Focus on the eyes

Today’s small tip to bet­ter your pho­tog­ra­phy is a sim­ple yet cru­cial one and the title of this post really explains it all. Por­traits are the most com­mon type of pho­to­graph that peo­ple take. Peo­ple con­tstantly ask me to eval­u­ate their pho­tos that they think are amaz­ing. 50% of the time when there is a per­son in the pho­to­graph their eyes are not sharp. This DESTROYS the shot. When tak­ing a por­trait, focus on the eyes. Don’t focus on their nose or their hair, focus on their eyes. If their head is turned toward the cam­era, focus on the eye that is clos­est to the camera.

That said, I’m sure to get “but Marko what if I want to try some­thing funky and keep the sub­ject blurry to get an effect”. In that case you can do what­ever you want to do, because that is your inten­tion. You gotta know the rules before you can break the rules.

Depth of field — Photography podcast # 2 —

Our sec­ond pod­cast is ded­i­cated to depth of field. We dis­cuss in pretty good depth how to become more cre­ative with depth of field. These 2 pho­tographs below illus­trate the dif­fer­ences between smaller and larger depths of field. Remem­ber: A smaller aper­ture like F 16 results in both the back­ground and the fore­ground being pretty sharp. A larger aper­ture like F 2.0 results in a sharp fore­ground and unsharp back­ground. If you’d rather read the dif­fer­ences instead of lis­ten­ing to the pod­cast below, a good depth of field expla­na­tion is located here.

F-16 — Large depth of field. Image sharp throughout.

F-2.0 — Shal­low depth of field. Only the fore­ground is sharp

If you see the player, use the player below to lis­ten to the pod­cast — it’s faster. If you don’t see the player click the link below.

You can down­load our sec­ond pod­cast here.

Pho­tog­ra­phy pod­cast tran­script #2

Photography podcast transcript 2 — Depth of field —

[Cam­era clicks]

Please note that this is an audio tran­scrip­tion. Gram­mer and punc­tu­a­tion will not be perfect.

