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Canada, wild, majestic and beautiful.

Happy Canada Day everyone!

This is our opportunity to celebrate all that which makes this country so great. Canada is one of the few, if not only, developed countries in the world that boasts enormous swathes of truly wild and virtually untouched lands. We have, in our backyard, untold natural beauty and riches, and we have the privilege of being able to enjoy these lands without the worries of crime, violence or absence of medical assistance. As somebody who grew up in South Africa, the Canadian people’s freedom to explore the vast wilderness within the confines of a safe, first world country, is particularly apparent – never take this for granted!  Here I would like to share with you some of my images which I feel portray the majestic beauty of this vast land. I have visited only a tiny fraction of this beautiful land, but  I have already seen so much. Canadians, nothing is keeping you back – EXPLORE this vast Beauty that Surrounds You!

 
 

The splendour and majesty of Canada’s west is well known, but nothing prepares you for that moment you step out on the ledge and first witness a scene of such breathtaking beauty, beyond anything you could ever have dreamt:

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I will never forget the moment in Yoho National Park’s Opabin Plateau, when I saw this landscape unfold before my eyes. I was breathless, I could not have imagined that such beauty exists.

 
 

The Canadian Rockies are jaw dropping beautiful, but it is the backcountry that will reveal  untold riches:

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Even though I have seen several images of the view from the “Nublet” in Assiniboine Provincial park, it did not diminish the awe and wonder that overcame me as I first approached the edge. Come witness the beauty of the Canadian Rockies with us!

 
 

But nothing prepares you for the untamed wilderness of Canada’s Yukon. No other area combines the sublime beauty of a kaleidoscope of peak autumn tundra against such wild, jagged mountain peaks:

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The Yukon is wild, unforgiving, but it will reward you with moments of awe and wonder:

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We had to endure several snowstorms during our backpacking expedition in the Tombstone Mountains, but when beauty shone through, it was mesmerizing. Join us, and we will venture much deeper into the Yukon’s wilderness!

 
 

Canada’s East harbours unmatched treasures as well. The intense, peak autumn foliage has few equals in the world, and with the right light, unspeakable beauty comes to life:

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I have never seen autumn foliage which glows as intensely, as that which can be witnessed in Algonquin’s Provincial Park.

 
 

Algonquin is not all grand landscapes. Under the right light, even the most inconspicuous grove of trees turns into the exceptional:

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A short lived moment of heavenly beauty graces this grove of trees many an autumn morning in Algonquin Provincial Park.  I will take you there!

 
 

Canada’s greatest treasure is its  water. Abundant, plentiful, it forms an integral part of Canada’s wilderness.

There is no interplay more powerful than that between light and  water. You don’t have to venture far to find a body of water, and all you need to do is wait for the magic to happen!

 
 

Immense Beauty awaits you. Get up, pack your bags, explore. You will never look back!

 
 

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Surreal Namibia – Days 1 – 7

I just wrapped up our two week “Surreal Namibia” photography workshop, which ran from May 31st to June 14th, 2015, in Namibia, Africa. What an amazing experience, and I am happy to say that the participants loved it! I had a wonderful group of keen, dedicated and talented photographers, with a thirst for adventure, a great sense of humor and camaraderie, and impressive stamina which served them well during our jam packed two week long photography tour.

Here I give an overview of days 1 – 7 of our 14 day photography tour. I will be offering this tour in 2016, so if you like what you see, and you are thinking of joining us in 2016, please feel free to E-mail me at cgfischer@hotmail.com and I will put you on the list for 2016!

Our tour began in Windhoek, where we spent our first night in Namibia. We started things off with a celebratory welcome dinner, where we had the chance to get to know one another and to get excited about the two weeks of adventure, intense photography, and exploration that lay head.  We had a long day ahead of us, with our first destination the majestic Fish River Canyon, the little know second largest canyon in the world.

The long drive was worth it. Our accommodation was spectacularly located, right on the edge of the canyon, and I was looking forward to seeing my group’s reaction when we reached our lodge.

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 Our spectacularly located accommodation, right on the rim of the canyon. All we had to do was step outside of our room to capture the beauty!

We spent two nights at the Fish River capturing the warm light of the rising and setting sun as it painted the fissures and crevasses of the canyon in beautiful light.

