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Focus and Filter: Professional Techniques for Mastering Digital Photography and Capturing the Perfect Shot

Focus and Filter: Professional Techniques for Mastering Digital Photography and Capturing the Perfect Shot

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Focus and Filter: Professional Techniques for Mastering Digital Photography and Capturing the Perfect Shot

514 pagine
4 ore
May 30, 2017



Indispensable tricks and techniques for great photos in any situation.

Free yourself from Auto mode! Revealing insider secrets and easy-to-learn techniques for stunning photos, this book teaches you how to take beautiful, professional-quality images anywhere with DSLR or mirrorless cameras. Focus & Filter, a must-have guide by award-winning photographer Andrew Darlow, features 50 techniques, 50 Pro Assignments and more than 250 color photographs that show you how to capture:


Whether you are advancing a hobby or a career in photography, Focus & Filter includes all the technical advice you need to hone your skills, from choosing your equipment and setting up your studio to mastering camera settings, working in the field, and building rapport with your models.
May 30, 2017

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Andrew Darlow is a professional pet photographer.

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Focus and Filter - Andrew Darlow



Welcome to the Focus & Filter virtual photo studio! I’m Andrew, and I’ll be your guide as we navigate the world of digital photography. This book contains specific suggestions for taking photos, finding the right gear, and using traditional and nontraditional approaches to improving your photography.

This book is geared primarily toward intermediate to advanced photographers (amateurs and pros) who use cameras that have the ability to manually set the exposure, aperture, ISO and similar functions. Those cameras generally fall into these categories: digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs), mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILCs), digital rangefinder cameras, and advanced, compact fixed-lens cameras. You can use this guide as a reference before going on a trip or on an assignment. That assignment might come from a Fortune 500 company, a local hair salon or your significant other who has been asking you for weeks to create a family portrait. This book was not tailored for those who want to use the P or program mode, or scene modes on their cameras (usually indicated by cute little icons like flowers and fireworks). While those may be useful in some situations, I’m here to help you truly take control of your equipment and create images worthy of your passion and creativity.

I’ve been fortunate to make photography my profession since the early ’90s, and witnessed the evolution of digital photography from its infancy. My clients (either through my own company or as the head photographer for another company) have included Brooks Brothers, The Body Shop, Kenneth Cole, Swatch International, Victorinox and many families who have asked me to help them preserve special memories in their lives.

My editorial work and photo tips have been internationally published in magazines and newspapers, and I’ve written three other books on photography topics. For more than 20 years I’ve been teaching others how to improve, edit and print their photographs, and with this book I’ve decided to pull back the curtain and share many of the secrets I’ve been using to help me get my work done efficiently and at a high-quality level.

Focus & Filter is broken down into 50 how-tos, with four main sections: Master Your DSLR, Shopping Smart, Studio Mastery and Shooting in the Field. There’s no need to follow all of the tips in order, but the first 19 tips are designed to be read in order. You’ll also find some overlap, such as Tip 7 (page 31), which covers how to carry equipment much easier; it also includes techniques and products that I use and/or recommend. After each tip, I invite you to delve deeper by giving you a Pro Assignment to help you expand upon what you’ve just learned. For more resources visit

And with that, I look forward to spending some quality time with you behind the camera!

All the best,



Master Your DSLR

Specific Techniques for Getting the Most from Your Camera

Photography is truly magical. And I’m certainly not alone in thinking so. Millions of people around the world take photographs with a wide range of cameras, from cell phones to large-view cameras. In this section, I will present specific tips and techniques for understanding and using many of the creative tools that can be found on all DSLR and mirrorless cameras, as well as many advanced compact cameras.


Digital cameras are sold in four main configurations: digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs), mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILCs), compact fixed-lens mirrorless cameras and digital rangefinder cameras. Digital rangefinder cameras are also mirrorless, but have some distinct differences.