Hi there every­one and wel­come to the pod­cast #2.‚ My name is Marko and I am you host.‚ Today is August 24, 2006, and we are com­ing to you from Mon­treal, Que­bec, Canada.
First off, thanks so much to those few peo­ple that left some com­ments on our bul­letin board about the first pod­cast that we did.‚ I would encour­age more peo­ple to leave com­ments as that is really the best way to make the show as good as pos­si­ble.‚ For those peo­ple that may have stum­bled upon this pod­cast by acci­dent, really, there is not that much that you need to know.‚ You just go to the bul­letin board on‚ It is com­pletely free to join.‚ You nav­i­gate your way to the pod­cast forum and you can post some feed­back, any sug­ges­tions, what would you like to learn, what would you like to know, what would you like me to research for you.‚ It is absolutely free to join the bul­letin board and while you are there, you could post one of your own pic­tures and get some cri­tiques from me and per­haps from other peo­ple as well.‚ You can always give cri­tiques for those pho­tos that are already there.‚ The forum could use a lit­tle bit more actions so it would be really appre­ci­ated if peo­ple could leave more com­ments and post more pic­tures.‚ In that way, it will become an even bet­ter forum.‚ The forum as a whole is really ded­i­cated to more alter­na­tive tech­niques in pho­tog­ra­phy, not pic­tures that are so straight up.‚ There is a lot of fun we can have post­ing dif­fer­ent pic­tures.‚ So, again, please post them.‚ Please leave com­ments about the pod­cast.
Today, I would actu­ally like to talk about depth of field and chang­ing it up when we are shoot­ing in dif­fer­ent types of sit­u­a­tions.‚ Because is all about exper­i­ment­ing, well, it is nice to exper­i­ment.‚ In nor­mal sit­u­a­tions where you would choose a small depth of field or a large depth of field, well, I encour­age you to change it up a bit and see the results that you get.‚ For those who do not really know that much about depth of field, there is a pretty good basic arti­cle on‚ Just click the arti­cles link and you can find it, but to recap in a nut­shell, depth of field sim­ply refers to the degree of sharp­ness between the fore­ground and back­ground of your scene and sub­se­quently your pho­to­graph.‚ You can con­trol depth of field by two main ways by either mak­ing the aper­ture larger or smaller or by choos­ing dif­fer­ent lenses.‚ If we talk about aper­ture, well, the smaller num­bers on the bar­rel refers to a larger hole or aper­ture and the larger hole or aper­ture makes the fore­ground sub­ject sharp but the back­ground blurry.‚ If we choose the larger num­bers around the bar­rel, well, that makes the entire scene from fore­ground to back­ground fairly sharp.‚ The num­bers in between will give you some­thing in between.‚ In terms of choos­ing lenses, well, wide angle lenses tend to give you sharper depth of field than longer lenses.‚ So, wide angle lenses, 24 mm, etc., 20 mm, even 35 mm, that is going to give you a much sharper image from fore­ground to back­ground than, let us say, a zoom lens of 200 mm.
Tra­di­tion­ally, when we shoot land­scapes, we want to make the fore­ground to back­ground the sharpest pos­si­ble, so what peo­ple do is they will put it on a really small aper­ture like f/16, f/22, f/32, or even f/45 depend­ing on what cam­era they are using.‚ They will often stick it on a tri­pod and they will get a sharp, sharp fore­ground to back­ground shot.‚ Now, that can be extremely inter­est­ing and it is beau­ti­ful and it is the clas­sic way to shoot land­scapes.‚ What I would sug­gest doing is doing the exact oppo­site.‚ Choose a really large aper­ture, some­thing where just the fore­ground is going to be sharp and the back­ground is going to be blurry and exper­i­ment with what you are going to get.‚ Maybe focus on a rock or a tree or some small ele­ment in the scene and focus on that ele­ment and let the back­ground go soft or blurry.‚ Shoot it at f/2.8 or f/4, see what hap­pens.‚ Take a shot at f/5.6 instead of f/32 and see the dif­fer­ence.
On the other side of the coin, if you are shoot­ing a por­trait, let us say, well, a lot of peo­ple are going to choose a larger depth of field, which means a smaller num­ber on the bar­rel and that will iso­late the sub­ject from the back­ground.‚ It gives a really beau­ti­ful effect, but why not mix it up a bit?‚ Stick it on the tri­pod, try to get your per­son to stand as still as pos­si­ble and shoot at f/32 or f/22.‚ Make sure you get some fast film when you are doing this, but see what hap­pens.‚ Take a pic­ture of their whole face in per­fect sharp­ness, mix it up, change the angles.‚ That is really what it is all about.‚ That is the best way to exper­i­ment.
Play with your lens choices as well.‚ If you have more than one lens, try doing dif­fer­ent things.‚ Use a wide angle lens and try and use the largest aper­ture pos­si­ble.‚ See what hap­pens.‚ See what you get.‚ Put a zoom lens on and try and use the small­est aper­ture pos­si­ble.‚ See what you get.‚ Exper­i­ment, try both ends.‚ Record, record, record.‚ See the results.‚ Com­pare one from the other.‚ Find your own style.‚ Depth of field, it is one of the key things about pho­tog­ra­phy.‚ It is one of the main choices to deter­mine how you want your pic­ture to look.‚ It is really up to you and exper­i­ment­ing is really the best way to make your pho­tog­ra­phy even more inter­est­ing.‚ Of course, that is what we want.‚ We want inter­est­ing pho­tog­ra­phy.‚ We do not always want the same old shots, the same old per­son in the mid­dle of the photo.‚ We want to change it up.‚ We want to make it excit­ing.‚ Along those same lines, choose dif­fer­ent angles, choose dif­fer­ent heights.‚ If you are shoot­ing a per­son, get on the ground and angle your cam­era up at that per­son, make them look large like a tree or get up on a table and shoot down at the per­son and give them a weird angle on their face.‚ Exper­i­ment and see what you get.‚ We are all about exper­i­men­ta­tion around here and we could not encour­age it more.‚ If you want to really change it up, use a com­bi­na­tion of the tech­niques we just talked about.‚ Shoot a por­trait or shoot a land­scape bet­ter.‚ Yeah, shoot a land­scape with a really wide open aper­ture and get on a crazy angle.‚ Take a pic­ture of the tree from the ground using zoom lens instead of a wide angle lens.‚ Do some­thing uncon­ven­tional.
On the other side of it, instead of tak­ing a pic­ture of a per­son with a wider open aper­ture for a more shal­low depth of field, stop down a bit, go to f/8, f/11, use some faster film, stick a flash on there, choose a dif­fer­ent angle, mix it up.‚ Choose a lens that you nor­mally would not use, mix it up.
I guess that is really the theme of today’s show, mix­ing it up by using dif­fer­ent depths of field that you nor­mally would not use, but in order to learn it is really impor­tant to record and remem­ber what you did.‚ Take some notes while you are doing it.‚ If you are lucky enough to have a dig­i­tal cam­era, the notes will be there as well.‚ They will be on the EXIF data.‚ Just learn, just record and learn.
That basi­cally cov­ers it.‚ It is a really short episode today.‚ Next time, we will make one a lit­tle longer.‚ Again, I encour­age every­one to leave some com­ments about this pod­cast, what did you like, what did you not like.‚ Please go to the forum and post your com­ments.‚ You can always send me an email at‚ and I will be sure to reply just as soon as I can.‚ I absolutely appre­ci­ate emails and I absolutely appre­ci­ate feed­back.‚ So, thanks again for lis­ten­ing every­one and we should be back in about two weeks with a brand new tip and a lit­tle bit more of advice.‚ Until then, every­one.‚ Take care and happy shoot­ing.
[Cam­era clicks]

