I’ve developed a sort of habit of driving through Safari World once a month or so, just so I can see the animals during the different seasons, which migrating birds are visiting, and because it’s a cool place to visit inside Bangkok.  In a way it strikes me as a bit surreal that such a large park with lions and tigers and bears.. is literally a fence away from normal Thai neighborhoods.  Really, on the other side of a rather unremarkable fence where tigers roam, is the backyard(s) of homes in a residential area.  I wonder if the tigers and lions peer through the cracks in the fence and watch little Somchai playing on his swing?

Often, what makes an image interesting besides the actual composition and technical’s is the amount of detail offered.   An image printed at 8x10 might not have a compelling interest, but the same image printed as 20x30 inches might offer enough unexpected detail to catch your interest.   How often at a photo exhibition do you see someone look at an image from across the room or a few steps away, and then walk up to within inches and examine minute details?  Details are interesting.  Add interest to your photographs by ensuring critical focus and a strategically planned depth of field (|DOF).

 

 Add interest to your photographs by ensuring critical focus and a strategically planned depth of field (|DOF).  

This zebra shot doesn’t look very special at this size.  Pretty bland.

 

Critical focus allows you to count the individual eyelashes and see the texture of the skin adding interest to a rather ordinary photograph.  

Critical focus allows you to count the individual eyelashes and see the texture of the skin adding interest to a rather ordinary photograph.

 

Rhino’s are rather unremarkable, but even on a small size print they have plenty of interesting creases and skin texture to add interest  

Rhino’s are rather unremarkable, but even on a small size print they have plenty of interesting creases and skin texture to add interest.

 

Did you know Rhino’s have small delicate eyelashes?  Did you know their skin texture was so rough and craggily?  

Did you know Rhino’s have small delicate eyelashes?  Did you know their skin texture was so rough and craggily?

 

Here we see a stork and I suppose it’s a decent picture of a stork.  Still, its just not that interesting  

Here we see a stork and I suppose it’s a decent picture of a stork.  Still, its just not that interesting.

 

On a large 20x30 inch print, due to critical focus, now you have some interesting detail!  You can see the patterns in the iris of the eye, feather details galore, and the facial wrinkles and detail.  Its just not the face, but the entire body that falls within the DOF will have great detail  

On a large 20x30 inch print, due to critical focus, now you have some interesting detail!  You can see the patterns in the iris of the eye, feather details galore, and the facial wrinkles and detail.  Its just not the face, but the entire body that falls within the DOF will have great detail.

I’m always asked what aperture I use.  It depends.  This image was shot at wide open at F2.8.  F2.8 provided all the DOF I wanted because the storks head is physically small and at this distance the DOF would cover most of the head while pleasantly defocusing the background.  Depending on the storks stance, different percentages of its body will also fall within the DOF.  On a print the eye and facial detail is critical.

 

On a large 20x30 inch print, due to critical focus, now you have some interesting detail!  You can see the patterns in the iris of the eye, feather details galore, and the facial wrinkles and detail.  Its just not the face, but the entire body that falls within the DOF will have great detail  

Here’s a beautiful shot of an African Crown Crane that would stand on its own at any size.  Great directional lighting providing extreme contrast, a colorful but solid background, an alert expression, and even an interesting shadow.  As far as African Crown Cranes go this is a very solid shot.

 

On a large print, thanks to critical focus, now we can see an entirely new level of detail.  The texture of the facial skin, the naturally blue eye, the red, and the detailed crown.  Even the pond debris adds to the detail interest level  

On a large print, thanks to critical focus, now we can see an entirely new level of detail.  The texture of the facial skin, the naturally blue eye, the red, and the detailed crown.  Even the pond debris adds to the detail interest level.

