How do you get your photo to look like this?
January 9, 2013 5:44 AM   Subscribe

I like the look some photos have of only one spot being in focus and the edge areas being a bit out of focus like the one of the iron in this collage: How do I get it? How fancy of a camera do I need? Thanks!
posted by Kazimirovna to Technology (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, scroll down a bit to get to the collage with the iron, I thought I had linked to just a picture.
posted by Kazimirovna at 5:46 AM on January 9, 2013

What you're looking at is called Depth of Field (wikipedia article). As far as cameras go, look for one with manual focusing - DSLRs are very capable of this, but anything a step or more above a point-and-shoot will work.

Here's another explanation of camera focal lengths and how to evaluate cameras.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:49 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

The distance between the furthest away and closest points of a picture that are sharply in focus is called depth of field. Those pictures have a shallow depth of field, only a small portion of the picture is sharply in focus. Typically on a DSLR you achieve this by changing the lens's aperture which is denoted by what's called a f-number. The lower the f-number, the wider the aperture and the narrower the depth of field. I'm sure it's possible without a DSLR, but I don't know how it's done.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:52 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The teardrop thingy in Instagram also does this.
posted by capnsue at 5:54 AM on January 9, 2013

You can also play around with existing photos using even the most inexpensive photo software. You can outline the portion you wish to keep sharp, and "Gaussian blur" the rest. It won't be perfect (the edges of the sharp part might look slightly odd to a trained eye) but it will look fine to the average person. A co-worker passed away some time ago, and I hung up a tribute photo of him which originally had many "things" around him, which I Gaussian blurred as mentioned above, keeping the co-worker centered and sharp. I got many compliments on the result.
posted by RRgal at 5:57 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My Kodak point and shoot digital camera lets me manually set the f-number. I think any camera that costs more than $50 today probably has that capability.
posted by COD at 6:12 AM on January 9, 2013

You typically need a good, fast lens and set it wide open at the lowest f-stop. A number of 2.0 or lower will give you a better effect. I have a nice Canon 50mm, f1.8 that works perfectly for this when wide open.
posted by JJ86 at 6:36 AM on January 9, 2013

The ability to set the f-number is one thing, but you also need a good sharp lens that goes down to F2 or at thereabouts to get a narrow depth of field.
posted by DarkForest at 6:37 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing depth of field. In the shot with the iron, it's not that the edges of the photo are out of focus, it's that the camera is focused for a particular distance from the lens, and everything in the picture that's significantly nearer or further away than that distance is out of focus. As has been said, you need a camera that lets you control the aperture (f-stop), and the effect will be more pronounced / easier to achieve with faster lenses that have lower f-stop numbers, which will be the more expensive cameras and lenses.

If you just want to blur the edges of the photo, that's a simple effect you can apply to images from any camera, using many image processing programs.
posted by jon1270 at 6:45 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's what you need to do:
  1. Buy the cheapest DSLR you can find by Canon or Nikon.
  2. Buy a cheap 50mm lens with a f/1.8 aperture.
  3. Set the camera to shoot in aperture priority (by turning the dial to the "A" setting on the Nikon, or to the "Av" setting on the Canon).
  4. Set the lens aperture to f/1.8.
  5. Focus on your subject and take a picture.
There's obviously a whole lot more to learn about your camera and photography in general, but that will get you started with pictures like the one you linked.
posted by BurntHombre at 6:46 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Depth of field becomes shallower, i.e., more obvious, as you approach the subject. So if you are close to the iron you have a better chance of getting this effect with a wide aperture. The same aperture will not produce quite the same effect when you are further back.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:56 AM on January 9, 2013

DSLR with a lensbaby is the way to go, although the drop tool in Instagram is a cheaper way to play with the same idea.
posted by zadcat at 7:02 AM on January 9, 2013

Just came here to say "Lensbaby" but zadcat beat me to it. I have one for my MF SLR.
posted by hardcode at 7:03 AM on January 9, 2013

Yeah, you should be able to do this with a fairly decent point and shoot. A 50 mm lens, as mentioned above, would work best but if you don't want to commit to a DSLR, try either getting up quite close to your subject - without zooming at all. If that doesn't work, try using either the macro or the portrait setting. As an example, I took this with a point and shoot, a Canon power shot to be exact. And look! I found some more information that may be helpful as well.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:06 AM on January 9, 2013

If you do not have a DSLR, a point-and-shoot with proper focus and a "macro" mode can do the trick, if I'm getting the question correctly.
posted by 9080 at 7:28 AM on January 9, 2013

You can get an effect with a point and shoot even less sophisticated that mygothlaundry's. Here are a few macro shots I took with a pretty basic canon point and shoot.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:33 AM on January 9, 2013

With my ancient "superzoom" camera I can a nice shallow DOF by standing far away from the subject and zooming all the way in. I assume this would work on any point and shoot with a big optical (10x or more) zoom.
posted by usonian at 7:58 AM on January 9, 2013

I have a cannon automatic-type compact camera (some previous generation of this), and it has a "macro" setting which allows this kind of picture (it also is the only way to get things in focus at under 2-3 feet), so you may not need a separate fancy camera/lens to make it happen.
posted by acm at 8:13 AM on January 9, 2013

The effect is called "bokeh", if you want to search for it.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:14 AM on January 9, 2013

Searching for bokeh is likely to get you more information about focus related to sources of light rather than depth of field in general. (But it's a very good term to know!)
posted by ocherdraco at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2013

The effect is not bokeh. Bokeh is the quality of that effect. Does it look pleasingly blurry? Then it has good bokeh. Does it look unpleasantly blurry? Bad bokeh.

The effect is indeed depth of field, and it is created by using a camera with a lens that has a low f number. (Which is the ratio of the focal length to the aperture. A large aperture lets in lots of light that isn't in focus. This can only really be done with a large lens and a largish sensor.) This effect is easier to produce the closer you can get to the thing you want in focus.

If you go the "buy a DSLR" route, and you buy a DSLR with a APS-C sized sensor (DX on Nikon), you probably want the 35mm 1.8 lens. 50mm would be too narrow for this kind of work.
posted by gjc at 3:06 PM on January 9, 2013

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