Welcome to my blog! Find out what I'm up to, photography wise, and also there is a lot of help and advice for photographers at all levels and using all kinds of cameras. Comments welcome!

The beauty of monochrome

December 15, 2016  •  Leave a Comment



An ordinary colour photograph


The same image converted to monochrome with red high contrast filters


The same image, converted to mono and tinted silvery blue (selenium toned)


Monochrome- or black and white if you prefer- is often considered to be old fashioned. But most photographers will admit that it has a charm of its own, and many images originally taken in colour become something special when converted to monochrome.

The reasons for this? Firstly, a dull dreary day can often become something far more dramatic when converted to monochrome. Because the colour of the light is no longer an issue, and because of monochrome filters (more on this later), the photograph becomes about texture and contrast, and not at all about colour.

At this point, I should point out that “monochrome” does not necessarily mean “black and white”. “Monochrome” means “one colour”, and so that colour can be any you choose. In fact, even back in the pre-colour days, monochrome images were often sepia coloured as they aged, or where intentionally “washed” in chemicals to change their tint. This could give them a grey-blue tint, or a warmer sepia tint, or a warmish grey tint.

Monochrome, because it does not rely on colour to make an impact, often makes the viewer look for something else in the image: texture, detail or a different atmosphere. It is, simply, a different way of looking at things.

Portraits, in particular, as well as seascapes, close ups, landscapes and urban photography are particularly well suited to monochrome. Mono can be very flattering to the human complexion, and with careful use, you can even change the apparent “colour” of a person's eyes!

Most editing software has the ability to convert a colour image into monochrome. However, most simply “de-saturate” (turn off) the colours. The end result is frequently flat, dull and grey.

This is where filters come in. In the old days (and some people still do use filters), a photographer who was shooting monochrome would place a coloured piece of glass over the camera lens. Why would someone use coloured glass when the image is in monochrome? This is because a red filter, for instance, lightens its own colour (red) and darkens its opposite (blue). An orange filter would lighten orange, and darken blue. Conversely, a blue filter would lighten blues but darken reds.

Translate these into monochrome, and the effects can be striking.

Imagine a blue sky with white fluffy clouds. Now imagine a red filter: the blue of the sky would translate into darker grey and the white clouds would become brilliant white.

Using a blue filter, blue eyes can become bright silvery grey: dark eyes (because brown is related to red) could become even darker.

Filters were commonly yellow (weak), orange (stronger) and red (strong) when it came to lightening red spectrum colours and blue, plus green which tends to lighten organic green shades and can often darken inorganic greens. In fact, a green filter is flattering to Caucasian human skin, making one look tanned and somehow healthier, although in monochrome. Blue was often used to counteract the orange tint of artificial (tungsten) studio lights or domestic light bulbs.

So why am I telling you this? Because the same effect as filters is commonly available with decent photo editing software. Adobe Lightroom and even Google Picasa (sadly discontinued) or a vast range of plugins for various editors allowed one to “filter” and convert colour into monochrome.

So, next time you're in your photo editor, don't just hit the “convert to black and white” button, take a closer look to see if it offers these “virtual filters”. If you want a FREE but powerful photo editor, try GIMP. Gimp is somewhat similar to Adobe Photoshop. There are lots of tutorials out there to teach you how to use it, and lots of plugins to extend the program's abilities. You can get it from here:


Using monochrome gives you the ability to use your camera in weather that may not be brilliant for colour, but may be just the job for monochrome. I find that monochrome can also enhance the mood of a picture.

Without colour to distract, one notices light, texture and contrast more. Monochrome can also lend an old fashioned feel and is especially powerful for portraits. If you've got images that are not quite up to scratch in colour, see if they'll look any better in monochrome. But don't stop there: shoot subjects specifically for monochrome.

There are some subjects where monochrome just don't work, like sunsets. But on cold, crisp winter days, or even dull and drab ones with the occasional bit of sunlight, it's wonderful. If it's not photographic weather, why not dig out some of your existing photographs and learn to see in black and white?

