Deep depth of field is achieved via a narrow aperture and a wider lens helps. It results in more of the background being in focus, in many cases photographers work towards everything being in focus from the front to the back of the image. For example, Gurski, Ansel Adams, Vitali. Control over how the image is viewed is handed to the viewer, who is not compelled to start with the areas in greatest focus. Landscape and staged photography often use this technique, as do factual, product and documentary images.
Shallower depth of field can be achieved via a wider aperture or a zoomed lens. It allows the photographer to choose which elements are in focus and can therefore direct the viewer’s attention to those areas by effectively blurring out the others. A bridal portrait for example will probably have a shallow depth of field compared to a passport photograph which has to be pin-sharp throughout. Shallow depth of field can provide a way to minimise the effects of a disruptive background, but does so at a cost of lost information in the image.
Ansel Adams worked with a small aperture and a large format camera for sharp DOF front to back. He wanted to move away from the artistic interpretation of pictorialism to accurate renditions that looked like photographs and not paintings. He made extensive use of dark room techniques to improve areas where he felt God’s work was lacking. “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships”. I found this statement a little surprising. He made dramatic photographs of dramatic landscapes, full of light, shade and texture.
Fay Godwin impressed me with her careful and accurate framing. I think it is this framing that makes her exploitation of depth of field both possible and quite so effective. She worked with a deep depth of field in images which showed man’s interference with the environment. Living near Avebury I’m familiar with the rose-tinted art of photographing ancient rocks so that it looks like nothing has changed over the millennia.. hence leaving out buses, roads, people, and blurring the background, shooting in the golden hour or the dead of cloudless nights. Of course, living in Wiltshire I’m also aware that most of those stones were disinterred and re-erected in the 1940s/50s, into a vision of what one amateur archaeologist thought they used to look like, but that’s another story. Godwin’s work seems honest, she shows how our natural and historical places were disrupted and closed off to the public. This is adding a political dimension to the accurate beauty of Adam’s work. Godwin was born in 1931 to British/American parents in Berlin. After starting in portrait work she specialised in landscape work and was both president and vice-president of the Rambler’s Association, using her work to support their campaigns for open access and restoring public rights of way to our countryside.
Gianluca Cosci uses the opposite approach in Panem et Circenses with “slivers of sharpness” showing corporate power in urban spaces. He is very precise about choosing what is in focus, it could be a single small weed, a leaf, a single edge of a paving block. The work made me think about what is natural in our environment and what is man-made. Senzo Titolo #4 seems to show trees growing from concrete in the background and the foreground shows moss in the cracks in the paving. There’s a conflict suggested between the natural and urban environments. Sometimes you have to look hard for the single point of focus. I realise how much of the natural/beautiful world is obscured by construction and corporate metal, glass and plastic. Born in 1970 he now lives and works in Brussels.
Mona Kuhn uses shallow depth of field in her portraits. She uses dof to help challenge how we view her work. I like the work because it is not just about dof blurring out the background, it is often about using dof to blur out the subject too, as women blur into the background behind a flower or plant. She also uses screens, curtains, blinds, reflections, tents, shadows to this end too… I find it really engaging in its lack of obviousness. I prefer it very much to Guy Bourdain’s more obvious work. I like the light that she uses too. Words I have noted are simple, dreamlike, feminine, honeyed, rich, light. American, born in Brazil 1969, she has photographed in a remote French nudist community and more recently in the Californian desert.
Kim Kirkpatrick‘s work is a hymn to the little things, the detail of colour and form. Use of very shallow dof mercilessly blurs out everything non-subject and the work is almost abstract in quality.
Below are two photographs from my archive taken at Heligan, Cornwall that demonstrate shallow depth of field.