Like many, I find nature photography enjoyable and a fantastic hobby. As a professional videographer, many concepts I’ve learned apply to nature photography. One of the most important is depth of field.
Depth of field
Proper depth of field can make a good photo great. As a review, depth of field is the area range in a photo where content is in focus. Variables that affect depth of field include the distance between you and your subject matter, aperture size, and focal length. The farther away you are, the smaller the aperture (larger F-stop), and the shorter your focal length, the larger/deeper the depth of field will be. For shallow depth of field, the opposite applies.
In my video world, I always have three lenses at my disposal: A wide-angle lens with shorter focal length for large depth of field, a zoom lens to provide shallow depth of field and a standard lens for general shooting.
It’s good to be prepared, especially in nature photography. Some of my best shots weren’t planned, they were just things I stumbled upon.
Landscape vs. plant and animal photography
For landscape photography, you will want maximum depth of field so the entire image is in focus. I start with a smaller aperture because it allows less light, which provides deeper depth of field. But exposure must still be adequate, so I adjust accordingly given the weather, exposure time and ISO setting.
Then, I manually focus on something that I believe to be one-third of the distance into my shot. This is because of a rule: Depth of field extends twice as far behind the focal point as it does in front of the focal point.
For closeups of plants or animals you come across, you will most likely want a shallow depth of field. This makes the focal point of your photo the star, as intended. Use a wide aperture.
If you can, shoot at an angle where the background appears farther from the subject. Or, move closer to the subject (in the case of an immobile plant, not an animal that you may frighten by encroaching upon). Both tactics will create more background blur.