The “Blurred water” trick

December 13, 2016  •  Leave a Comment


Water shot with a high shutter speed (1/1600th of a second)


Water shot at a much lower shutter speed (1/30th of a second)


Waterfalls can be challenging to do real justice to. But we've all seen the trick where instead of sharp or slightly blurred water, there's a milky stream of blurred water.

So, how is this done? It's very easy.

Firstly, you'll need a tripod or perhaps a wall or similar to rest your camera on. The camera must not move at all during the shot. If you own a compact camera, you can buy very small, very cheap tripods that can fit in your pocket. To make them higher, just put the tripod on a wall, stone or anything else stationary.

Next, lower your camera's ISO as low as it will go. Most compacts can do this, and all SLRs can.

The idea is to deprive the camera of light, to force a very low shutter speed. If you have a camera where you can adjust the aperture (f-stop), set a very small aperture.

Now mount the camera onto its tripod or whatever you're using, and either use a remote shutter control or set the self timer and take the shot.

The remote or self timer prevents camera shake.

For SLR users, if you're still not getting low enough shutter speeds to create that silky water effect, try putting an ND (Neutral Density) filter over the lens. ND filters are simply neutral grey discs of optical glass that don't change colours at all, but do allow less light in. Or if you have a Polarising filter, use that: it should soak up 2 stops of light, being grey itself.

The slower the water runs, the slower your shutter speed will need to be.

Of course, if the water is still not blurred enough, come back on a dull day!

10 bits of kit to make photography easier

December 04, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Don't worry, I'm not going to bombard anyone with long recitals about the virtues of Canon f2.8 L series 400mm lenses at around £9,000 each. No, the purpose of this post is to mention far more mundane but very important items which have helped me hugely over the years.

It's easy to find “expert reviews” of highly expensive cameras and lenses, with endless pages of boring graphs, enlargements and technical data, most of which doesn't count for much in real life.

Here, in no particular order, are some things which have my photographic life a lot easier.


  1. Low self discharge batteries.


Before I went digital in 2007, batteries weren't much of an issue. But digital cameras are far more battery hungry, and they positively eat ordinary alkaline batteries. The answer is, of course, rechargeable batteries. These are usually of the NiMH type. But not all NiMH batteries are created equal. Have you ever noticed that rechargeables go flat very quickly even if you've not used them?

Before a photo trip, I'd charge them and when I came to use them, they'd rapidly go flat. Especially on cold days. In the end, I was taking 3 sets with me and still running out of power.

Rechargeable batteries are rated by their capacity. Typical “supermarket available” batteries may be 1200 Ah and whilst these may be fine for low power devices such as clocks, they're not powerful enough for a digital camera, and certainly not for a flash gun or similar. However, the higher the figure in Ah, the more capacity a battery has. A typical high powered battery may be 2700 Ah.

The only problem with “ordinary” rechargeable batteries is that their power drains away even when they're doing nothing. There's nothing more annoying than going out and finding that your camera's batteries are dead.

Then I discovered low self discharge batteries. These are entirely compatible with devices that use normal “throwaway” zinc carbon or alkaline batteries or normal NiMH rechargeables, but their rate of self discharge is very, very low. You can charge these up and they're fine 6 months later. They really are that good. Being able to rely on your batteries is very important when shooting digitally.

Whilst their power rating (Ah) is generally lower than conventional batteries, this really doesn't matter, because whilst the conventional batteries have less power by far in a day or two after charging, even without use, the low self discharge batteries are still more or less at full power capacity. One manufacturer claims that these batteries still have 90% of their charge a year after being charged and being in storage. I could well believe it. They also cope with low temperatures a lot better than normal rechargeable batteries.

Beware, there are a lot of fake low discharge batteries out there. The best makes are, I believe, the Panasonic (formerly Sanyo) Eneloop and Fujitsu Black batteries. You'll find the real deal here:


I am in no way affiliated with this company, but they're reliable and their prices are excellent. Here's the irony: these superb batteries can cost less than a pack of 4 Duracell rechargeables at the supermarket. Buy those with a rating at least 2000 Ah.


