Using Shallow Depth of Field in Landscape Photography

When you think of aperture choice and depth of field in landscape photography, you likely trend toward using narrow apertures for a wide depth of field. And while that is certainly a great way to approach images, you can create unique photos by using a narrow depth of field, which is what this excellent video explores. 

Coming to you from Alister Benn with Expressive Photography, this informative video takes a look at using a narrow depth of field in landscape photography. Traditionally, given the subject matter, landscape photographers opt for a wide depth of field to maximize sharpness and get as much of the scene in focus as possible. However, using a narrow depth of field can be a fantastic way to focus your viewer's attention on a specific spot in the photo and to bring out a smaller subject in a clean, unfussy way. It is also a great method for getting more images out of a scene and creating unique photos that stand apart from the sort of landscapes we are used to looking at. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Benn. 

And if you really want to dive into landscape photography, check out "Photographing The World 1: Landscape Photography and Post-Processing with Elia Locardi." 

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7 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Can it still be called landscape photography if you're not actually taking a photo of a landscape, but rather focusing in on a particular plant? I feel like we're stretching genre definitions a bit here.

James Michael's picture

I've always thought there was a lot of overlap in genres and, really, why does it matter?

Deleted Account's picture

Because then words lose their meaning and people say things while being on completely different pages and not necessarily realizing it. If I talk about portraiture as a genre, you have a general idea (even if it may not be exact) as to what types of photographs I'm referring to. Specifically referencing the genre allows us to narrow our discussion to elements of that generally agreed upon "definition". If I decide to expand the definition of portraiture in my own mind to also mean macro photographs of individual fingernails simply because fingernails are part of people, then whenever I have a discussion about portraiture, I'm going to be talking about one thing while other people are talking about something completely different.

Yes, there is a lot of overlaps in genres, but for the sake of clarity genre definitions should have their limits. For instance, a landscape is often a kind of still life and it's often a kind of nature photography. It can even have some wildlife elements in it. There's a general assumption when talking about landscape photography, however, that there's a landscape involved-not just isolated elements of it. While a blade of grass is part of a landscape, I'm not sure how many people would consider taking a closeup photo of a single blade while blurring out all of the context to count as landscape photography. If that's the case, then pretty much everyone out there taking photos of flowers would be landscape photographers. Does that seem to make sense to you? Maybe, but for me it's a bit too much of a stretch away from what we all generally think of when we talk about the genre.

To be clear, I'm not saying that there is necessarily some hard line that denotes the boundary between landscape photography and some other type of photography. There isn't a precise checklist that you need to meet the requirements of in order to be considered landscape photography. Genres are loose generalizations, after all. I'm just saying that even without hard definitions or a checklist of requirements, there are just some situations you look at and say "Yeah, that's probably a bit too much." That's where I am here. If you feel differently, then that's cool, but I do think it merits some discussion about what the term "landscape photography" means for you, though.

In the portraiture and fingernail example, I actually do think that a macro photograph of a fingernail can be a sort of portrait in certain instances because a fingernail (how it looks, how it's shaped, what's on it, how it's cared for) can be a window into expressing something about the subject. For instance, just by looking at certain fingernails, you may be able to tell if a person is a classical guitarrist so if you believe that portraiture is not simply photographs of faces, but rather photographs that reveal something about a human subject, then a fingernail can be a valid way to explore that even if it's not traditional. So I suppose if you think that the photos in this video are landscape photography, what is landscape photography to you and why do you feel that these photographs fall into the category?

James Michael's picture

I'm sure my cavalier attitude comes from NOT talking about photography that much. I completely understand your point about confusion but, for me, the photo is the thing and the genre is just a label that can be applied to it, and one I rarely use. I'm still not clear about the lines, gray as they might be, between landscape, wildlife and nature. Maybe nature is an umbrella, under which landscape and wildlife live?? Then there's landscape, intimate landscape, cityscape (which some people refer to as city landscape, astro-landscape,... It makes my head hurt! 😂
Bottom line -- I don't really care but just thought I'd ask.

As for the portraiture/fingernail example, I think there's much more distinction there than in the photos in this video. But, what to call it!? 🤔

James Michael's picture

Yeah, that makes sense but, wouldn't you need something to differentiate between human anatomy and machine parts? Like the number of licks it takes to reach the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop, the world may never know. (from a very old commercial 😄)

Justin Sharp's picture

The term intimate landscape has been around for a while. This perfectly describes much of this type of landscape photography. It also helps to specify genre a bit more accurately.