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My eager group of workshop participants hard at work capturing the sun’s first rays on the canyon’s crevasses and fissures. We were right at the edge – with no sign of civilization. A wonderful experience!

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Intense light illuminates a ridge of Namibia’s Fish River Canyon, while rain showers fall over distant mountain ranges. A rather strong cold front had brought with it strong winds and cloud cover but, fortunately for us, this also resulted in some very special light.

After two nights at the canyon, it was time to bid farewell and to move on to our next location, Namibia’s Namib Rand. A truly unique landscape, it is one of my favourite locations in Namibia, and it needs to be seen to be believed! We spent two nights at a beautiful lodge at the base of towering mountains, in the middle of sublimely beautiful natural surroundings. We had the whole lodge to ourselves – what an amazing stay

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 Namibia’s Namib Rand is characterized by so-called  Island Mountains, surrounded by fields of golden grass. A truly unique landscape, just waiting to be captured! I took this image in 2013, when I first scouted the area.

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Amazing, almost unbelievable light, clothes Namibia’ s Namib Rand region around sunrise. The colors here need to be seen to be believed, but they really come to life with the right photographic technique.

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Some of my workshop participants, eagerly capturing the movements of a huge herd of 40 or more wild Oryx buck, which were coming right towards us!

After two nights in the wonderful Namib Rand, it was time for us to move on to our third destination, the world’s largest dunes, in the world famous Sossusvlei region.

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An example of the many endless Namibian vistas which we enjoyed during our travels. There are only 2.5 million inhabitants in Namibia – it has one of the lowest population densities in the world.

At Sossusvlei, we stayed at a beautiful and luxurious eco lodge, right within the park boundaries, which allowed us to visit the dunes well before sunrise and after sunset.

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Sossusvlei is characterized by towering red dunes, the world’s largest. For a sense of scale, note the trees at the base of the dunes. In the soft early morning or late afternoon light, the dune field becomes a land of shapes, patterns and textures. 

One of the highlights, besides the dunes, is a small area called Deadvlei, which is a small stand of dead trees, surrounded by towering sand dunes. At sunrise, these trees draw beautiful graphical shapes against the red dunes, which themselves are colored by the warm morning light. We would leave the lodge about 1.5 hours before sunrise and make our way down the approximately 60 km long road to the Deadvlei. We then climbed a nearby dune, before sunrise, from which we could capture the first rays of the sun painting the dune fields in beautiful warm light. As the light of the rising sun began to creep down the dune faces, we would run down the dune to the “Deadvlei”, to prepare our compositions of trees against the red dune faces.

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Martha runs down the side of a dune she climbed to photograph the surrounding field of dunes as it was clothed in the warm light of the rising sun.

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Martha reached the dead trees at the bottom as the sun began to creep down the dune face. This gave her enough time to set up for her compositions of the trees silhouetted against the illuminated dune face.

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And voila! An example of the Deadvlei’s graphical trees silhouetted against the red dune faces.

This completes my review of days 1 – 7  of our recently completed “Surreal Namibia” photography tour. Please keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming review of days 8-15!

Are you interested in joining me for a workshop in 2015? Please feel free to browse a list of my workshops here!

Spectacular South Africa

In this series of posts I would like to share with you a collection of images I have captured in South Africa’s spectacular Cape Peninsula, truly one of the world’s most beautiful, dramatic and breath taking coast lines. I hope my images from this incredible part of the world will encourage you to come visit! In fact, I am offering a two week photography workshop in the Cape Peninsula which will include all the locations I will be describing in the next series of posts. I hope you enjoy!

In our first post, I will share with you images from Cape Point Nature Reserve, my favourite place on earth. Cape Point lies at one of the southern most located tips of the Cape Peninsula. A land of extremes, Cape Point Nature Reserve  harbors within a small area not only an amazing diversity of plant species, collectively known as “fynbos” (finebush), but also a landscape of gentle coastlines and plains and, in stark contrast, rugged coastal mountains bordering a wild ocean, as pictured below.

While, barely a stone’s throw away, Africa’s wild animals feed on gently sloping plains covered in fields of blossoming wildflowers.

