the fine details

I love the wonderful detail you can capture in a macro shot, and my Tamron 90 mm f2.8 lens does a fine job of sharpening up details when I really get close to my subject.  But I re-learned (or re-demonstrated to myself) the other day, how important it is to get the settings right before shooting, especially if the subject is bigger than a small bee.

asian star lily

With a larger subject, you need greater depth of field (more of the shot in sharp focus), and that means dialing in a smaller aperture (= higher numbered f-stop).  I really was aiming here to get the stamens of the lily in sharp focus, but didn’t want the petals to get blurry, so this was shot at f13 (a pretty small lens opening).  Click on the image to see the fine details more clearly.

Here’s a quick demonstration of the effect of aperture opening on the depth of field, using the same lily.  I stood in the same spot, focused on the same spot on the flower (the stamens), and just changed the aperture from wide open (f2.8) to very small opening (f16).  You should see an increase in the depth of field and fine focus in the series going from the first photo to the last.  Click on any of the photos to see the resolution and detail in the anthers — it is far sharper at f16 than any of the other apertures.

asian star lily (f 2.8)

asian star lily (f 2.8).  Only 1 or 2 of the anthers is actually in focus here because the plane of focus is so shallow.

asian star lily (f 5.6)

asian star lily (f 5.6).  This is a better choice of lens opening to get all of the stamens in focus, but some of the petals are not.

asian star lily (f 11)

asian star lily (f 11).  Most of the flower is in pretty good focus here.

asian star lily (f 16)

asian star lily (f 16).  The complete flower is in sharp focus here, but the semi-focused day lily leaves are becoming distracting in this view.

There is a trade-off to getting better depth of field in the subject, however, because I have also sharpened up (unintentionally) the background, which was nicely blurred and complementary to the flower at f2.8 and is now competing for attention with the lily at f16.  So, I guess the lesson here is to either choose a better background for the whole flower shot, settle for less than perfectly sharp (e.g, at f 5.6) or shoot less than a whole flower (like the very first photo).  Or….use a different lens!

5 thoughts on “the fine details

  1. Great examples using a stunning flower, Sue. I like the conclusions you come to about having to make a decision based on compromise, and sometimes, making a choice of background setting or context for the shot, too.

  2. The differences are small and a tad hard to see until I had all three shots open and clicked through them in order. How great that the digital age is here, eh? What a learning experience!

    • Well, a big difference between the first and the last shot in the series (f2.8 to f16), but small differences between each of the successive steps, yes. However, small differences are sometimes very noticeable when it means you have less than perfect focus on the main subject.

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