Make Your Own Depth Of Field


Yes, we’ve had a preview of Spring lately. But I saw snow yesterday so some studio work may still be in order. This is a quick tip to make your own depth of field. Stopping your lens down to f16 or f22 is great for getting a lot of depth of field. Of course like most things in life good things come at a cost. Diffraction (or a softening of your image ) may be the result of stopping down your lens to it’s smaller/est openings. A work around may be to take multiple images at various focus points and stack them up in Photoshop to create a sharp image throughout.


However, lately I’ve been intrigued by narrow (or shallow….) depth of field. It helps me in my images to ‘direct’ the viewer to what I really want them to see. Hopefully, the other information in the image helps to set the story. So, the images here illustrate a rose placed in front of other roses about 10in behind the one rose. The exposure in this image is f9, ISO200 and 1/200 sec using two studio flashes on the sides of the rose. The main light is on the left with the fill on the right. The key here is that my ‘target’ rose is about 10in in front of the others. This is what helps to create a narrow depth of field look. This can be done with Speedlights and even window light!


Photographers should always control the depth of field in their images where possible be it wide or narrow.  In fact that’s one of the reasons you’ll hear most photographers use their camera on Aperture priority.  If you’re not using ‘A’ today you might want to consider it.

Here’s an image showing the studio setup I used this afternoon to make the rose image. Notice the single rose set away from the rest. You can do this with many subjects.

This ‘look’ can also be achieved in the field on other subjects as well by getting close to your main subject creating a shallow depth of field to make your main subject stand out within the image.  I was right next to that water drop with my zoom lens and took the photo at f8.  I used the Depth-Of-Field Preview button on my camera to stop down the lens to see what my image would look like before taking the photo. Check out how narrow that depth of field is.  Get close!

So, think about what you want your depth of field to be before making your image.  Planning your image before hand will help you to make a stronger image where you ‘direct’ the viewer into the scene by limiting what’s in focus and what isn’t.  The human eye will always prefer something that’s sharp so take advantage of that!

Bob               Get The Shot!



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Tip of the Day: Get Low and Shoot Your Subject at Eye Level

All winter long we wait for the colors of spring to enhance our photography.  As spring blooms more and more around us, I think its helpful to remind people of a technique that adds instant impact to your images.  Today’s tip is pretty simple: Whenever possible shoot at the same visual level of your subject.

Quite often we employ good technique in the field but, too often we forget to change our perspective.  Using your tripod is critical to ensuring the opportunity for sharper images but, don’t forget that your tripod is very versatile and can change height easily!  Don’t be afraid to get low and shoot at the same level as your subject be it wildlife or nature.

Shooting at eye level brings our viewer into our scene with greater impact.  Looking AT our subject is more appealing than looking down at it or up at it.  If you shoot UP on your subject, there can be great distortion that takes place and alters the shape and lines of our subject. Shooting down tends to compact our subject and, again, we can lose the perspective of shape and lines.  Eye level ensures that the shape and key points of your subject are amplified for visual impact.

Shooting low to the ground will often allow you to shoot THROUGH other objects which can add creative features to your scene.  This will also allow you to use other techniques to create powerful abstract images. One benefit to digital photography is that we have instant feedback in the field.  We have instant access to our successes and our failed images; we can make adjustments in seconds to fine tune our vision.  Be creative!

Change your perspective and get low – you will be rewarded with some very dramatic images this Spring!
“Photograph What You Feel”
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Your Own Special Place: Find It

I Love Spring.

Unquestionably, October is my favorite month of the year. It’s the perfect season, for me, in every way.  Foliage season touches my soul deeply and leaves me with a sense of awe and contentment. Personally, there is no better place to be than New England on crisp, colorful autumn days.  I think I would be happy with a place that was “October” year round.

However, Spring has now crept to the top of my list as well.  March brings the beginning of Spring and all it’s fresh promise.  April brings the sweetness of spring, new life, baseball, t-shirts, and campfires. It brings days of driving with the window down, fresh air, and green grass. May brings an abundance of blooming color, warm days, and warmer smiles. Spring is full of optimism; Spring is good. Nonetheless, the best part of Spring, for me, is that once again I am able to enjoy my special place: The Cabin.

25 years ago my Mom and Dad bought 64 acres of land in central Maine.  At that time it was just a parcel of rolling land choked with tangled woods and old logging roads. Not pretty to look at, but beautiful to be within. As a family we built a log cabin and it became a second home to all of us. It’s rustic and simple but full of so much life. Like any home the work to maintain The Cabin is hard. On every visit there is always something to do. Something always needs fixing, the grass always needs mowing, firewood constantly needs cutting and splitting, and hiking trails forever need maintenance. Despite the constant sweat and toil, The Cabin remains a boundless source of peace and inspiration.

The Cabin by itself is wonderful. It’s not a big structure, but it’s enormous on character. The interior and exterior logs are rough and knotted with texture and strength. The pitched roof makes rainy nights calming and seductive. The screen door slams shut with a familiar sound. The chairs are all old and broken in just right. Wood fires, indoors or out, never fail to be comforting and warm.  The smell of fresh cut grass on a summer night is intoxicating. The small farmer’s porch is a perfect place to sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the woods. The Cabin is my parent’s pride and joy; they built it with their own hands, literally. I love it, but it’s THEIR place. My place is outside: The Land.

