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Wide open with a narrow depth of field #photography

Wide open in photography means the widest aperture that the lens will give you. This is often around f/4.5 with most lenses. I can go wider with my prime lens which will go to f/1.8. Take a look at this wide open shot of some beer cans:

wide open

Narrow depth of field

On the Nikon website, it explains a narrow depth of field as giving us the subject in sharp focus and the area behind the subject as out of focus. The blurred area behind the subject is usually called bokeh. Look at the picture, the area behind the cans is out of focus but look more carefully to what is in sharp focus. I used a single focus point in the centre of my frame. Look at the cans in the middle, they are in focus. As you go farther away from the camera, the cans to the right of the focus point are slightly out of focus. They are out of our focal plane. The cans to the left are out of our focus plane too and they are slightly blurred as well. If you want all the cans in focus then you go to a narrower aperture, but then that middle can won’t be in such sharp focus.

all in focus

11 focus points

Now I have all the cans at the same distance from the camera and I used all 11 focus points on my camera. I could have used just one focus point onto the middle can, so why use more focus points? Imagine for a moment that I tilt the camera slightly to the left. Then the can on the right goes farther away and so slightly out of focus and the can on the left comes closer and so it too goes out of focus. So I tilt the camera right and left until I have a focus point lit on both sides of the frame. The same applies vertically. I don’t want the top of my frame in focus I want the cans in focus so I want the centre focus points to light up. The focus points on my camera look like tiny red dots in the frame as I focus. So I keep tilting my camera right and left and up and down until I get all the subject in focus. This shot was at f/1.8. I would go narrower (higher number) to get the pattern on the tablecloth in focus and even higher to get the curtains behind my subject in focus.

Why shoot wide open?

You might be asking why I like to shoot wide open at f/1.8 with a prime lens that doesn’t even zoom! The reason is simple. The subject in that focal plane is really sharp. If I zoom in on my picture I can read the small print on those cans. The 35 mm prime lens with a wide aperture is really useful, therefore, for shooting portraits. It is also small and light and so great for those wide aperture street shots of people. A zoom lens that goes to f 1.8 would cost thousands of pounds but a prime lens is affordable at less than £200.


Finally, you can shoot wide open with your zoom lens and although your aperture goes narrower as you zoom in the focal plane actually gets narrower not wider. You won’t get such a sharp image at f/4.5 but try wide open and then zoom in tight on your subject and the background will be blurred and out of focus.

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