Summer Outdoor Shooting with Shallow Depth of Field

In photography, sometimes you stumble upon a quick tip or idea that just fixes a lot of problems you have been having for a while. For me, this happened last month when I read an article about lens filters and specifically for outdoor photography. So I buckled and purchased yet another piece to my camera collection and got a neutral-density filter for my 50mm.

After playing around with it on my lens this month, I can say that FINALLY I was able to shoot in the sweet summer light without having to increase the shutter speed (1/250 or even worse sometimes) or having a less than desirable small aperture focal point (f/8, f/12, etc).

What I mean is that I wanted to go outside in the sun and shoot while still maintaining that creamy blurry effect to separate the background from the subject. What usually happened though if I did that was the camera would over-expose the background, kind of like this image below:

As you can see, the subject, in this instance my kitty Frankie, is somewhat correctly exposed however the background is not. There is just too much available light all around the tiny black cat for the camera to correctly shoot it with the lens at f/4, f/3.5, f/2.8 etc.

So what is a neutral-density filter? In the most basic terms, it’s a glass add-on that attaches on top of your current lens to limit the wavelengths of light coming into your camera. You can shoot at an environment with more available light than what your camera can process. The main benefit to have it really is to be able to shoot a subject with a shallow depth of field without over-exposing. It might not seem like much, but this opens up a world of possibilities for outdoor shooting for dance. Often times you see pictures on FaceBook from events that have outdoor day-time dancing but there is no specific focus on the picture – it’s everybody dancing in the area that the camera was pointed at during that time.

Prices for filters vary wildly for lens filters. They can range from a a couple of dozen dollars to over hundred for filters that you can change the number of stops of light from entering the lens (variable neutral density filter). I bought one for about thirty dollars brand new for my 50mm lens and so far it’s been super useful in shooting with that lens outside.

An interesting thing to mention is that when you look through your camera eyepiece with the neutral-density filter on, it kind of looks like this:

So there is a bit of trial and error in terms of which settings correctly work with your lens+filter combo and the available light. A little trial and error though is good for the soul, especially when it allows you to get better shots of little kitties.