Photography’s First Gift: Depth of Field

February 4, 2007


I believe photography has given us two gifts. The first gift is Depth of Field. This was not an intentional gift but more of an emergent property of the technology. I think its impact on aesthetic art and our understanding of how the mind’s eye interprets art has been profound.

Depth of Field has given photographers (both still and motion) an invaluable tool. It allows the photographer to create an image and say “this part HERE is important”. But its more than just a hint. Your brain will not allow you to look away from HERE for more than a split second. Its pure coercion.

Depth of Field is an important tool in movie making. When two characters in the same frame are having a conversation, the focus moves back and forth between the characters. Not only can you better identify that Character A is talking, but the director can mix it up to get a specific effect… focus on Character B’s reaction to what Character A is saying, for instance.

This property, however, is an attribute of the specific tools used. Depth of field is used extensively in motion film and almost never on television because of the technical differences of the cameras typically used for each format (I’m guessing this is till the case, I haven’t had cable TV in a while). In the same way, one of the key differences between SLRs and point-and-shooot digital still cameras is the ability of SLRs to produce shallow depth of field and digital point-and-shoots to easily create large/long? depth of field for macro shots.

I guess every painter has to choose their paint, brush, and canvas. Depth of Field is one more tool that can be used to great affect.

I will discuss Photography’s Second Gift tomorrow.


One Response to “Photography’s First Gift: Depth of Field”

  1. Ed Says:

    I’ve never thought of these elements of photography as gifts yet the discussion has a ring of thuth. I’ve often thought of them as the new elements of art.

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