The main difference between DSLRs and the three mirrorless camera types mentioned is that every DSLR contains an optical viewfinder that works in tandem with a mirror that’s positioned at an angle inside the camera and behind the lens. This allows you to see through the lens while focusing and composing photographs. During an exposure, the mirror flips up and out of the way. There is also often a button you can press to see a depth-of-field preview, which gives you a preview of the sharpness in different parts of the scene.

Fig. 0.1 A Canon EOS 6D (left), Canon Rebel T4i (right) and a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 (bottom).

In the three mirrorless cameras types, there is, as you may have guessed, no mirror. Instead, in almost all cases, a video image created by the image on the camera’s sensor is sent in near real-time to an electronic viewfinder (EVF) located in the back top area of the camera, which allows the viewer to see an image prior to the shot being taken that approximates the final image (assuming no flash, or strobe, is being used).

Fig. 0.2 An Olympus PEN E-P2 with an Olympus Electronic Viewfinder VF-2 and an LCD Loupe.

A fixed-lens camera means that you cannot change the camera’s lens, but you can often add screw-on accessories such as close-up lenses or telephoto lenses. Some mirrorless cameras have no viewfinder at all, like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 (fig. 0.1); you just rely on the camera’s LCD screen, much like you would with a smartphone. Some mirrorless cameras, like the Olympus PEN E-P2, shown in fig. 0.2 with an Olympus Electronic Viewfinder VF-2, offer optional viewfinders. One negative with that option is that the camera’s hot shoe (the slot on top of many cameras usually reserved for shoe-mount flash units) will generally be used for that, making it impossible to use a shoe-mount flash at the same time in that location.

Digital rangefinder cameras differ from DSLRs primarily due to the way you compose and focus the scene. You view the scene through an optical viewfinder and line up two images until they overlap. There are some advantages and disadvantages to digital rangefinders. The greatest advantage is that their lenses (especially wide to medium focal length lenses) tend to be smaller and lighter than DSLR lenses (especially full-frame lenses).

FLASH OPTIONS—Electronic flash is truly an incredible invention, and many cameras have built-in flash units. They do have some limitations, but with a bit of practice, you might be surprised at how they can affect the quality of your photographs. I cover this topic in Tip 33 and Tip 34.

The main negative with digital rangefinders is that the image you see in the optical viewfinder is almost never the same (as far as the coverage of the scene, or field of view) as compared with a DSLR or mirrorless camera with an EVF or live view capability. In fact, the image’s field of view can be extremely off with very wide lenses and telephoto lenses.

In some cases, digital rangefinder cameras can use live view as described above via the LCD or an accessory EVF. Pictured in fig. 0.3, Leica M is an example of a digital rangefinder camera that has live view functionality via the LCD or with an accessory EVF. You can find additional details on rangefinders and specific digital rangefinder cameras, at, The Leica Mystique article at and

Fig. 0.3 Leica M is an example of a digital rangefinder.

A number of companies offer external EVFs and small monitors for DSLRs. These are especially popular with videographers, but they can be very useful for still photography (especially when bright sun makes it difficult to see your images on the LCD). Some DSLRs and compact mirrorless cameras also have touch-screen controls, which can be useful for changing camera settings, and especially for video (you can just touch the spot you want to focus on, as long as your camera/lens combination supports the ability to adjust focus in that manner). Touch-screen controls also usually allow image pinch, zoom and swipe for photo review, like on smartphones.

There is a lot of additional information available online that explains different digital camera types. is one good source and is another excellent option. A Google search for digital camera types will bring up these and other resources.

Reflective Light Meters and Gray T-Shirts

Virtually all modern digital cameras have a reflective light meter inside. All reflective light meters measure the light reflecting off the subjects in the scene, and they basically see the world as being covered with a big medium-gray T-shirt as a baseline with which to work. Once you know that, you can make appropriate adjustments in the exposure based on what’s really in front of you. If you’ve ever seen or used an incident light meter (they are common on Hollywood sets and fashion shoots), it works by measuring the actual light falling on it in the exact place where it is held, so it does not see the world as wearing a big gray T-shirt.


