Use Selective Focus in Macro Photography

In close-up or macro photography, selective focus is used to draw a viewer’s attention to one specific area of an image. It is accomplished by using a shallow depth of field. It’s ideal for pointing out one specific element in a scene while blurring everything else to minimize distractions.

This figure provides an example of selective focus in action. Notice how easy it is to see the photographer’s message in this image.

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100mm, 1/250, f/2.8, 400

You can create a shallow depth of field by getting very close to your subjects, as macro and close-up photography already requires you to do. But you can use a large aperture to really minimize your depth of field, and to truly isolate your point of focus. Some of the benefits of using this method include:

  • Large apertures are ideal for shooting in lowlight situations. This exposure setting enables you to use faster shutter speeds (ideal for reducing motion blur), and low ISO ratings (great for minimizing digital noise in your images).

  • Distracting background elements are blurred when you photograph with selective focus. This enables you to worry less about what’s happening in the background and concentrate more on the subject at hand.

  • Viewers are attracted to the contrast caused by a sharp element surrounded by blurry elements. Selective focus therefore causes people to look at your image for a longer period of time.

When working with a shallow depth of field, you must position your point of focus exactly where you want it in your frame or it’ll be very obvious that you missed your mark. People notice mistakes in composition more quickly than they notice successful executions.

If you’re photographing a small animal up close, for example, be sure to get the eyes in focus. If instead you have the neck area in focus, or the ear, people will be distracted and will wonder why you focused where you did.

In a selective focus composition, where you place your focal point is the most important decision you face. In most cases, you place the focus in the area you find to be most interesting, or in the area that makes the most sense to you.

To select your point of focus with precision, use the manual focusing ring on your lens. This requires you to judge with your eyes to ensure the focal point is placed exactly where you want it. In macro and close-up photography, manual focus is relatively easy because your subjects appear so large in your frame.

If you prefer to use the auto-focus controls on your camera, make sure your lens is set to auto-focus, position your focal point in the center of your frame, press and hold the shutter release button halfway, recompose your frame, and press the shutter release button all the way. This technique locks focus on the element of your choice even after you readjust the composition.

If your subject moves after you lock in focus and before you take the shot, your focal point may no longer be positioned correctly. Camera movement can also affect your focal point if you’re handholding rather than using a tripod. Take multiple shots when using selective focus to ensure at least one of them has a proper focal point that gets your message across.

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