Photography 101: How to use Depth of Field and White Balance?
Last Updated on January 23, 2022
How to use Depth of Field and White Balance?
What is Depth of Field?
Earlier before, we briefly talked about how aperture is the mechanism behind the depth of field. So, besides controlling how much light will enter in your camera, it also influences how much of the scene will appear sharply in focus and what will be blurred out. This all has to do with distance (inner distance in the lens and also the distance between your lens and the objects in front of it).
When it comes to depth of field, there are two extremes, one produces narrow focusing with shallow depth of field, and the other one offers deeper focusing with a wider depth of field. As long as you open your lens’ aperture, you’ll be reducing the area that will be in absolute focusing.
This is a creative choice, of course, but it is generally useful for isolating something from the background. The other way produces a nice and crisp focus in the whole photograph from the minimum focusing distance to virtually infinite. This is highly common to be used in landscape and architecture photography, and sometimes street photography joys of deep focusing too.
Depth of field fits inside the reign of composition, but unlike many other aspects of composition we share with painting and graphic design, depth of field is unique to photography. Use it wisely, since it is mainly a creative choice. There are several things involved in the quality of the blurring effect, like the distance between the focal plane of your camera and all the elements in your frame. The size of the sensor and the mere focal length are also things that affect the blurriness or “bokeh,” as some people like calling it.
There are some special lenses like the macro ones that are capable of focusing at very short distances. These lenses are not mandatory meant to be used only in macro photography situations; they are awesome for portraits, products, and even wild-life or sports (anything above 100mm will allow you to shoot under those situations).
White Balance in Camera Settings
Just like the depth of field is part of the great world of composition in photography, white balance is another critical element. Thankfully, this one is easier to control in a consistent way. There might be a high chance that you’ve already noticed that photographs tend to look different across camera models (not to mention between brands). Even color seems different when reading a raw file in Capture One Pro and Lightroom at the same time.
One of the easiest ways for correcting color shifts in our photographs is by minding the white balance, both when shooting and when developing our raw files. Right now, we are heading up a little bit, but we’ll cover the JPEG vs. RAW discussion in a further section.
Rendering color has been an enormous task since the ages of film, and each manufacturer had its own way of understanding (and therefore representing) color in their films and papers. Now with the digital age, camera manufacturers have extremely hush-hush teams dedicated to master light perfection. Hence the fact that each camera model renders color differently.
Cameras allow us to regulate one crucial thing about color, and that is the white balance, which is extremely related to light’s temperature. We place it within the composition world because the white balance is extremely powerful when it comes to achieving a specific mood or feel that a photograph needs to have in order to deliver a message in a correct way.
Let’s think about and example, go to your kitchen and take a simple snapshot of it. If you are willing to create a gloomy and mysterious vibe in your shot, a cold range of tones would be perfect for it. Or, on the other hand, if you want to achieve a cozy image, a warm temperature will be perfect for you.
How is This Controlled?
Nowadays, all cameras allow us to control light’s temperature seamlessly. You just need to spot where the “White Balance” menu is, and you’ll be all set. Cameras have two methods for dealing with white balance, one is by using the “auto white balance” mode, and the other is by specifically telling your camera under which kind of light is it at the moment of the shots.
This has nothing to do with the behavior of light we discussed in the ISO section; it has more to do with the source from where the light is coming. The great thing about raw files is that you can literally change the white balance of a photograph in the image development stage of your workflow by changing the temperature of the shot.
White balance is measured in Kelvin degrees, which has to do with light’s temperature. The relationship is quite the opposite, and the cooler tones (blueish) will have higher Kelvin values, like 8000K or 10000K. The only way we can easily explain this is by remembering school chemistry assignments.
If you ignite a flame, in your kitchen or a lighter, you’ll see how nice and blue is the flame at the very source of the flame, and as long as it “cools down” with distance, it gets yellow and eventually reaches out to orange and even red. That’s why high values have bluer tones than lower values.
Covered that, let’s talk about the most common settings you’ll find in your camera when setting the white balance values.
Tungsten or Incandescent
This setting is the one you should use when shooting photographs in places (usually interiors) that are lit by a regular light bulb. The average temperature for this is 3000K.
This kind of light is a bit hard to define, but basically is the one you’ll find when shooting below “white lights.” Ergo, this mode has been designed to render color under LED lights or any other light that you consider to be very white for your eyes. If you are getting the feel that your shots are just too greenish, use this mode. The average light temperature here is 4000K.
This is the most general mode, and it should be used when shooting under clear sunny days. Here the average light temperature is 5200K, which is almost an in-between value.
Clear skies are boring, and overcast skies are awesome for photography. Use this mode whenever the sun isn’t quite there, thanks to clouds or the time of the day. The average temperature in this mode is 6000K.
Perfect for indoors but without tungsten or any other light source, just natural light covering the place via windows and doors. This mode imposes a very harsh compensation and has an average value of 8000K. Some cameras also include the “Flash-light” mode, which has been designed by camera manufacturers to render colors when using a flash-light.
The average temperature of this mode is 5400~5500K depending on your camera brand. If your camera is a bit more powerful, it could allow you to set it’s Kelvin temperature manually (2500K~10000K), but be careful with that since having too many options could frustrate you a bit.