.  I started with and recommend using smallish subjects initially. For instance, a pansy, rose bud or small geranium is going to be less complicated and, initially, more likely to succeed than a large iris or rhododendron.

 Start too close and end to deep. In order not to accidentally miss the point of closest focus, I recommend starting with an initial frame which has its focus 1-3 focal increments closer to you than the subject.Although not as important to the success of the composite, I also recommend going deeper than the deepest area of focus that you want. It’s always better to take some unnecessary shots, than to come away with 90% of a great series. Since you are there and all set up, this takes only a little time. I consider it cheap insurance.   

  My website for nature image retouching, processing, enlargements and framing is NaturePhotoRehab.com. I specialize in transforming people’s dull and listless images into dramatic works of art that a person is proud to hang on their wall or give as a gift.

 I hope that some of this has been useful to someone. I welcome individual comments and questions.

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