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During the months of December and January, strong winds are not uncommon at Cape Point, and this is when you will find humid ocean air condensing into clouds as it climbs up the coastal mountains and then is blown inland over the adjoining gentle plains. (You can see these clouds in the background of the top most image as well as the image below).

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As the sun rises over the ocean it pierces through the clouds and colors the plains on the backside of the coastal mountains in spectacular light

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The quality of light changes rapidly, but it remains dramatic for quite a while.

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The views from the cliff faces of the coastal mountains are breathtaking, and you will even be able to photograph sea birds from above as they glide over the churning ocean waters.

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Or you can capture them as they fly over the far, vast ocean.

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The gentler coast line on the other side of Cape Point Nature Reserve is beautiful in its own special way,

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and this is where you will be able to see ostrich grazing on the beach, something which to this day still fascinates me

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It is also an area where the opportunities to photograph sea birds and other sea life are the most abundant.

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I hope you have enjoyed this first, short post describing one of the treasures of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula, the Cape Point Nature Reserve. We will be visiting this amazing area during the first two days of our two week photography tour of the Cape Peninsula.

Over the next series of posts I will be sharing with you the seemingly inexhaustible beauty that is spread throughout this unique South African province.

Exposure Blending without HDR

In this post, I will write about what I feel is one of the main strengths of digital photography: Exposure blending. As we know, the digital sensor/photographic film can capture both shadow and highlight detail as long as the range in exposure values falls within its dynamic range. In cases such as sunrises or sunsets, with the sun included, this is almost never possible. In those cases, if exposing for the sun, shadows will be blacked out and detail lost, while exposing for the shadows, the sun will be blown out.

Although a significant number of digital and, by implication, film camera users, swear on Neutral density gradient filters (NDGs), I prefer exposure blending in most cases, since I feel it gives the photographer a much richer tool set for technical perfection and creative outlet.

I prefer exposure blending for two reasons:

1) Mind the line: No transition lines/obviously darkened areas of the image. Although NDGs keep exposure in check, in tricky scenes, which arise surprisingly often, the NDG line (the border between coated and uncoated regions of the filter) may be obvious in the final image. This is especially so for hard stop NDGs. These lines can be very hard and time consuming, if not impossible, to remove in post processing. Alternatively, you would have to be very skilled, since such lines could be avoided with 2 or 3 carefully arranged NDG’s, a time consuming effort. With exposure blending one can carefully combine exposures that were taken. One only needs to use the proper masks . I manually blend my images and avoid the HDR approach, which in my opinion is seriously lacking, especially for landscapes.

2) Chase the light: With transition lines no longer a worry, you can now follow rapidly changing light conditions from different vantage points and with varying compositions, and still end up with technically excellent images. You won’t loose out on precious seconds of beautiful light as you fidget around with filters. You only need to ensure that the highlights and shadows are captured in correctly bracketed exposures, which can easily be checked with the exposure histograms on your camera LCD. The uninitiated will be pleasantly surprised by how rapid and simple this procedure is.

The two images below illustrate particularly tricky scenes which I was able to capture within a matter of seconds, allowing me to move on to the next subject/composition, and still come away with technically sound images. This would have been very difficult and lengthy, if not impossible, to achieve with NDGs, unless I was happy with some fat transition line through my work.

 

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Canon 5D, Canon EF17-40 mm f/4L @ 17 mm, 1/30 s, 1/8 s and 0.5 s @ f/22, ISO 50.

The image above was taken on the frozen shores of Lake Ontario, Canada. This scene had a rather high dynamic range, from shadows within the “ice cave” to strong highlights associated with the rising sun and the bright snow. Had I used a NDG to keep the sky and shadows in check, a transition line likely would have passed through the top of the cave and/or part of the frozen lake surface. Instead, I took three exposures to capture the dynamic range, and then was able to blend these images with suitable masks in a way which I felt best reflected the scene as I remembered it.

 

Canon 5D, Canon EF 17-40 mm f/4L @ 23 mm, f/20 @ 1/50 and 1/13 s, ISO 50.