  1. A decent battery charger.


So, you've got decent batteries now? But just as batteries are not created equal, neither are chargers. The standard charger most people use works on the principle of time. It allows a certain time for a battery to charge, and then stops charging, whether the battery is full or not. This can damage half charged batteries and can often “confuse” the batteries and negatively impact storage capacity. Plus, it might not fully charge the batteries.

Often, batteries become “tired” and don't hold their full charge. Many get thrown away prematurely. A good battery charger like the Technoline BL-700 is streets ahead of normal chargers. Each battery is charged and monitored separately. You can charge individual batteries this way. What's more, you can change the charging current to charge quickly or slowly (slowly is best) and you can set the charger to completely discharge a battery, or to cycle through discharge then charge until the best possible capacity for the battery is reached. This revives batteries and prevents “memory” problems caused by not being run down completely.

The BL-700 is available here:



  1. A Ring Flash


These are only of use to those people with cameras capable of taking filters over the lens and connecting an external flash to the camera. Usually, an SLR type camera. A ring flash is a great piece of kit for when the light is less than wonderful and when you're doing extreme close-up Macro work. It's grey and miserable in Autumn, and you're lost for something to photograph? Stick a ring flash on your lens and go hunting for fungi or dead leaves or other Macro friendly subjects.

They're also useful for close-up portraits and photographing things like small items, jewellery and anything that needs even lighting at close range.

So, what is a ring flash? This is a flash gun that typically sits on the hot shoe of the camera, as normal, but has a lead that connects to a unit on the SLR's lens. This unit surrounds the lens at the end and when the flash fires, it produces light from all directions. This means little or no shadow or dark parts. Ring flashes were first invented for dental photography, because an even spread of shadowless light was what's needed. This is not suitable for extreme wide angle lenses, because the flash usually does not spread enough and often causes vignetting.

The other advantages are that macro work is difficult in low light and subjects such as fungi tend to be in murky places. This means that shutter speeds will be low, and the closer you get to a subject, the shallower the depth of field gets, meaning that it is very difficult to get close enough and hold the camera steady whilst keeping it all in focus. For fungi etc, a tripod is not often practical. But a ring flash will work at your camera's flash sync speed, which is often 1/60th of a second. Which gives you a fighting chance of getting the shot.

Most ring flashes are capable of adjusting their output to “blend” with the natural ambient light, allowing some shadow. Like most things photographic, it's a matter of getting to know your own gear well enough to get the results.

Have a look on a well known shopping website named after a South American river (yes, Orinoco!) and search for “ring flash”. These are specific to your camera's make and model, although many ring flashes do come with adapters. Whilst the big makers do have their own (highly expensive) ring flashes, I find it hard to justify that expense for something I don't use tremendously. Expect to pay from £15 upwards for a “non OEM” ring flash.

So why can't you use a normal flash? The answer is because the flash is always off the lens's axis, therefore at extreme close range, like with a Macro lens, the flash would simply miss the scene.

So get out there when the weather is not co-operating, go into the woods, wear waterproof trousers and use a macro lens. Just experiment!


  1. A remote shutter release.


I often shoot in low light and using a long lens. Since I don't like pushing up the ISO (see ISO), the only option is a tripod. But even that is not enough. With such a weight, (the lens alone weighs around 3 lb), when you press the shutter, no matter how carefully, there's a chance that you'll move the camera slightly, even with the strongest tripod. The end result is a blurred photograph. You could, of course, use the camera's self timer, but this is tedious and can make you miss shots.

Most DSLR cameras and quite a few others can use an Infrared shutter controller, a small device you hold in your hand and aim at the camera. Press the button, and the camera takes the shot. Simple. No camera shake.

A basic one for Canon cameras is the Canon RC-6 and should work the the majority of Canon cameras. At the time of writing, this handy device costs around £13. Similar devices will be available for makes other than Canon.