Before I go into the main features for controlling exposure with the above camera types in the first few tips, picture yourself outside on a sunny day with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Depending on the combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings you use, you can create a photo that is completely white (overexposed), very dark (underexposed) or properly exposed (the image looks similar to the way your eyes perceive the scene). And even when your photo is properly exposed, there are many combinations of aperture, shutter speed and ISO that can create that image. It’s a bit like adding three numbers to get to 10. There are many different possible combinations to get to 10. In addition to DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, many other cameras today have advanced features, including Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual mode and/or Auto ISO. Tip 1 to Tip 4 tackle all of these features, with some assignments that should help you to start making photos instead of just taking them. You will also find suggestions to use one or more of these modes throughout the book depending on the topic I’m covering.

These modes can either be found on a camera dial (on larger, more advanced cameras) or via an internal menu (many smaller cameras).

APERTURE PRIORITY MODE—Discussed in Tip 1 (page 11) and Tip 2 (page 15), this setting allows you to select a specific aperture and the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed (and sometimes the ISO, if your camera has an Auto ISO option, which I cover in Tip 4, page 22).

SHUTTER PRIORITY MODE—Discussed in Tip 3 (page 18), Shutter Priority is a feature that allows you to choose a specific shutter speed. The camera’s aperture is then set for you automatically based on what the camera meter thinks is the proper exposure.

MANUAL MODE—This mode, discussed in Tip 4 (page 22), allows you to set the aperture, shutter speed, ISO and other settings manually.


Mastering Aperture Priority

Knowing how to control your aperture (f-stop) instead of just letting your camera do it for you on an automatic setting is one of the most important things you can do to better control the way your photos look. This is done primarily through a setting called Aperture Priority mode. A lens’s aperture is the opening in its center, usually created by a series of metal blades that overlap to create a circular shape when taking a photo. The smaller the opening, the higher the f-stop (commonly called the f-number). For example, f/16 and f/22 would be considered smaller apertures, and f/1.8 and f/2.8 would be considered larger apertures. Smaller apertures (higher f/stops) allow for more depth of field in your images compared with larger apertures (smaller f-stops).


There are two main reasons to use Aperture Priority mode. One is to control depth of field (the area that’s in acceptable focus, or sharp enough for your needs), and the other is to control how much light comes into the camera (both always happen together). On a given lens, lower f-stops like f/2.8 and f/4 let more light in than f/8 and f/16, as illustrated in fig. 1.1 and fig. 1.2. Much more light was needed (keeping all other things constant) for the f/16 exposure with which fig. 1.2 was shot than for the f/4.5 exposure with which fig. 1.1 was shot. About four times more light, or more accurately, four more exposure value (EV) levels were needed to expose both photos in a very similar way. EV represents a one-stop move, like f/2.8 to f/4. As the f-stop number increases by one full step, half the amount of light is allowed into the lens. For example, a setting of f/4 will allow half as much light in as f/2.8 (see the scale in fig. 1.3).

Lenses with a wide maximum aperture (for example, 300mm f/2.8 lenses) are called fast lenses and tend to be larger and more expensive than slower lenses with similar magnification that might have a maximum aperture of about f/5.6. In many cases, zoom lenses, like an 18–135mm f/4–f/5.6 lens, have a relatively wide maximum aperture at wider focal lengths (in this example, f/4 at 18mm), but the maximum aperture changes automatically (in this example, f/5.6) as you reach the lens’s highest magnification level.

Fig. 1.1 Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T4i; Lens: EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS @ 95mm; F-stop: f/4.5; Exposure: 1/200 Sec.; ISO: 400

Fig. 1.2 Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T4i; Lens: EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS @ 95mm; F-stop: f/16; Exposure: 1/15 Sec.; ISO: 400

I photographed the images in fig. 1.1 and fig. 1.2 just a few seconds apart using Aperture Priority mode. Fig. 1.1 was shot at f/4.5 and fig. 1.2 was shot at f/16. The look of both images is also very different due to the shallower depth of field in the f/4.5 image.

