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There was a time when you’d want to stare at a photo for hours but couldn’t quite put your finger on why.
Then you taught yourself a little bit about photography and realized it was a photo’s dreamy depth of field that reeled you in — razor sharp details with a background that slowly fades to a wonderfully creamy blur.
To get really fantastic depth of field, photographers invest in pricey lenses. The good news is there are ways to create the illusion of depth of field without forking over the moola.
We’ll show you three totally accessible tools that’ll help you get a similar effect and will be fun to experiment with, too!
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Why It’s Cool
Well, we just happen to speak brain! It turns out there are a bunch of cool tricks that can really please your viewer’s eye without them knowing you didn’t use a fancy lens.
We are going to show you three simple creative cheats to control the viewer’s perception of depth of field in your photos. That means you’ll be able to create the illusion that parts of your photo are out of focus while your main subject is crisp and clear.
The Ingredients List!
The Fog Method
When it’s foggy out, objects near you appear clear and things further away are, well, foggy. That’s the simple principle you’re working with.
Wide open spaces such as lakes or the coast work really well for playing with this concept as mist tends to be heavier over water.
Experimentation is the key, so do try setting your point of focus and exposure at a few different places in the picture to see what effects you get.
TIP: If you find a subject you really like, it can be worth waiting or coming back as the density of fog or mist can change over the course of a few minutes.
Diffuse Details with Glass
There are two ways glass works to make your subject stand out.
The first is that anything reflected in the glass is by default slightly diffused. Juxtaposed, your person, who we’ll assume is in focus, looks extra sharp. Simple!
The second is your setting. If the interior that sits behind the glass is dark (which it normally is since it sits farther away from the sunlight that streams in), then your subject will pop for that simple reason.
You’ll create a perceived depth of field by having your subject well-lit and in focus against a dark backdrop and out-of-focus reflections.
TIP: Car windows work really well. The trick with a car is to setup the shot and then to try covering any widows which are letting light fall onto anything but the subject. You’ll be amazed at the effect of simply hanging a jacket to cover the light of an opposite-facing car window.
Translucent Glass for Mega Blur
The third method is placing your subject behind translucent glass. You might be able to find translucent glass in a store front, a shower door, or create your own by fogging up clear glass with steam.
The way this method works is a little more obvious — translucent glass obscures details as they get further away from it.
You’ll notice that the hands are in focus, but the body which is only slightly further back starts to get dramatically blurry.
In this picture, we placed a bedside table lamp in the shower* (to the right of the models feet, pointing upwards) to add drama and illuminate her shape. The light from behind the model was from an open window.
*Obvi, you’ll want a completely dry area. Electricity and water don’t mix and can be super dangerous.
Taking It Further
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