However, there is much, much more these kinds of devices can do. Some are attached via a cable into the camera's external flash socket (if it has one), whilst others are wireless, and have a wireless unit which attaches to the camera's hot shoe and hence to the flash socket. Some claim ranges up to 100 metres and these also have the advantage that they don't just work in one direction. They often work behind the camera, too, unlike the RC-6, which must face the IR sensor at the front of the camera. I just put my hand over and point roughly at the IR sensor. It works.

Others are capable of being programmed to take a number of shots at a specified number of seconds. For instance, you could set it to take a shot every 3 seconds. Once back at your computer, this sequence of photographs can be loaded into a video editor and treated as if they were a movie. Because the frame rate is only a 10th or so of standard 720p video, you get wonderful time lapse movies, where clouds race across the sky, or fungi magically explode out of the ground. Your imagination is the limit.


  1. An external audio recorder.


Most cameras now can also do video. Even “budget” compacts can manage 720p video, which is far better than DVD quality. But one of the things I discovered when shooting video, no matter what I use, is that whilst it's easy to get good video, good audio is an entirely different matter!

In fact, if you get easily annoyed, video shooting may not be a good idea. You'll soon discover, to an extraordinary degree, what a noisy country we live in. I live in a rural area, but even there, it is very hard to find pure, unpolluted, natural sound. Even a mile or two from the village, you can hear cars, aircraft, “Mr Fixit” hammering away, tractors, road drills, lawnmowers......

And, particularly, humans, who seem to go out of their way to make a noise. Many ask what it is you are filming. “Something with a bloody soundtrack!”.

And that's without unwanted natural noise, like wind, which howls down most microphones, particularly at the seaside.

Which renders most audio shot alongside video completely useless. Yes, you can trim and edit the audio using an audio editor such as the excellent (and free) Audacity. But you'll soon find that you've run out of audio.

So I have got into the habit of carrying a small audio recorder with me. Not just on photography trips, but when out walking the dog or especially in bad weather. Because you're not shooting video, you can hide an audio recorder from the wind and rain etc. and still get nice, clear recordings. Not long ago this year, I sat in my shed with a tremendous and violent thunderstorm overhead. I was recording the storm and it was superb. Of course, my neighbours probably thought I was mad, but they probably do anyway.

But take one of these little devices with you even when you don't have your camera. Record bird song, streams, even rain and roaring wind. Then, back in your video editor, delete the existing audio track and use one you've just recorded. Most video editors let you trim the audio to fit.

The one I use is the Zoom H1. This is a true stereo microphone. You'd never expect it to be, because of both microphones being so close together, but it is. It is roughly half the size of a TV remote (17.2 x 10.4 x 4.6 cm) and can easily fit in your pocket. It can be tripod mounted (buy one of these pocket tripods) and records to a Micro SD card in either .MP3 or uncompressed .WAV (this is better) format. Very, very simple to use, it can also connect to a PC to transfer files or can even act as a microphone for the computer. This typically costs about £75.

Establish a library and you'll never run out of good audio. Plus, it's something to do when walking about in photography unfriendly weather or locations. There may be a stream that sounds nice but looks horrible. No matter: just record it!


  1. A tripod


Love or hate them (and most people do both) a tripod is invaluable if you shoot in low light, as I often do. A tripod will also allow you to get shots you simply can't without. For example, the old “blurred water” trick, where running water becomes blurred into a silky stream of white water.

A good tripod should be strong and sturdy, but the only way to achieve this is to make the tripod heavy. Or make it out of expensive carbon fibre. Generally speaking, those with the fewest leg sections (for shortening the legs) are sturdier, but impact how small the tripod is when folded down.

A tripod is also essential for night time photography. Also, for portrait photography, it often helps to use a tripod simply to keep your subject at ease. Use a tripod and a remote release, and you won't just be a single eye glaring at your subject.


  1. A pistol grip tripod head.


Whilst most landscape photographers use a normal “pan and tilt” tripod head, I prefer a pistol grip.

The head of a tripod is the part where the camera is attached and this swivels in various ways to let you point the camera as necessary. A pistol grip is a pistol like handle which steers a ball socket head, meaning that it can move in any direction. The one I use is the Vanguard GH-100. This has a large “trigger” which you can squeeze and which completely unlocks the head, allowing you to move the camera, then if you release it, the camera's position becomes locked again. A simple matter of squeeze, point, release.

The handle part of the grip is completely adjustable and the strength of the lock is also adjustable, as is the angle of the head. This is a very sturdy head with easily supports my Canon camera and 400mm lens. I find this head a pleasure to use and so much easier than fighting numerous levers and screws whilst also trying to aim the camera. If I have any criticism of this pistol grip, it is that its upwards range is not brilliant. However, I get around that by lowering the tripod's rearmost legs.


  1. A tarpaulin and poles


I often photograph and/or shoot video is torrential rain. Hey, I like rain! But cameras don't. Nor do highly expensive lenses. Finding shelter is not always possible, and an umbrella is not practical because you soon run out of hands. So I bought a cheap plastic camouflage tarpaulin, of the kind hikers often use. This is around 2.4 x 3 metres and is completely waterproof. Also a set of adjustable poles and some para cord to use as improvised guy ropes. I already had some spare tent pegs.

Making use of trees or anything else strong enough, and using the para cord and poles, you can improvise a shelter almost anywhere. What's more, this can make a brilliant, cheap hide and will keep your gear dry and if you build it right, it will keep the wind off you. All of it rolled up is far smaller than my (admittedly huge) tripod and it's not too bad to carry.

People often ask me how on earth I got such beautiful shots of rainy weather, and I explain that it's simple: I go out to take photographs in the rain. It's what you've got to do. But there's no need to get soaked or ruin your camera whilst you're at it. This arrangement also makes a great bird or animal hide. Don't forget your flask!


  1. A Macro lens


A Macro lens is a camera lens that allows you to get very, very close to a subject. Often, just a few inches away. This is great for close-ups or detailed shots of flora, fungi or anything else.

Many cameras and lenses claim to have a Macro setting. However, most are not true Macro lenses, they are just the closest they can get to the subject. Usually, this is in feet, not inches.

Macro lenses tend to be between 50 and 100mm. This is because the closer you get to the subject- with any lens- the shallower the depth of field gets. This means that only a very narrow band of the image is in focus, unless you use a really low aperture and hence shutter speeds drop. Hence my recommendation of a ring flash. A 200mm Macro lens would have unacceptably narrow depth of field at very close range. I use a Sigma 50mm EX DG Macro. This comes in Pentax, Nikon and Sony fit. However, I believe that Sigma are not making this lens for Canon any more.

Beware, there are lots of lenses which claim to be Macro! Read the reviews and look out for technical detail claiming that the resultant images are 1:1 (life size). Tamron do a relatively inexpensive 90mm Macro, the AF 90mm Di SP A/M 1:1 (according to a well known shopping website named after a south American river!).

I find Macro lenses useful for when the weather or seasons are not co-operating. They also make excellent “head and shoulders” portrait lenses and I've found them particularly useful for photographing cars. Because 50mm is roughly the same view as human eyesight, the results are natural looking and undistorted. And being a Macro, you can always get really close for detail.


  1. A dog


OK, so this isn't strictly necessary, but when your enthusiasm is flagging because you've dragged yourself out of bed at 3:30 AM to photograph a sunrise in summer, a dog will help you get fired up. Dogs are almost always enthusiastic about walks of any kind. Mine have seen more than most people, and ice, frost, snow and rain certainly don't damped their enthusiasm: far from it. Although Sam the rottweiler cross wasn't fond of getting wet. He once tried to squeeze under an umbrella I brought along to keep my cameras dry. Not good: he was far too large to fit. This was before my tarpaulin idea! On the other hand, he loved frost and snow.

Dogs are simply great company. They don't complain, they're flexible and if you treat them right, they'll follow you anywhere. Plus, they make great photographic subjects. Another aspect of them is that they are much, much more alert than we are. Their senses are better. Many's the time I've seen a deer or otter simply because my dog saw it first. I can't recommend a make or model, but I'd be lost without mine! Plus they usually offer to share an early morning snack with you!

