Adventures, Photography, And more

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Depth of Field – Aperture

There are many ways to effect the depth of field. Depth of field is the distance that is in focus. This post is going to demonstrate how aperture changes the depth of field.

Aperture is one of the easiest ways to change the depth of field and that is why I am going to talk about it first. The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens that lets how much light goes into the camera. Aperture is measured as a ratio and common ratios include f2.8, f4, f5.6, f11 and f16. For one reason or another newcomers to photography can find this difficult to remember so I recommend thinking of it like this. A small aperture number means a small depth of field, a large aperture number means a large depth of field.

As usual, you can find the gory technical details on aperture on widipedia. We are going to focus on how it affects your composition, and in this regard it is quite easy.

Lets take a look at this photo taken with an aperture of f4.5

Picture of a garden taken with a 50mm lens at f4.5

Garden picture taken with a 50mm lens with the aperture set to f4.5

If we take a look at the plant closest to the camera we can see that only the leaf in the middle of the plant is completely in focus. The leaf closest to the camera is a little blurry and some of the leaves that are farther away also start to get blury. The plants in the background also have a blurry look to them.

Now lets look at a photo of the same subject, this time with the aperture set to f16.

Picture of a garden taken with a 50mm lens at f16

Garden picture taken with a 50mm lens with the aperture set to f16

Now the plant closes to the camera is completely in focus with none of it being blurry. Furthermore the other plants in the background, while not in focus, are more more defined and we can see some of their detail.

So how do we use this in the composition of our photos? If we want the subject of our photos to be separated from what is going on around them, like a person on a busy street, then we can choose an aperture with a small number like f5.6, f4, f2.8 etc to separate the subject from the background. If the subject of our photo is a landscape we may want everything in the photo to be in focus all the way to the horizon. In this case we take an aperture with a large number like f16 or f22.

And that is all there is too it, the smaller the number the less of the photo is in focus, the larger the aperture number, more of the photo will be in focus.

Remember though, that aperture is just one way to manipulate depth of field. Check back later to see other ways to change the depth of field in a photo.


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Scouting and composition

For many photos you have to be in the right place at the right time.  How do some photographers always seem to be in the right place at the right time?  One of the tools they use is scouting.  I am always on the look for that next photo location.

For the last few years I have driven by a farm with horses.  The farm is on a hill providing a nice angle to shoot down on to the horses.  I took some pictures of the horses but the pictures were unremarkable.  I later discovered that the fields the horses were on bloomed with buttercup flowers in June.   Now I knew that this would be the perfect location for taking a picture of horses in flowers.  I tried to bring my camera along whenever I knew I would go passed the field hoping for a shot.  Most of the time the horses were too far away.  Sometimes they were close enough but the lighting was too dark.  The butter cup only lasts a couple months so most of the time the flowers were not there.

Well after a year from when I first identified the photo opportunity it all came together and I finally got the shot I wanted.

Dreamy Look of a colt in a Field of buttercup

Scouting this location eventually led to this photo of a colt in a field of buttercup

The trick to this photo was scouting this location a year earlier and identifying this a s a place where I could get a great shot.  Here are some on scouting locations.

  • Try going to new places and finding a new idea for a photograph.  Be open to possibilities, don’t dismiss an idea because the chance for a photo is not there at that moment.
  • If you see a potential photo and you can’t take it at the time make sure to take a picture anyways to remind yourself.  Write down the location and your photo idea.
  • Determine what conditions you need to make your vision become reality. If the photo can only happen certain times of the year I make an entry in my calendar so next time I can take the photo I will be reminded to do it.  Note the time of day, weather and conditions you want for your vision to become reality.  For the horse photo above I put in my calendar to remind me on June 1st  to try and take a photo of horses in the butter cup field.
  • When conditions look like they have been met find a way to get out to take the photo.
  • Remember that photos don’t always go as planned so embrace the conditions you have and make the most of each opportunity

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Photography Report of the Elk Mountain Hike

Elk Mountain (aka The Chilliwack Grouse Grind) is a steep hike that is the first half of the Elk-Thurston trail. Unfortunately it is the hard half.  The good news it the scenery near the top is well worth it.

From a photographic point of view the drive in has some lovely houses in farm fields.  The hike will take about 2 hours to get to the top.  The first hour and a half is in traditional west coast forest and is unremarkable from most other forests in the area photographically presenting the normal challenges of large dynamic range and often very busy backgrounds.

The last 30 minutes of the hike takes place above the tree line and presents spectacular views of the lower mainland.  As well as the views to photograph there are also many unique alpine flowers to photograph which bloom in July and August.  You are also rewarded with some great tasting wild strawberries in July.  However the trail is fairly steep at this point and you need to be careful of your camera if it is hanging around your neck.  I would advice putting it away in your back pack on the way down in case you fall to prevent it from being damaged.

A hiker looks over the fraser valley on the way up to Elk Mountain

A hiker looks over the fraser valley on the way up to Elk Mountain

A panorama of the Fraser Valley taken on the way up Elk Mountain

A panorama of the Fraser Valley taken on the way up Elk Mountain

A picture of an Indian Paintbrush in bloom on Elk Mountain

A picture of an Indian Paintbrush in bloom

Once you get to the top of the mountain you will see many mountain peaks from the cascade mountains including Baker, Sleese and Spencer Peak.