Fig. 1.3 Aperture scale.

SETTING YOUR APERTURE—To allow in the greatest amount of light that your lens will allow, set Aperture Priority to the lowest f-stop possible (for example, f/2.8 or f/4), which will force your camera to use higher shutter speeds compared with when you set Aperture Priority to higher f-stops. The lower f-stops are especially useful when photographing sports, birds and wildlife, since the subjects tend to move a lot and they require faster shutter speeds (see Tip 3).

DEPTH OF FIELD—The real magic of photography happens when you take control of the depth of field in your images. If you look at most photos of major league baseball players (for example, batters or pitchers), you will usually see that the batter and pitcher are sharp, but the background behind them will be very out of focus. That is shallow depth of field at work. The photographer probably used lower f-stops like f/2.8 or f/4 combined with a long lens, like a 300 or even 600mm lens. This look can be truly fantastic, and the appearance of the out-of-focus areas that a lens produces is often called the lens’s bokeh, which comes from the Japanese term for blur. (An example of bokeh is seen in Fig. 1.4 where I used a lens that was made circa 1970 by using a special adapter—I love the bokeh the lens produces.)

Fig. 1.4 Camera: Canon EOS 6D; Lens: Asahi/Pentax 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar @ 50mm; F-stop: f/1.4; Exposure: 1/800 Sec.; ISO: 1000

The difference in the depth of field between fig. 1.5 and fig. 1.6 is very dramatic and is due to the difference in aperture, as well as the large distance between the flowers and the buildings. If the flowers were in a window very close to a building, there would not be as much of a visual difference (not as much background blur) using the same settings.

To create photos with more depth of field (more sharpness across the image), use higher f-stops like f/8, f/16, etc. One good example of when to use higher f-stops to increase depth of field is when photographing groups of people standing or sitting in rows (like at a theater). More depth of field is also commonly desired when photographing landscapes.

Fig. 1.5 Camera: Canon EOS D60; Lens: Canon Macro EF 50mm f/2.5; F-stop: f/2.8; Exposure: 1/4000 Sec.; ISO: 400

Fig. 1.6 Camera: Canon EOS D60; Lens: Canon Macro EF 50mm f/2.5; F-stop: f/13; Exposure: 1/350 Sec.; ISO: 400

These images were photographed just a few seconds apart using Aperture Priority mode. The left one was shot at f/2.8 and the right one at f/13. Shutter speeds were 1/4000 second and 1/350 second respectively.

That being said, it’s important to note that as you reach your camera’s maximum f-stop, your images will generally get less sharp, even though the depth of field will be increasing. That f-stop is usually f/16, f/22 or f/32, depending on the removable lens or built-in lens (if you have a camera with a built-in lens). That’s due to something called diffraction, and to delve into some of the science behind it, I highly recommend an article on the topic over at (just search for the word diffraction).

To summarize this important topic, the range of items that will look in and out of focus from front to back is highly dependent on the f-stop you use, what lens you are using, how close you are to the subject(s), how much distance there is between the subjects from front to back and the size of your camera’s digital sensor. The best way to see this in action is to get out and make some photos for yourself, and the Pro Assignment that follows will help you to do just that.


Control Your Depth of Field with Aperture Priority Mode

1. Let’s start by assuming that you are taking photos outside, handheld (no monopod or tripod), with a medium-zoom lens (about 28–100mm) around midday in the spring or fall. Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode and your ISO to 200–800. This number will depend on your camera, lens and the type of photos you generally like to take. Late-model DSLRs and many mirrorless cameras can produce high-quality, virtually noise-free images at ISOs that would have produced very noisy images on similar cameras only a few years ago. Noise is often referred to as digital grain, and it looks like tiny white or colored specks in the image (especially in dark areas). Aim for lower ISOs when possible to minimize noise. Ambient temperature can also have an effect on noise in your images (lower temperatures will result in less noise, all other things being equal).

