Tough Choices with Limited Depth of Field

For most of the last forty years, I was an available light photographer, but now that I’ve tasted the joys of electronic flash in general, and Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS) in particular, I am sometimes frustrated by the choices forced upon me by light I cannot control.

Last week we needed some additional publicity photos for Wait Until Dark, but we only had a few minutes to shoot – immediately before a performance! There was no time to set up my lights, and the theater lights were set up for dramatic action that takes place predominantly in the dark. (This is how the blind protagonist levels the playing field with her tormentors.)

While waiting for other actors to don their costumes, I grabbed a few shots of actor Chris Alton and his character’s brass knuckles. The low light required a wide aperture, which limited depth of field, so I had to choose which element would be in focus – the brass knuckles or the character’s face.

I moved in close with a 17-55mm lens (at about 24mm), but even at ISO 1600 I was forced to shoot at f3.2, which meant I had a fairly narrow plane of focus. If I had control of the lights, I would have opted for greater depth of field, and I would have thrown very dramatic light on the brass knuckles.

Blurry faces don't make good publicity images, so I chose this one, with the blurry hand. Which one would you have chosen?

This snapshot illustrates the exaggerated perspective I wanted, with both the face and the foreground object in sharper focus, but this image was shot with a 12mm lens at f8. For interesting perspectives and greater depth of field, super-wide lenses are hard to beat.

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Filed under Camera Settings, Composition, Lighting

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