Topic Progress:

It’s in the detail – on precision, selective focus and the power of blur.

Yesterday’s session was all about big picture. All about finding and showing the story – the Who, the Where and the What’s going on.

Today, we’re going in the opposite direction. We are narrowing our field of view and zeroing in on a detail. Because details are what makes the story complete.

Do you know that when people are asked to recall things from the past, they will recall two things. They will recall the general scene, the ambiance, the big picture if you will. But they will also be able to recall really small details, decades after they saw them, small things that caught their eyes that stood out for them – like the feeling of a smooth pebble they picked up from the river bank that one time they went for a swim there. Or things which caused a sensory response – like the look of their son’s perfect little tiny fingers curled up around their finger gave them butterflies in the stomach.

We are creatures of extremes. Our memory does not like to dwell in the middle, we go wide or we zoom in right to the detail. And that’s what we will be looking into today.

Let’s have a look first at what makes a good ‘detail photo’.

The subject

That precious detail – needs to stand out against the rest of the image

That means – it shouldn’t have to compete against busy patterns and shapes, there should be nothing else to steal its thunder.

The space

It shouldn’t be crowded – our brain need some ‘breathing’ space around the subject

The worst thing you can do to a detail shot is to fill your frame with it. Then it stops being a detail and becomes ‘the thing’ – i’;s perfectly fine to crop closer, but proportions are important

The blur

We need the blur to appreciate the sharpness. The power of focus is amazing.

We are physically incapable of resting our eyes on elements of an image which are blurry ( by all means try – you’ll know what I mean! ) which means that blur can guide our eyes to go to an element that’s actually important.

The Position

Nope, the centre of your frame is actually a visual weak spot (I know it’s counter intuitive, but you need to trust me on it) – instead place it a bit off to the side – it’ll make a difference, I promise.

How does it apply to children’s photography?

We think about taking detail shots of our babies – all the cute baby toes, fingers, lashes etc just beg to be singled out and photographed. But you shouldn’t stop when they’re older. A leaf or a flower your child finds at the playground, that dot of chocolate ice cream at the tip of their nose, the single lock of hair tucked behind their ear or a bow on their shoes – all those things will carry a sensory memory, especially when you pair them up with a Big picture image taken at the same time.

So how do we go about capturing that lovely detail shot?

Your main job is to find a way to isolate your detail. And there are a few ways in which you can do it.

  • isolate subject by physically removing the distractions
  • And I mean it quite literally – walking up to your subject and moving away all the stuff which does not belong. A variation of this is using something – like a blanket – which will cover the elements you don’t want to see in the image and help highlight your subject.

  • isolate the details by finding an angle which minimises the distractions.
  • For instance – if you’re shooting directly from above your subject, you will only need to make sure that the area your subject is directly on is clear, the rest can be as messy as you wish.

    Shooting at flat angles, parallell to the ground can help remove distractions from the ground and help you build depth. Pretty much the worst angle you can do is one where you shoot at a slightly tilted angle.
    Where you are in relation to the subject makes a difference too – sometimes shifting even a few inches to the side or up or down will make a huge difference to what you can see.

  • isolate the details by choosing a lens length which narrows down the fild of view.
  • Or in plain English – choozing a zoom length which will show a lot or little background in your photo. Remember yesterday’s lesson? We showed you how a ‘no zoom’ setting can show a lot more of the space then the “zoomed in” one. You can use this to your advantage here too – to minimise the amount of distraction in your shot, just zom in!

  • Isolate the subject by creating a blur effect which helps you visually ‘hide’ things in plain sight.
  • If you want to know how to create that blurry background we have a tutorial on how to create that blurry background which is a part of our Clickstarter course. I’m not going to replicate it, but simply link it here to the pdf print out which walks you through it.


    A BIB BIG CAVEAT HERE ON THE BLUR FRONT: you will be seeing images come through on the facebook group where the blur is like milk, thick and impenetrable and the lovely details stand out against it beautifully. You will try and replicate them with your camera and get very frustrated and annoyed that yours don’t come out that way. You will be blaming yourself but the truth is – it’s not you – it’s your lens.

    In most cases in order to get that really strong blur you do need a lens with what we call a wide aperture. The lenses which come with your camera as standard just can’t compete. But it doesn’t mean you can’t get any blur, just not quite as much. Your two secret weapons will be zooming in as much as you can – and I mean ALL THE WAY – and getting physically close to your subject.

    This bit a bit more technical, so if you;re not getting how you like it – post to FB – I will help!

  • Isolate the subject by using other elements in the frame to draw our attention to it.
  • Sometimes it’s not so much about removing things from view as it is about using them to shine a spotlight on your subject. Thing which can frame it, contrast with it can work very well.

    Other technical considerations

    Your camera settings:
    If you’re shooting on auto, you have 2 options – if you have a setting on your camera called Macro, use that – it allows you to get close to your subject in order to focus. Alternatively you could try the “portrait’ preset which is set up in a similar way or you can just leave your camera on auto. T

    If you’re shooting in priority modes ( A, AV, S, Tv) – switch to Aperture priority and set your aperture to the widest setting ( smallest number)

    If you’re shooting in full manual, again, get your aperture as wide as it gets and use the other settings to make it work.

    Your lens:
    Zoom, zoom and then zoom some more. This is what will allow you to create that separation between sharp and blurry. And get close to your subject.

    Your light:
    You may find this a bit tricky if you’re shooting on auto because chances are, your camera will want to force the pop-up flash. Avoid this if you can. Flash can be a fantastic tool, but not the pop up kind and not when you can’t control its strength. We actually do a whole course on shooting with flash and you would’t believe how beautiful it can be, but your pop up flash is a no-no. Instead, try to take the photo at a time and place when you have good natural light. It will make enormous difference.

    Day 2 challenge - detail shot

    Take a detail shot of your little one ( or your medium or big kids!)

    Things to consider:

    – Make sure to isolate the subject – with a clear background, clever angles or creative blur

    – Give your subject a little breathing space – don’t fill the frame with it

    – Avoid busy patterns or clashing colours

    – Avoid placing it right in the middle of your frame