The view of the volcano Mount Baker from Elk Mountain

The view of the volcano Mount Baker from the top of Elk Mountain

The Canada Border Peaks as seen from Elk Mountain

The Canada Border Peaks in Black And White

Elk Mountain Hiker Enjoying The View

Elk mountain hiker enjoying the view

The difficulty of the hike means you should come with good hiking shoes and bring water and food along.  This hike presents great photographic opportunities near the top, especially in July and August when the flowers are blooming.  If you are looking for photographing some scenic views, panoramas or alpine flowers Elk Mountain is a great place to do it.


  • Alpine Flowers
  • Great Views and Scenery for Panoramas
  • Beautiful Mountains


  • Steep Trail (Be careful about your gear)
  • Not much to photograph along the way.

Details on how to get to Elk Mountain trail can be found at

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The Best Hiking Camers, Sony NEX?

Today at my local Sony Style store I got to try out the new NEX 5 camera that will be sold at the end of the month. This camera has some fun features that have been made easy for beginners like panorama stitching and HDR without the use of a tripod. But it’s biggest feature is that it is small. Real small.

Just take a look at it beside my average size DSLR.

Pentax K10d and Sony NEX 5 side by side

The new standard in small interchangable lenses.

And from the top.

Pentax K10d and Sony NEX 5 side by side top view

Another comparison of the K10d and NEX 5 size difference

This might be getting close to the perfect hiking camera. Small and lightweight with good image quality from a large sensor. 3 pancake primes would almost sell me on a camera like this. There is already the 16mm pancake prime lens but a 35mm and a 70 mm macro lens would make a fantastic lightweight camera kit. Add weather sealing and the days of heavy lenses and cameras while going up a mountain would be gone. One can dream.

The HDR feature worked surprisingly well. Here is a regular image with everything taken on auto and HDR off. Take note of the TV’s image.

Sony NEX 5 program mode image

An image taken with the Sony NEX 5

And here is with the HDR feature on auto.

Sony NEX 5 HDR image

An HDR image taken with the Sony NEX 5

A very natural looking image with much better dynamic range. Not as good as when done on a tripod, but for the average user it is simple and better than what most cameras have available to them.

At this stage I wouldn’t personally buy a Sony NEX or any of these new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras until enough lens selection is available that matches my needs. With an adapter for Leica lenses that day may come soon. Until that day I can dream of a lightweight easy to carry and quick to setup system for hiking will be available and affordable soon.

For more information on the Sony NEX, see Sony’s news release

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Focal Length And Composition

Do you ever take pictures for one reason and then later find a use for them beyond their original purpose?  That is what happened to me on a recent hike.  At the top of the mountain where our group stopped for lunch I  took pictures of us with the mountains in the background.  After reviewing the pictures I found that I used a variety of focal lengths and thought it would make a great tutorial on the effects of focal length.

Now for those of you who love physics and want the technical explanation you can go to wikipedia.  The rest of this post will focus on the effect of focal length with as little technical jargon and how to use it to compose your photos.

But first, lets get the technical part of the discussion out of the way in one paragraph.  Focal length is measured in millimeters.  The shorter the focal length is the larger the field of view will be and the more of the scene you are photographing will fit in the picture.  The longer the focal length is the smaller the field of view will be and less of the scene around you will fit in the picture but what is in the picture will be magnified to be closer.  The easy way  to remember this is the longer focal length (the larger the number) the more you are “zoomed in”.  The shorter the focal length, the smaller the number, the more you are “zoomed out”.  Zooming out shows you more information and allows you to fit more in your frame.  Zooming in allows you to focus on a particularly feature.

Still with me?  Good.  Focal length has one other effect on composition.  It changes how close object appear to be to each other.  The longer the focal length the closer objects appear together, the shorter the focal length the farther object appear from each other.

So I lied and that was two paragraphs but let us look at what this does in our photos.

To demonstrate the effects of focal length I have three picture taken at 3 different focal lengths.  First lets take a look at a photo taken with a focal length of 45mm.

Picture of the Border Peaks at 45mm demonstrating a normal perspective

A photo with myself as the subject and the Canadian Border Peaks showing a normal perspective.

Here we can see myself at the top of Elk Mountain looking at the cascade mountains in the background.  Over my right shoulder is a mountain known as the Canada Border Peaks as it is just on the Canadian side of the US/Canada Border.  The 45mm focal length is considered close to “normal” meaning objects look about the same distance in photos as they do in real life.  Now lets take a look at how a wide focal length of 16mm changes how the scenery looks.

Picture of the Border Peaks at 16mm demonstrating exagerated perspective

A self portrait with myself as the subject and the cascade mountain range as the backdrop.

The wider focal length (e.g. Zoomed Out) has captured a wider field of view.  Not only can we see the Canada Border Peaks in the photo, but we can see many other mountains as well.  Also take not of how far away the Canada Border Peaks look now.  They appear small and a great distance away.  The final example I zoomed in using a focal length of 80mm.

Picture of the Border Peaks at 80mm demonstrating normal perspective

A photo with my fellow hikers as the subject and the Canadian Border Peaks looking closer then they actually are.

Here the hikers are sitting right where I was standing in the last two photos.  The Canada Border Peaks looks much closer than in either of the two photos, even thought the subjects have not moved positions.  The field of view is also narrower.  I purposely chose this longer  focal length as it allowed me to show off our hiking group while emphasizing the scenery.

So how do we use focal length to our advantage when composing our photos?  If we want to separate our subjects from the background then we use a shorter focal length (zoomed out).  If we want to compress our subject and the background as I did with the last photo, then we zoom in and use a longer focal length.  If we need to include a wider field of view to capture a larger scene we can use the shorter focal length and if we want to focus on a feature farther away we need a longer focal length.

With digital cameras it is easy to experiment.  The best way to learn is to try this out.  Simply set up some objects and photograph them using different focal lengths.