Welcome to the first podcast!

I’m Marko the Admin of and in this our first pod­cast I’ll tell you a lit­tle bit about myself as well as pro­vide a pho­tog­ra­phy tip. This week’s tip is about con­trol­ling the background.‚

Pho­tog­ra­phy pod­cast tran­script #1

Photography podcast transcript 1 —

[Cam­era clicks]
‚Please note that this is an audio tran­scrip­tion. Gram­mer and punc­tu­a­tion will not be per­fect. ‚
‚Hi there and wel­come to the very first pod­cast com­ing to you from Mon­treal, Que­bec, Canada.‚ My name is Marko and I am the admin and owner of‚ For this, our very first pod­cast, it is going to be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than future pod­casts.‚ I am just going to tell you a lit­tle bit about my expe­ri­ence and I am also going to shoot a lit­tle tip your way in order to hope­fully make your pho­tog­ra­phy a bit bet­ter.
So, first, a lit­tle bit about me.‚ I have a BA in Psy­chol­ogy as so many peo­ple do and many pho­tog­ra­phers your­selves.‚ I have also stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy for two and a half years at the Daw­son Insti­tute of Pho­tog­ra­phy here in Mon­treal.‚ Once I grad­u­ated, I started doing a lot of free­lance, so I do have really a fair amount of pho­tog­ra­phy expe­ri­ence.‚ I have shot many, many dif­fer­ent types of pho­tog­ra­phy, but my main love is really por­traits.‚ I love a good por­trait and I have shot them in many dif­fer­ent ways.‚ I have shot wed­dings, I have shot preg­nan­cies, I have shot cats and dogs.‚ As long as it has a face, I am all over it with my cam­era, that is.‚ Aside from that, I also have a pretty good feel for alter­na­tive photo tech­niques espe­cially when it involves por­trai­ture from hand col­or­ing, which is also known as hand paint­ing, to infrared to SX-70 manip­u­la­tion, though I am not even sure if they are mak­ing that film any­more, though you can still do so many of these tech­niques in a dig­i­tal way, but even if we are going the dig­i­tal way, most of us, all the basic pho­tog­ra­phy rules still apply.‚ So, enough about me and on to some­thing a lit­tle more inter­est­ing.
Today, I just wanted to talk about the back­ground and by back­ground I do not mean the actual back­ground that a pho­tog­ra­pher rolls on a stand and places a model behind, although that could apply, but in this case I am really talk­ing about what is going on in the back­ground when you take a pic­ture.‚ I have actu­ally writ­ten an arti­cle on about what is going on in the back­ground and try­ing to be aware of what is going on in the back­ground.‚ If you go to the site, that is, and you click on the arti­cles, tips and links link, you will find that arti­cle there called Back­grounds, but for right now and for those who are not really inter­ested in doing any surf­ing and they are only inter­ested in lis­ten­ing, you really have to pay atten­tion to what is going on in the back­ground.‚ Most novices just do not look what is going on in the back­ground and even advanced ama­teurs and some­times pros, they spend all their time focus­ing on what is going on in the fore­ground with­out ever really look­ing what is going on in the back­ground and that is really a huge mis­take.‚ Please excuse the lit­tle bit of snif­fling as it is allergy that I must suf­fer, but I will try to do my best to con­trol it.‚ Okay, back to the back­grounds.‚ You really have to notice what is going because you could be tak­ing a really beau­ti­ful pic­ture, a por­trait or a land­scape or any­thing, but if you are not aware of what is going on behind it, you can really wreck the photo.‚ You really want to make sure that the fore­ground sub­ject is not being marred by what is going on in the back­ground and the only way to do this is to really pay atten­tion.