The second image, above, is an image of High Falls on the East Side of Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. This scene exhibited an extreme dynamic range, since it was taken in the late afternoon when the sun was still strong, and a number of areas in the image were in deep afternoon shadows. In this case, a strong NDG filter would have put parts of the trees on the top of the waterfall in deep shadow and artificially darkened the sky, just to keep the sun in check. The transition from the lighter bottom part of the trees to the darker top part would have been particularly obvious. In this image I blended only two exposures, but had to double process one exposure and tripple process the other. Although it was a lot of work, it certainly was worth it!

There are however cases where blending exposures may not be the best approach. When bracketing for exposure, images are taken at different points in time. This is problematic if there are areas of the image which incorporate moving objects and which need to be blended. Typical examples would be moving clouds or water; even a lake’s shimmering surface would be a case in point. For this a NDG comes out tops, since the exposure is kept in check in one single shot.

A strength of the NDG that is often overlooked, is the fact that it reduces flare in the camera. By flare I do not mean the obvious streaks or lines that are introduced, but the more subtle aspect of light bouncing around in the lens, thereby reducing contrast and sometimes seemingly changing the color temperature of the scene – light will appear a lot warmer than what it actually was. This can happen even if the sun is not included in the scene. The photographer will place the darker areas of the NDG over the brighter region of the sky and thereby will reduce the total amount of light hitting the lens, reducing flare. With exposure bracketing one needs to be particularly careful, since when one exposes for the shadows a large amount of light from the brighter part of the scene will enter the lens and thereby introduce flare, even in the shadows! One should shade the lens from the brighter part of the sky with one’s hand (flare caps as supplied by lens manufacturers are in my opinion quite useless), and then blend accordingly.  If there is flare, the effect of blocking out the light can easily be seen in the view finder. The image below is an example where I used my hand to block out the sun when exposing for the shadows.

Amorgos and surrounding islands  in warm afternoon light, Cyclades, Greek islands, Greece

The image above is a view, taken in later afternoon, of islands surrounding the Greek Island Amorgos, which forms part of the Cyclades in the Mediterranean. This also is a blended exposure. However, when exposing for the foreground, a significant amount of light from the setting sun entered the lens and introduced flare throughout the image. This killed the contrast necessary to convey the beautiful golden glow on the foreground shrubs.  By shielding the lens from the sun (this meant my hand was blocking the top part of the image), I eliminated flare, and by blending with an exposure for the sky and sun I was able to realize this image. In future posts I will describe in detail how this image came about.

That’s all for this post. In the next series of posts I will give some examples of manual blending, mask generation and will introduce the reader to an extremely powerful tool, luminosity masks.

Africa’s Grand Canyon

Please enjoy my first in a series of short photographic articles on my travels to Namibia, a truly unique and spectacularly beautiful country.

The first article describes the Fish River Canyon, the little known, but second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon. Please enjoy and feel free to share with your friends. You can even share clips of the article (just click the + button on the top right hand corner of the magazine).

Some Highly Effective Postprocessing Tools

These days the internet is full of  advanced, fancy software which vendors and photographers say will transform the quality of your final image. When I started out in photography, I also tried several products in the hope of giving my images that extra pop, to make them more evocative, to add that “Wow” factor. My workflow became  complicated and involved, and often I felt my final image did not achieve what I had spent so much time and work on.

My workflow now is much simpler, and I only use a few,  highly effective, processing tools. These tools have been around for many years and many of them have even been used by some of the first photographers, such as Ansel Adams:

1) Saturation:  I only use little saturation in my images, at the very  beginning of my workflow (RAW editing stage).

2) Contrast:  This is essential for making your images pop. I use two tools to adjust contrast:

• Curves Tool. I use this only once, at the very beginning of my workflow (RAW editing stage).

• Levels Tool: One of my favourites – used throughout my workflow.  It is very useful to know how to make local level adjustments ( by using masks).

3) Dodging and burning:  The most important tool for controlling the intensity and distribution of light in your image, which is one of the deciding factors for how evocative your image is. This has been used prolifically by nobody other than Ansel Adams!

 

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A capture of a clearing storm in Canada’s Yukon Territory, with only a slight curve adjustment in RAW and otherwise no contrast work. The image looks flat, dull, and not at all as the scene appeared to my eyes.

 

 

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  The image after contrast work and dodging/burning. This image has much more impact and reminds me of what I actually saw.

