src=" Shallow depth of field for landscapes - A Leica M 240 gallery

Date: 20/04/2015 | By: Mathieu

Shallow depth of field in landscape photography – A Leica M 240 gallery

LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/1500, f/ 24/10, ISO 200

Shallow depth of field in landscape photography – A Leica M 240 gallery

One of the basic rules of landscape photography is to use slow apertures to create a deep depth of field and ensure sharpness. If you use a fast aperture like f/4 or f/2.8, it can result in a blurry foreground or background depending on your focus distance and your camera’s sensor size. If you use a wide angle lens, the blurring effect may be less noticeable at first but is more perceivable if you view the image on a large screen or in print.

However, rules are often made to be broken, at least in an artistic field like photography. A shallow depth of field, for instance, can be interesting if you want to diverge from the classic landscape photograph. I first experienced this on our Tobermory trip in Canada three years ago. At the time I still had my Nikon DSLR and a Nikkor 24mm f/1.4.

NIKON D700, 1/125, f/ 14/10, ISO 200
NIKON D700, 1/125, f/ 1.4, ISO 200

This time, I used the Leica M and two fast lenses: the Summicron 35mm f/2 and then the Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 ZM. Despite the focal length not being very long (a 35mm is still considered a wide angle lens), I had lots of control over my depth of field thanks to the full frame sensor of the Leica M. With an APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensor, I would have had less versatility with the same equivalent focal length and would have needed to focus closer to obtain a more blurry background. This is to me the main advantage a larger sensor has over smaller sensors such as APS-C or M4/3 today. Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t create something interesting with smaller sensors. The most important thing is to have a fast lens that delivers sharp results at the fastest aperture.

E-M5, 1/4000, f/ 2, ISO 200
E-M5, 1/4000, f/ 2, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 12mm f/2

Coming back to the Leica M, I tried to find interesting elements in the foreground to create a composition during my walks around Mid-Wales. Since only one portion of the image will end up in focus, it is important that this area is interesting enough to grab the viewer’s attention. In the first example below, you will notice that only a few of the reeds in the foreground are in focus. However the shallow depth of field behind these reeds creates a sense of movement which is fine since it was a windy day. The blurred area in the background has still enough colour to allow the eye to distinguish elements like the grass, plants, hills, clouds and sky.

LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/4000, f/ 2/1, ISO 200
LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/4000, f/ 2, ISO 200 – Summicron 35mm

In the second example, the grass in the foreground is perhaps a little too close to the bottom of the image and the second blurred level of grass behind creates some confusion. There isn’t a distinctive element that grabs your attention in this case. While it could be classified as an abstract image, it is less effective than the first one in my opinion.

LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/4000, f/ 24/10, ISO 200
LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/4000, f/ 2.4, ISO 200 – Summicron 35mm

I find this shallow depth of field exercise interesting in the woods as well. One of the reasons is that fast apertures like 1.4 or 2 in bright sun can challenge your exposure unless you use an ND filter, whereas in the woods there is less light. In this case of the Leica M, its shutter speed doesn’t go faster than 1/4000s which can be an extra limit to deal with.

In the woods you can find more elements to create an interesting composition and you can also work better with your depth of field by selecting various focus distances. Of course the more distant the element, the greater the risk that you’ll have a less interesting shallow depth of field and a picture that looks too soft. The third picture below is what I would call the limit: my focus was on the rock in the middle. (By the way, in this one the focus isn’t 100% accurate). I didn’t want to move closer because I liked the tree on the right. The image still has a nice atmosphere and the shallow DoF perception is enough especially if you look at the picture full screen. But a more distant focus point would have proved less effective.

LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/500, f/ 14/10, ISO 200
LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/500, f/ 1.4, ISO 200 – Distagon 35mm zm

Composing in such a location also gives you the choice to either create a landscape composition wide enough to see the location in its entirety (like the one above) or take detailed shots of a natural element, such as a plant or flower. Since you have a limited DoF, you will often find that it is better to isolate one element while letting others meld into the background or foreground. I ended up taking a mix of both types of images as I think it provides a good variety.

Finally, I also tried to use a shallow depth of field for a sunset shot. I set the Zeiss lens to f/2, and the focus ring to infinity to have the sun in focus. I had the Leica M at a ground level to have a larger out of focus area in the foreground. With the sun’s reflection on the wet stones on the beach, it does create a nice bokeh effect and makes for an interesting composition. In the second picture below, I also captured the movement of the waves to give the photo more dynamism.

LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/2000, f/ 28/10, ISO 100
LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/2000, f/ 2, ISO 100
LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/1500, f/ 4/1, ISO 100
LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/1500, f/ 2, ISO 100

I consider this gallery more of an experiment. Some images here are more powerful than others but I like how many of them turned out. Again, it is a matter of finding the right elements to include in the composition. I did all this work hand-held but I advise you to use a tripod as you can be more precise with your composition and focus accuracy.

Do you like these images? Share your thoughts below (and be honest)! And if you have other interesting examples, be sure to include a photo! I would be interested to see your work as well.

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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Mal Shephard

    Ahhh you are forgiven, I am Canadian afterall! Actually it is over 35 years since I left SW Ontario for beautifull BC so perhaps they don’t even use the term anymore. