Diving Into Deep Focus Again

Posted in Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on June 16th, 2010 by MadDog
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We had a middling decent sunrise this morning, complete with crepuscular rays from the sun shining between towering clouds over the horizon. Not a bad start for a day which I fervently hope will be less of a hassle than yesterday. However, it’s only 13:50, so anything could still happen. Half of the fun and half of the terror of living in PNG is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or rather, the next  shoe.

Anyway, as I said, I got a passable sunrise this morning and, though three pedestrians attempted suicide on the bonnet of my car on the way to work, it has so far been a singularly uneventful day:

Just as well, too. My Valium stash is getting low. I’m going to have to see my connection pretty soon.

As you may recall, if you’ve ever been here before, I’ve been fooling around with what I call “Deep Focus”. Though this may sound like a meditation technique, it is really nothing more than setting your camera so that the hole where the light comes in is as teensy-weensy as you can make it. In fancy terms, it’s called the ƒ-stop. Real photographers insist on using the curly ƒ instead of the regular f because we are so pedantic. The explanation of all the ƒ stop explanations would simply explain you into a nap, so I’ll leave it up to you to Wikipedia it, if you like.

Explained so that even I can understand it, think of a pinhole camera. If you would look with one eye through a pinhole in a playing card held very close to your eye and wiggle your fingers around in front of it while viewing a distant scene, you would note that your fingers are clear and focused as well as the scene. Pull the pinhole card aside and you fingers will go all blurry unless you focus your eyes on them, in which case the distant scene will get blurry. There’s no free lunch. However, there is  a cheap  lunch. If you are willing to make other adjustments to your camera such as slowing the shutter speed to let the lens gather light for a longer time (unfortunately, also making moving objects blur) or setting your “film speed” (called ISO on digital cameras) to a faster setting (and getting “grainy” images as a result) then you can get stuff like this:

Note that everything from a few centimetres away to the distant diver is in focus, more or less. This is Deep Focus, and I didn’t invent it. I’m just fooling around with it. A fancy term for it is High Depth of Field Photography, but you can forget that now that you have heard it once.

Here’s another shot using the setting of ƒ/8 on my Canon G11 which is the smallest opening of the iris that I can get:

Again, we get a nice, almost 3D effect.

I’ve learned a few things in the last weeks I’ve been playing with this. First you must have water as clear as possible. That is sometimes a problem. Next you need a very bright, sunny day with as few clouds in the sky as possible – your best friend is intense sunlight. The other thing that I have found is that noon is not the best time. It is much better when the sun is coming in at an angle. Nine to ten in the morning or two to three in the afternoon seems best:

The shot above shows the deep blue that you want as a background.

Another thing that you want is what every photographer knows – keep the sun at your back or coming over your shoulder from the back. You want the light to be coming from behind you.

It does take considerable messing about with Photoshop to get the optimal results. I’m taking an average of about 15-20 minutes on each shot, sometimes more if there is a lot of particulate matter in the water which I have to remove bit by bit.

I have concentrated so much on macro shots for the last few years that I am now enjoying the process of learning something new.

I feel like an old dog who has only now learned to roll over on my back to get my belly scratched. Ah . . . what a relief!

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