 

On a large print, thanks to critical focus, now we can see an entirely new level of detail.  The texture of the facial skin, the naturally blue eye, the red, and the detailed crown.  Even the pond debris adds to the detail interest level  

This image was also shot wide open at F2.8 because the head is physically small.  But because the body was turned just right you can see how sharp the grey feathers are, and how the DOF just starts to fade out feathers in the right corner.  When you get to a certain level all of these details are taken into account for the final composition.  Which aperture to choose?  Look at the details and decide what you want.

 

On a large print, thanks to critical focus, now we can see an entirely new level of detail.  The texture of the facial skin, the naturally blue eye, the red, and the detailed crown.  Even the pond debris adds to the detail interest level  

This is a revealing image of the same African Crown Crane.  See the detail of the leg skin?  F2.8?  Notice how the pond debris in the very front of the frame is defocused, but by the time you reach the leg it’s a sharp focus, and as you lead towards the rear of the frame the detail fades into an attractive defocused bokeh?  This is the sort of detail that goes into the composition that makes a successful large gallery quality print.

 

On a large print, thanks to critical focus, now we can see an entirely new level of detail.  The texture of the facial skin, the naturally blue eye, the red, and the detailed crown.  Even the pond debris adds to the detail interest level  

What an ugly bird!  This bird could win the ‘ugly bird of the year’ contest.  The bokeh is actually more attractive than the subject.

 

On a large print, thanks to critical focus, now we can see an entirely new level of detail.  The texture of the facial skin, the naturally blue eye, the red, and the detailed crown.  Even the pond debris adds to the detail interest level  

Now you have some interesting detail complete with ear wax!  Can you see the opaque horizontal eyelid?  The fine almost human like hairs?  Inside the ear?

 

This image is a much more attractive capture of a stork than the one above.  The shadow is very interesting and this stands alone as far as stork pictures go  

This image is a much more attractive capture of a stork than the one above.  The shadow is very interesting and this stands alone as far as stork pictures go.

 

Another wide open F2.8 image (where the lens sharpness is at its minimum) that shows extreme detail throughout  

Another wide open F2.8 image (where the lens sharpness is at its minimum) that shows extreme detail throughout.

 

How about this grand old guy?  Have you ever seen a redheaded lion?  I love the detail on this image.  The full size image almost makes you want to grab a brush and groom him a bit..  

How about this grand old guy?  Have you ever seen a redheaded lion?  I love the detail on this image.  The full size image almost makes you want to grab a brush and groom him a bit.. ;o)

 

How about this grand old guy?  Have you ever seen a redheaded lion?  I love the detail on this image.  The full size image almost makes you want to grab a brush and groom him a bit..  

This is the interesting detail you’d see on a large print if you critically focused.  The eye, whiskers, teeth, texture of the tongue, everything is perfectly focused and available to the eye while the background is wonderfully defocused into a creamy bokeh.  This image was shot at F5.6 and the same physical distance as the birds.  The lions head is bigger and required the deeper DOF to keep the same amount of facial detail in sharp focus.

 

How about this grand old guy?  Have you ever seen a redheaded lion?  I love the detail on this image.  The full size image almost makes you want to grab a brush and groom him a bit..  

You might not have noticed the abnormal eye while taking the picture, but even at full size critical focus allows you to see this interesting detail.

 

How about this grand old guy?  Have you ever seen a redheaded lion?  I love the detail on this image.  The full size image almost makes you want to grab a brush and groom him a bit..  

Critical focus allows you to see every detail on this tigers face, just like if you were nose to nose with him in real life.  The whiskers, eyes, nose, and skin.. all in perfect detailed focus.  How much better looking would a large print of this be compared to the same shot with a softer focus?

Not every subject needs to be sharp.  Some types of portraits and landscapes benefit from planned softness.  However, most images benefit from critical focus.  Sure, it’s a lot more work to achieve captures at this level.  It requires a decent lens.  But it’s always nice to have a choice after the fact, even with portraits.  You can post process in as much softness to a sharp image as you desire.. but there’s very little sharpness to be recovered if you don’t get it right to begin with.