I hope this has been of use to you. Like in most fields, a few relatively inexpensive items can really make the job more fun and a lot easier.

Oh, and another bit of relatively inexpensive kit I can't recommend enough, if you use a camera that can accept filters: a UV filter. This is a circle of glass that helps to filter out UV light, which creates haze. But, most importantly, it can protect your lens from scratches and knocks. Better to replace a £25 filter than a £2000 lens!








Late Autumn and Winter photography

November 29, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

This is by far my favourite time for photography. There is a wonderful, although brief, golden and soft quality to Autumn and early Winter mornings.

On my latest trip out, in late November 2016, the sun rose at 8:00 Am, so it was not bad at all getting out in time. I went to our local reservoir, where I know the sun rises in Winter at the end of the lake. It's very helpful to know stuff like that: what time sunrise is, where it rises and where it will be when you get there.

Outside, it was -6 degrees C. The lake was frozen around the edges and there was a wonderful heavy frost. The sun was rising quickly, and for about half an hour, everything was bathed a deep, liquid red. Even the heavy frost was red. There wasn't a breath of wind and the lake was like a mirror.

This is surely the best time of the day! Make sure that you're dressed up warm, particularly your head, and you'll be fine. Lots of thin layers are best, since they're warmer and you can remove them as the morning warms up. If you've got warm feet and a warm head, you're fine. A flask is a must, not least because it gives you time to notice- really notice- things around you. Because, that's what you're there for: being a photographer is more about seeing images and the technical stuff merely allows you to capture the image you've already seen.

Walk slowly, take your time. Welcome to ordinary, because it is usually transient: those spiders webs or those dead plants and leaves, they probably won't be there tomorrow. That's what I love about this time of year: there, amongst the seeming death that Winter brings, you can see reminders of last Spring and Summer: an Autumn leaf, encased in ice, or dead Willow Herb, its purple flowers and fluffy seeds long gone. Or a robin, following me about for food, and even perching on my camera lens. Ducks and geese fly in, and it's amazing how sound carries at that time of day.

As the morning wears on, the light changes from bright red, to yellow, and then it gets progressively “colder” (bluer).

Noting and using the colour of light is very important. Reddish light is known as “warm” whilst blueish light is “cold”. It's all to do with wavelengths, but humans react differently to cold or warm light. Not surprisingly, cold light makes us feel cold. You can use this to emphasise a cold day, to stress Winter's cold, or you can contrast morning's red light with berries shrouded in frost: red against the white frost.

Notice, also, that I constantly defy the old “rule” of not shooting into the light. Well, that one is broken by most photographers. But the unrestricted light of the low sun often flares too much even with the cleanest lens and can “burn out” the image. A good trick is to “hide” the sun behind a branch or tree trunk or similar. Make sure your camera lens is clean!

Lenses used during this shoot are the usual 3 I use: a Canon 400mm, a 14mm and a 50mm Macro lens for the close-ups of the berries.

And at this point, just to get you thinking about the ordinary, I'd like to pay tribute to the humble Hawthorn. Just because it is everywhere, people seem to ignore it. Yet few other trees or shrubs put on a show like it. It is one of the first to get its leaves in Spring, followed by masses of beautifully scented flowers in late April and May, and then in Autumn, and lasting well into Winter, we get masses of bright red berries. Celebrate the ordinary: make it extraordinary by shooting in extraordinary light! By the time I was leaving for home, around 10:30 Am, (the light had become too blue), the walkers, joggers and so on were just arriving. You can bet that few had any idea what that place was like just an hour or two ago, and most would be stunned to know. They were just too late to find out. Take my word for it, grab your camera- any camera- and go and see for yourself. Choose a day with a clear sky in the morning, and don't let the cold put you off. Take your time, and , above all, take lots of photographs. You don't need any where so exotic: many of today's images could easily have been shot in a garden, or a local park or church yard.

Dead leaves. Dead plants, reminders of last Summer. Ducks and geese, frost upon last Summer's grass, or foraging birds, or perhaps a weak Winter sun rising over a mirrored lake. It's there. Go and see it.


