Using DOF for Landscapes

Last week we discussed using depth of field (DOF) as a compositional element when composing portraits.  This week we’ll be discussing using DOF as a compositional element when composing landscapes.  Generally, with landscapes we want all the DOF we can get.  We want everything in focus.  Really, this is a simple concept so I’m going to move right past it and into the area of landscapes where we desire an extreme DOF.  This is where we include a subject in the foreground which lends depth and scale to the background.  It will also add another dimension to the image, giving a 3d look on a 2d medium.

DOF for Landscape

In the image above the main subject is the magnificent old tree with the exposed roots growing down the ancient temple walls.  By itself an interesting image.  But now add the stack of stones as a second subject in the immediate foreground and immediately you add depth and scale to the image, you can almost feel yourself standing next to the stack of stones allowing you to place yourself in the composition.  This image might seem simple, until you realize it required a 12mm lens with an aperture of F11 to achieve the extreme DOF required.

DOF for Landscape

This time we did much the same thing as we did in the first image.  We added compositional elements to the foreground, but this time instead of in the front and center we added them off to the side and extended the scale diagonally across the frame with first one large stone nearest, to the next largest stone a bit further out, another stone even further out, and then the trees.  At the same time the main subject (the structure) starts out close on the right side, and heads away from us diagonally across the frame.  Everything is in focus.  This image was shot at 14mm with a F11 aperture, and every bit of the frame is in focus.

DOF for Landscape

This is one of my favorites.  I ate lunch beside this tree, exactly where the image makes you feel like you’re sitting.  Can you clearly see the leaves and dirt in the lower right corner?  How big in scale the tree is compared to the much large buildings in the background?  Every bit of this frame is in focus from inches from the lens, to hundreds of meters away.  This shot required me laying on the ground with the lens less than six inches from the ground, a 12mm lens, and an aperture of F11.  As your eyes follow the image it starts in the lower right corner with the leaves and dirt, moves along the detail of the bark on the tree and its giant roots, moves across an open courtyard for about 50-80 meters, and then come to rest on the far structure in the far background.

DOF for Landscape

This image demonstrates how the techniques and equipment used in creating open landscapes can also be deployed inside the confines of a structure to create interesting compositions.  The DOF in this image is so extreme you can clearly see from the embers in the extreme foreground, all the way through several door frames all the way down the passageway.  Everything is in focus, everything lends detail, and the image gives you the illusion of actually being there, standing right in front of the Buddha and placing your own incense stick.  Again, this required a 12mm lens and a F11 aperture.  Because we were indoors with much less light, it also required a steady tripod, cable release, and several second long exposure. 

Can you see how adding a second subject, or compositional element to the foreground helps lend scale and dimension to the background?  How the extreme DOF brings both elements together?  How it brings the viewer right into the scene, how it places them exactly in the composition as intended?  To me, this is a much more effective technique and enjoyable image than merely another snapshot of something in the distance.  This technique virtually makes the viewer involved in the image in a very important way.