The moment I set foot on The Land twenty-five years ago, I fell in love. I have always loved the outdoors, but this was now MY woods. There are birches, maples, pines, hemlocks, cedar, poplar, and beech trees all over. Bushes of wild raspberrys, blueberrys, and blackberrys are scattered throughout The Land.  Everywhere is the sound of busy birds and red squirrels.  Growing among the trees and bushes are wildflowers such as Lady Slippers, Trillium, Black Eyed Susan’s, Dogwood Flowers, Bluebell’s, Lupine, Daisy’s, and Mayflowers. The woods are alive with creatures great and small. I have seen deer, moose, bear, turkey, grouse, hawks, owls, fischer cats, rabbits, snakes, tree frogs, and mink. There is a gentle stream that twists through the property in a sweet, meandering kind of way. If you follow it you will come to a small pond that was created when the beaver dammed up the stream a few years ago.

The pond is a good place to view a heron fishing, a moose standing, or a wood duck paddling.   You might see a deer anytime, but they prefer the high, sunlit ridge that is covered with hard woods. There is a bog on the other side of the stream that is covered in richly colored moss, lichen, and aging cedar trees. Much of the forest is difficult to walk through but it is breathtaking to sit within. Even on the quietest of days the forest is full of busy, moving life.  The forest fills all of your senses, completely and touches something even deeper inside.  It all amazes Me. All of it is beyond Me. It is beautiful.  I know every inch of The Land. One way or another I have walked or crawled through, over, and under every nook and cranny of it. I have spent countless hours making trails and reclaiming old logging roads to hike and snowshoe on. The good Lord gave me a body that was built for working and I like to use it. I sweat and strain and curse at my constant struggle with Mother Nature. She is stronger than I am and she WILL win, but I love the aches and pains from cutting trees, rolling boulders, or moving blown down trees. It’s very mindless work, but also very rewarding. The Work brings many rich rewards that fulfill me. It makes my morning coffee on the porch taste that much better. It makes the scent of cut grass sweeter. It makes the sound of a howling coyote at night that much more thrilling. More importantly, it feeds my soul beyond description and makes everything about Me better. The Work, The Land, and Me go hand in hand.

I am very fortunate, for now, and I know it. The world is big and beautiful to see in every way but, there is something very comforting and enlightening about KNOWING one place; no matter how great or small. It can lend great meaning to everything you are, if you let it. I love my special place. I hope you all to find yours.

Don Toothaker

“Photograph What You Feel”

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The Value of a Self-Assignment

Quite often we, as photographers, struggle to find the motivation to get out and create images. In our daily lives many things influence our creativity, or lack thereof. During the winter months we often struggle to find the enthusiasm to brave the elements and do what we love to do: make photos!  One sure way to feel inspired is to take on a Self-Assignment.  A Self-Assignment motivates you to pick up your camera and shoot but, also inspires you to push your creative limits while exploring your chosen subject.

The recent winter here in New England was extraodinarily mild.  The lack of typically cold weather meant many opportunities for venturing out with camera in hand, the lack of snow left the landscape brown and unattractive for the most part.  Most of my photography is done in the outdoors so, the snowless winter left me uninspired for any scenic or landscape photography.

So, to combat the boredom of a featureless winter, I gave myself a specific assignment with purpose:  Haverhill at Night.  My project would be to shoot scenes of my hometown, Haverhill, Massachusetts, but my images could be done only at night and then presented in black and white.  .Haverhill was once a mighty manufacturing center in northern Massachusetts.  During it’s economic heyday 10% of the countries shoes were made in Haverhill earning the city the nickname of “Queen Slipper City”.   In it’s height of productivity the downtown section was full of mills and businesses that were booming.  Today, after years of  lean economic times, Haverhill is a small city undergoing a much needed revitalization.  The long abandoned downtown mills are being transformed into condominiums and new business opportunities including restaurants and eclectic shops.  Once again, Haverhill is thriving.


I have lived in Haverhill for 10 years now but, know very little about the city other than it’s history.  I am unfamiliar with the many roads in and around Haverhill let alone any of its more significant buildings or urban scenes.  The original intent of my project was to get myself out shooting. and learn more about where I chose to live.   In the field  Bob and I strongly advocate Exploring Your Subject and this project allows me to heed my own advice.   If you invest your  energy thoroughly you will not only gain more knowledge of your subject but, your images will reflect growth and new perspectives as well.   Proudly, Haverhill at Night has taken on new life as I embraced my project and fine tuned my vision.


One particular benefit to my project is the opportunity to expand my growing passion for black and white photography.  Haverhill and its storied mills are rich with texture and detail:  perfect for black and white images.  By narrowing my vision to only shooting at night I am also creating the circumstances to fine tune my skill at low light and night photography.   My snowless winter yielded nothing for dramatic New England scenics but, my self assignment has given me a very fun, energizing, and marketable body of work.

Now that spring is here, once again I will be outside finding beautiful colors to shoot but, I will still continue with my project.  I can envision a gallery show of my work, possible sales to downtown restaurants and shops, and presentations on Haverhill and night time photography.  I could not be happier with the results or the possibilities.

So, when you are feeling less than inspired to pick up your camera, put your mind to work on something that will motivate you to take part in the creative process of photography.  Find a self assignment and stick to it.  Embrace your self assignment and grow as a photographer.  Your potential is limitless.

Don Toothaker
“Photograph What You Feel”
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