Week #23: Focus

To be shot and submitted between Sunday, May 31 and Sunday, June 7 (noon, Eastern)

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.
-Ansel Adams

Focus is one of the most important cornerstones of photography, so it behooves us to take a week to, um, focus on it. Of course, focus is important every week. Blurry photos are one of our biggest frustrations, so let’s take a week to get tack sharp.We don’t usually pay attention to it because it happens so naturally, but our eyes do a very sophisticated job at focusing. We blur out distractions and keep the areas of interest in sharp focus. The same principle applies to successful photographs: by subtly incorporating blurred areas in your shot, you can help drive the viewer’s focus (yes, we’re using that word a lot this week; no, we’re not sorry) to the most important elements in the frame.

Perhaps the most straightforward way to manipulate focus is to play with the depth of field (DoF) – the visual plane in sharp focus. The depth of field is largely controlled by the size of your aperture – the bigger the aperture (and therefore the smaller the number), the more shallow your depth of field will be. Your lens’s focal length and your distance to the subject also factor into the DoF.

Remember to focus (agh, that one was totally inadvertent), both on what’s sharp and what’s blurry. Nothing is quite as sharp as it is when surrounded by out-of-focus elements. So although the challenge is “focus,” there’s plenty of room of out-of-focus as well.

Tips and Tuts for this week:


Looking for more inspiration? Check out our Focus album from 2014. We also have Out of Focus albums for some alternative inspiration from 2013 and 2012.

Extra Credit: Aperture 1.8 and below

As mentioned above, using a wide aperture (low f-stop number) will result in a shallower depth of field. A smaller sliver of your image will be in focus than if you used a more narrow aperture. This will allow you to capture more delicate details, driving your viewers’ attention exactly where you want. (Helpful hint: When photographing people, you’ll almost always want the subject’s eyes to be the sharpest area of focus.) Using a wide aperture has the added benefit of allowing lots of light into the camera, so you can shoot in darker environments without having to reduce your shutter speed.

Remember, it is not necessary to work in this Extra Credit piece. It’s extra credit!

Have a challenge idea for 2016?