So, for instance, if you are tak­ing a por­trait of some­one and in the back­ground, there is like a light fix­ture.‚ They are in the house, you are tak­ing a por­trait of them and there is a light fix­ture right behind their head, well, we see the world in 3D, right, but a photo is actu­ally 2D.‚ So, what hap­pens when it gets com­pressed, the 2D, when you get it back from the lab or print your­self is that the fix­ture is going to look like a hat if it is over his head or her head, that is.‚ What you want to do is you do not want to put a fix­ture, a light fix­ture or some­thing hang­ing from the wall right behind their head.‚ You want to move them, so that that ele­ment is not dis­tract­ing.‚ Like­wise out­doors, if you are shoot­ing some­one, when you see some trash or tele­phone wires or tele­phone poles, you do not want to put those ele­ments right behind them if pos­si­ble.‚ Now, some peo­ple might say right away, “Oh, but what if that’s part of my image?”‚ Well, if that is part of your image and you thought about it and it is an envi­ron­men­tal por­trait and you want to shoot a punk rocker, let us say, in a really messed up or dirty look­ing or grungy envi­ron­ment, then yes, by all means.‚ Not that it does not mat­ter, but it mat­ters less what is going on because the back­ground will add to the shot, but if we are doing just a reg­u­lar shot and we do not want the back­ground to dis­tract from what we are shoot­ing, well then we really have to be aware of that.
A good tech­nique on how to be aware of it is to really look through your viewfinder and pic­ture the whole viewfinder as a clock.‚ Check what is going on at 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, etc.‚ What is going on there?‚ What ele­ments do you see that are detract­ing from the main sub­ject and can you repo­si­tion that main sub­ject so that it is less intru­sive, less dis­tract­ing?‚ Usu­ally, the answer is yes and when you do have that abil­ity, I highly encour­age you to do so.‚ Some­times just mov­ing the sub­ject or mak­ing them move two or three inches to the right or left or you, as the pho­tog­ra­pher, just chang­ing your angle slightly, some­times that really makes a huge dif­fer­ence in the impact of the shot and these days since so many of us are shoot­ing dig­i­tal any­way.‚ Let us say you do hap­pen to cap­ture some­thing in the back­ground, well then using Pho­to­shop or any other imag­ing soft­ware, it might just be a smart thing to remove that ele­ment from the back­ground.‚ Oh, I could see the purists going bananas now say­ing, “Oh, but it’s not a real photo,” and you know what, that is a whole other con­ver­sa­tion for another time and maybe we will do a pod­cast on that as well.‚ For now, I guess I just wanted to put into your mind that you really have to be aware of what is going on in the back­ground and remove dis­tract­ing ele­ment.
Another way to really limit the dis­tract­ing ele­ments that go on in the back­ground is often through use of depth of field.‚ I do not want this pod­cast to be about depth of field and there is quite a bit of info on it already on and many other web­sites, so if you just want to go to the arti­cle sec­tion or tips and links sec­tion on this site, you could prob­a­bly read up on depth of field and that will really help you.‚ It is up to the pho­tog­ra­pher to choose what depth of field they want to use per shot and very sim­ply, depth of field means or refers to how sharp the fore­ground is rel­a­tive to the back­ground.‚ Large depths of field will make the back­ground more blurry and smaller depths of field will make the back­ground more sharp.‚ For por­traits, I usu­ally choose a larger depth of field because that allows me to iso­late my sub­ject, my main sub­ject from the back­ground and by hav­ing the back­ground slightly blurred, it becomes less dis­tract­ing.‚ This is really a good tech­nique to use, so I highly rec­om­mend it.‚ So, again, I really do not want to get into exactly what depth of field is because we could do just a whole pod­cast on depth of field eas­ily, but just read up on it a lit­tle bit and know that it can be con­trolled and it can be used to solve a lot of these com­mon prob­lems.
You know what, that about does it for our first pod­cast.‚ I thank you so much for com­ing and lis­ten­ing.‚ I really hope you do give input.‚ There is going to be a new sec­tion in the bul­letin board on and if you are a mem­ber, you could just join and give com­ments, which would be so use­ful.‚ I will also post some show notes and things of that nature on the bul­letin board on‚ So, if you are not already a mem­ber, please come and join our bul­letin board.‚ You can post some of your pho­tos for cri­tiques and of course you can give cri­tiques on this pod­cast as well.‚ So, thanks again for lis­ten­ing every­one and we will be sure and put up a new pod­cast shortly.‚ Bye for now and happy shoot­ing.
[Cam­era clicks]