Check out the photographs: HERE



The basics of depth of field. Or, how to get those blurry backgrounds!

November 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment



The above photo shows shallow depth of field.  Notice how the background is blurred and the only real sharp part of the image are the tree trunk and leaves.  This creates a sense of distance and helps to minimise the background.  400mm lens at f5.6 Although both use f5.6, see the difference between the long lens (above) and the very short lens (beach picture, below)


What is depth of field?

This is how much of a subject is in focus in a photograph.

For instance, there might be foreground to background depth of field, also known as wide depth of field.

Or just one flower in a field full of flowers.

This can have wonderful creative effect. For example, it is often better to use shallow depth of field when shooting portraits- of people or animals! This is because the progressive blurring away from what you've focussed on isolates the subject and makes you concentrate more on the subject when looking at the photo. It effectively minimises the distractions of backgrounds etc.

On the other hand, wide depth of field is sometimes necessary in order to avoid unsightly blurring.

So, how does this happen and why?

Several things cause shallow (or wide) depth of field:

  1.  Lens length or focal length.  The longer the lens, the shallower the depth of field.
  2. Focal distance- how close you are to the subject. The closer you are, the shallower the depth of field.
  3. For SLR or more sophisticated cameras, aperture (f-stops) are crucial for influencing and controlling depth of field.

On the back LCD panel or on a ring on the lens of an SLR (digital or film) camera, and many bridge or compacts, you'll see numbers like 2.8, 5.6, 11 etc.

Ever wonder what those settings are for? The lens's aperture is like the pupil of your eye. When it's dark, your pupil gets bigger to let more light in. When it's bright, your pupil gets smaller.

But with a camera lens, the depth of field becomes greater (wider) when the pupil gets smaller- and the same happens with our eyes, to an extent.

This is why we squint when we can't quite see something: squinting has the effect of seeing out of a smaller hole and the area in focus becomes a little larger, although this is somewhat negated by the pupil getting larger. Try looking at something through a tiny gap in your fingers, much the same happens.

So, with apertures (f-stops), the smaller the number, the larger the lens's “pupil” and the less is in focus at any given lens length or distance. Make the aperture a bigger number (e.g f11) and you'll have more in focus.

This is why SLRs and other more sophisticated cameras have aperture settings.

Another factor is sensor size. The sensor is the part of the camera- any digital camera- that captures and records the photograph. Some higher end SLRs have “full frame” sensors, roughly the same size as a single 35mm film negative. Most other SLRs have “cropped” sensors, which are usually around ¾ the size of a full frame. Most compact cameras and mobile phone cameras have even smaller sensors.

The smaller the sensor, the less pronounced the shallowness of depth of field is.

So, if you have a phone and it doesn't have control over apertures (f-stops) how do you achieve depth of field?

It's not as easy as with an SLR, but bear these tricks in mind:

  1. Get as close as you can to the subject.

  2. If you can, lower the camera's ISO to force it to “open up” any aperture (if it has one) and hence make the depth of field shallower.

  3. If you camera really does zoom, use the longest lens setting (“T” rather than “W” for most) and get as close as you can.

  4. If all else fails, there are lots of Apps for “faking” depth of field. Examples are AfterFocus and Big Lens.

  5. Some mobile phones have attachments which go over your phone camera's lens, making it longer or able to work closer up.


This photograph shows very wide depth of field.  Notice how sharp it is from foreground to all the way in the distance. 14mm lens at f.5.6  Compare this to the photo at the top, taken with a long lens.  Wide lenses like this give huge amounts of depth of field.




Fly Agaric mushroom. Yes, they really are red with white spots! This was taken with a Macro lens, which allows you to get within cm of the subject. But the close you get, the shallower the depth of field, as shown here.  50mm Macro, f.8.  WARNING: Fly Agaric are poisonous, so don't go eating them!

I hope this is of use to photographers of all types.  This is a basic introduction to Depth of Field and how best to achieve it on different cameras. More will follow for those with SLRs and other more sophisticated cameras.