 

4) Color temperature/white balance: A lot more important than what most people would think.  A high color temperature  (warm white balance )  may add color to your image but it will hurt what is much  more important, your contrast.

5) Sharpening: Proper sharpening is highly relevant to the quality of your final image. Please see my previous post for more on this.

These tools will not automatically give you an evocative image. You need to know how to use them, and understand artistically how adjusting contrast and controlling the distribution of light affects the emotional appeal of your image.

And, finally, you have to capture great light to begin with! Yes, there are photographers  who  can transform a grey sky into the most amazing light show you have ever seen, but I am sure you agree with me that this no longer is photography, but rather digital art.

I hope this was helpful!

 

Why are my images not sharp?

Photographers often ask me how they can make their images look sharper. Here are 5 pointers you may want to keep in mind:

1) Make sure that you achieve focus. If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, the easiest way to achieve focus is by setting your lens to autofocus. If you decide to focus manually, you have to adjust your lens until the image is actually in focus, and one of the best ways to do that is to use your camera’s  Live View feature.

2) Avoid camera shake. Use a sturdy, stable tripod. If you shoot hand held, ensure that your shutter speed is at least as fast as the inverse of your focal length (inverse focal length rule). For example, if your focal length is 100 mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/100s. Some lenses/cameras have an image stabilisation or antishake feature which will allow your shutter speed to be up to 4 or even 8 times as long as what the inverse focal length rule would suggest.

3) Control where in the image you focus, i.e. where you place your focal point(s). The placement of your focal point(s) depends on whether you want the whole or only part of the image to be in focus. This goes hand in hand with the ideas of Depth of Field (DOF) and hyperfocal distance.  Please follow the links for more detail.

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 I deliberately kept most of the image out of focus through the use of an extremely shallow DOF. A capture of magflies illuminated by the late afternoon sun.

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Here my selection of focal point and DOF was such that the image was in focus from foreground to background.

4) Each lens has a “sweet spot” aperture setting where the area in focus is the sharpest achievable for that lens. However, these aperture settings usually give a limited DOF and the photographer needs to decide how much sharpness he/she is willing to sacrifice in order to ensure sufficient DOF.

5) Images straight out of the camera (with in-camera sharpening disabled) require sharpening in postprocessing. This is an essential step that is lacking in most photographers’ tool kits and often is the reason their images appear less sharp than those of others. Sharpening your image properly becomes especially tricky when you reduce the size for presentation on the internet or perhaps just on your computer.

Warm golden light illluminates Chapmans Peak and Hout Bay , Cape Peninsula, South Africa.

This image is straight out of the camera with no sharpening applied.

Warm golden light illluminates Chapmans Peak and Hout Bay , Cape Peninsula, South Africa.

This image has been properly sharpened in post processing. The difference to the unsharpened image is quite striking.

I hope these pointers have been useful to you. I look forward to sharing more tips with you in the near future. Happy shooting!

Hyperfocal Distance and Focusing

What is it good for?

Hyperfocal focusing, or focusing at the hyperfocal distance, allows you to maximise your Depth of Field (DOF) and position the Near and Far Limits of your DOF so that all or part of the scene that you are photographing is acceptably sharp.

The Short and Sweet:

If you focus at the hyperfocal distance, then the image will be in focus for half the hyperfocal distance all the way to infinity. For example, if your hyperfocal distance is 5 m, then as long as your focal point is at 5 m from where you stand, your scene will be sharp all the way from 2.5 m to infinity. This is particularly useful in landscape photography, where you often want as much of the scene as possible to appear sharp. You can calculate the focal length and aperture setting for a particular hyperfocal distance with this downloadable hyperfocal chart.

Tell me more:

The hyperfocal distance is quite sensitive, since if you focus only slightly nearer than the hyperfocal distance, then the background in your image can appear too soft. As mentioned in our discussion of DOF , the sharpness of your image falls off with distance from your focal point and is just about acceptable at the Near and Far Limits. If the part of your image that is close to the Near or Far Limit needs to be particularly sharp, you may want to consider focusing at those points and blend the images taken at different focal points.

Depth of Field

What is it good for?

The Depth of Field (DOF) is a crucial concept for controlling the part of your image that appears sharp and in focus.