2. Find an interesting static object on which to focus that’s a few feet away, such as the bark of a tree, a car with an interesting background, etc. Start with the lowest f-stop that your lens allows (that’s its widest aperture) and take a series of horizontal photographs. Then slowly increase the f-stop until you reach f/22. Now switch to a vertical orientation and repeat the process.

3. Change to a longer lens (100–300mm) and repeat the process. This time, focus on an interesting object from the side, such as a lock on an old barn, an interesting piece of jewelry amongst many other pieces, etc.

4. Bring the photos into an image viewer or editor/converter like Adobe Bridge, IrfanView (free, Windows only), Apple iPhoto or Adobe Lightroom (my personal choice). Look carefully at the groups of images side by side that have different apertures to see how different they look. You can also see how you like the look of the out-of-focus areas, both in the foreground and background.


Mastering Hyperfocal Distance with Aperture Priority

In Tip 1, depth of field was covered with relation to f-stops and Aperture Priority mode. You might think that just focusing on the closest object in a photo is the best way to optimize overall sharpness. However, understanding and using hyperfocal distance techniques can help you create images with greater depth of field.

HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE—This term refers to a specific focus distance between a camera and infinity (as far as the eye can see). When you set your focus at the hyperfocal distance, anything from one half the distance between the hyperfocal distance and your camera sensor all the way to infinity, should be acceptably sharp.

When you know how to find the hyperfocal distance, you can then use that information to set your focal point and optimize the amount of sharpness in your images (if that’s the look you are after). Let’s say the hyperfocal distance for your camera, lens and aperture is 50 feet in front of the camera. You would then want to set your camera’s focus to 50 feet to achieve acceptable sharpness from at least 25 feet in front of your camera to infinity.

Fig. 2.1 I settled on this exposure, made at f/11, because it was a bit sharper at infinity compared with the f/8 exposures. I recommend starting at f/8 and also taking some photos at f/11 and f/16 when doing a photo session like this.

Camera: Canon EOS 6D; Lens: EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS @ 47mm; F-stop: f/11; Exposure: 1/60 Sec.; ISO: 1600

Fig. 2.2 Notice the tape measure, which I used to make exact measurements in this outdoor scene.

For fig. 2.1, I photographed a landscape with some bushes in the foreground (about 15 feet away) and a lake in the background, using a 28–135mm zoom lens on a full-frame Canon DSLR set to 50mm. Aperture Priority mode is ideal to determine the hyperfocal distance because aperture is a critical piece of the puzzle when you plug in the data into your computer or app. You can also bracket by choosing multiple apertures without moving the lens’s focal point, which will give you a range of depth of field from foreground to infinity (it’s a good idea to take at least two exposures at each aperture you choose just in case there was camera movement). And don’t forget: with most digital cameras, you can check the image sharpness using a magnified view in the EVF or on the LCD before and after you take the photo.

Fig. 2.3 A screen shot of the Photographer’s Tools Pro app (available on iOS and Android).

Fig. 2.4 My lens has a built-in distance scale, which helps to set the focus point.

SETTING YOUR HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE—Some lenses have a built-in depth-of-field scale, but most modern lenses don’t have this. You can start by first looking up the hyperfocal distance online or via a great smartphone app called Photographer’s Tools Pro (see fig. 2.3). When I did this, I found that at f/8, my hyperfocal distance was 34.3 feet, which is just about where the white line is placed in fig. 2.4 (just between 15 and 50 feet), and the near limit of sharpness (the line at which I would still have acceptable sharpness) was then half that distance, or 17.2 feet. By changing the f-stop to f/11, my hyperfocal distance became 24.3 feet, and the near limit of sharpness was then half that distance, or 12.2 feet. Just keep in mind that the distance indicated is from the camera sensor’s plane (near the back of a camera, where film would be if you were shooting with film).

At f/11, my hyperfocal distance was 24.3. That means that by setting my camera’s aperture to

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