Deep Focus

November 04, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

When doing macro or close-up work, there's a focus technique that can bring some excellent results.  I call it "deep focus", and it can be a fun way of exploring your subject.  Start by finding an interesting plant, bush, pond or anything that has some depth, or that contains various patterns within it.  There are plants and weeds out there that have intricate layers of stems, leaves, flowers and parts that form some pretty complex structures.  You'll need a camera that can be switched to manual focus and a tripod for best results.

Casper Mountain Seed Pod

Set your camera and lens to manual focus, and really concentrate on the first layer of focus closest to you.  As you explore this first layer, look for patterns, colors or small details that bring out something unique or different.  Sometimes you'll find this layer is good enough and can reveal a wonderful photo.  If not, look deeper...focus deeper...onto the next layer by slightly adjusting the focus of the lens to the next layer of the subject.

At this point you are now looking through the subject to the very bottom to find its hidden shapes, patterns and secrets.  Keep focusing from top to bottom to find something that strikes you as unique, beautiful, interesting or strange.  Some plants are nothing like their tops when you focus half way down a stem.  As the photos below illustrate, the first photo was the top layer, and below it, about half way down the plant, revealed a wonderful star-like structure that just wasn't visible from above.  Both photos were captured within a few minutes of each other of the same plant (Goats Beard plant on Casper Mountain, WY).  

 

Same plant deeply focused...

 

What's fascinating about this technique, is that no matter how well you think you know a subject, deeply focusing within and through a subject can be very revealing and interesting.  Our eyes tend to capture all detail very quickly in the 3D world, thus we see the detail further down the subject, but it's not selective, so it tends to blend into the surroundings and we don't always "see" the smaller details.

Deep focus also applies to landscapes and medium distance shots, although they may not be as dramatic as the close-ups of plants or smaller subjects.  It's always a fascinating journey to explore nature, and this is one way of discovering your own world to share with others!


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