The short and sweet:

Any discussion of DOF has to include two essential points. Note that the DOF is always defined w.r.t your focal point(s):

1) The DOF distance. This is the distance in the scene you photograph which appears acceptably sharp in the final image. Lets say your DOF is 2 m, then the part of your scene that is acceptably sharp will be the 2 m around your focal point.

2) The portion of the DOF distance which extends in front of and behind the focal point, which also may be referred to as Near Limit  and Far Limit.

Several DOF calculators are available online and you can even download apps for your smartphone.

 The calculations take into account several factors, including:

1) Aperture

2) The distance of your subject from you, i.e. focal point

3) Focal Length

 


An illustration of the central concepts of DOF for an image with acceptable sharpness from foreground to background. Note that the DOF here actually extends to infinity, but I decided to indicate the Far Limit as being at the horizon.

 

Tell me more:

You will notice that we used the term “acceptably sharp”. This is because the only part of your image that is close to perfectly sharp is that at your focal point.The remainder is blurry but if the blurriness falls below a certain amount, called the maximum circle of confusion, it will not be perceptible to the viewer. This “circle of confusion” depends on two factors, which fall under the discussion of the DOF, and are thus included as points 4 -6.

4) Camera Sensor Size

5) The final size of the displayed/printed image and the distance you are viewing it from.

6) The eye sight of the viewer.

The Near and Far Limits of your DOF are those points where the circle of confusion has reached the maximum size for acceptable sharpness. There thus always is a gradual increase in blurriness (or size of the circle of confusion) as you move away from your focal point.

For other, detailed discussions of DOF please follow this link.

What is Aperture and Why Should I Care?

A camera’s aperture is the opening through which light, after it has traveled through your camera’s lens, enters the camera body.

The size of your aperture determines:

1) The time it takes for you to expose your image properly.

2) The Depth of Field (DOF) of your image, which is the extent to which your image is sharp around the point at which you have focused with your lens.

3) The sharpness of your image, and the ideal aperture size for sharpness depends on the lens you are using.

The aperture size is regulated by a diaphragm, much the same way the eye’s iris functions.

The opening of the aperture is expressed in terms of an f-number. To calculate the f-number, one takes the ratio of the diameter of the aperture opening  to the focal length used. For example, if the focal length of your lens is set at 100 mm, and the diameter of your aperture opening is 25 mm, then the f-number for the aperture is f/4 since 25 mm/100 mm = 1/4. If you reduce your aperture opening to 12.5 mm, but keep the focal length at 100 mm, then the corresponding f number would be f/8, since 12.5 mm/100 mm = 1/8. For the same focal length, an increase in f-number,e.g. from f/4 to f/8, thus corresponds to a decrease in the aperture opening. Alternatively, if your aperture is at f/4 but you change your focal length from 100 mm to 200 mm then the opening of the aperture increases from 25 mm to 50 mm.

From the figure below, you will note that the f-numbers increase by factors of 1.4.  The area of the aperture is proportional to the square of its opening,and thus a change by a factor of  1.4 in its opening corresponds to a change of 1.4² = 2 in its area. Each step in the f-number is called an f-stop. If you increase the f-number by one stop, e..g from f/1.4 to f/2,then you are halving the amount of light that enters the camera – this is also called stopping down. This is also where the term f-stop comes from – one stop corresponds to a factor 2 change in the amount of light that enters your camera, and this also corresponds to one exposure value (EV).

 

 

Besides controlling the amount of light that enters your camera, the aperture opening is critical to the Depth of Field (DOF) of your image. The smaller the aperture, the greater the DOF and the less blurry your image is around your focal point. However, this can negatively influence the sharpness of your image (not related to DOF), due to an optical effect called diffraction. For each lens, there is a so-called sweet spot aperture opening, where the image is the sharpest. If your aperture is larger than that, the sharpness is negatively affected by aberration effects. If it is smaller than that, the sharpness is negatively affected by diffraction effects.

The ideal aperture for most lenses unfortunately allows for a rather shallow depth of field. However, nowadays one can still achieve  almost perfect DOF for rather large aperture openings by being able to blend a series of images taken at different focal points.

 

For more detailed information, please visit  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aperture