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Tip 4: Create depth of field and minimize distortion

Under most circumstances, you'll want the entire tree to be in focus: the leaves or needles on the front branches, the bark at the base of the trunk, the back branches, the pot, even the stand. To achieve this, you need to maximize the depth of field that you are able to achieve. You can do this in two ways:

  1. Shoot with as small of an aperture (as large of an f-stop) as possible. As you go to smaller and smaller apertures, you get a broader zone of focus - but this comes at the expense of letting less light into the camera and thus requiring longer exposure times. Hence the importance of shooting from a tripod as discussed on the previous page.

  2. Shoot from relatively far away with a relatively long lens. For photographing bonsai, I get good results using a 70mm lens on my D70 digital SLR; this is the equivalent of using a 120 mm lens (short telephoto) on a regular 35 mm camera.

You get an additional advantage when shooting with a slightly longer lens. As you go from a shorter lens to a longer one, you can increase the camera-to-subject distance without increasing the field of view. As a result, you get a better (less distorted) perspective. When the distance between camera and subject is small, as when using a 50mm lens, parallel lines appear to converge rapidly into the distance. When the distance between camera and subject is larger, as when using a longer lens, parallel lines appear closer to parallel in the image. This is usually preferable for bonsai photography.

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Last modified December 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Carl T. Bergstrom
cbergst@u.washington.edu