Hard Soft and Other Types of Focus

Photographers feel very strongly about focus and will use very emotive words to describe it.

■ Hard focus is increased contrast between areas of color. Sometimes, focus may be too hard, minimizing or even eliminating natural gradients and tonality so the photo looks like a i .'.[«¡II

poster rather than a print (which is why it's often called posterization). It's an effect that should be used sparingly if you want a realistic, life-like photo. (See Figure 7-3.) However, it's exactly what you want if you are photographing text (like a printed page), machine parts, or any other items that require extreme, almost exaggerated detail.

Figure 7-3: On the left-hand side is a zoomed-in view of a photo of our manikin "Vanessa," which is well focused. On the right-hand side, is a magnification of another photo that is overly sharpened so that the gradations of color have broken down and posterized. While some cameras have a hard focus setting, none that we have tested will go as far as the photo on the right, which we have exaggerated in Photoshop. (Photos taken with an HP Photosmart 945.)

Figure 7-3: On the left-hand side is a zoomed-in view of a photo of our manikin "Vanessa," which is well focused. On the right-hand side, is a magnification of another photo that is overly sharpened so that the gradations of color have broken down and posterized. While some cameras have a hard focus setting, none that we have tested will go as far as the photo on the right, which we have exaggerated in Photoshop. (Photos taken with an HP Photosmart 945.)

■ Soft focus is just the opposite: it's where the edges are intentionally blurred for effect. (See Figure 7-4.) Soft focus is often preferable for those subjects we want to appear mysterious, ethereal, dreamy, such as portraits, misty scenes, shots meant to invoke nostalgia, and so on. Out-of-focus is when the edges and details of the part of the subject you are most interested in are not sharp, crisp, and clear, but soft and indeterminate. Soft focus is usually an effect you deliberately create, and out of focus is an unintentional optical error that detracts from the photograph.

■ Blur occurs when either the subject or your camera moves during the exposure. When the main subject moves during the exposure, you may have a sharp, in-focus shot in the background, but the subject will be streaky, with somewhat indeterminate lines and details. Another effect is created when you move your camera so that it follows a moving object (called "tracking"), such as a car. Then, the background will be blurred, and parts of the main subject (the car, in this example) will be sharp (if the photo is done correctly). When used properly, blur is an interesting effect that can graphically impart motion and speed. (See Figure 7-5.) However, blur may be an unintended, undesirable effect from simply not holding the camera steady, or using too slow a shutter speed, which could result in having the part of the picture you care about may not be in focus.

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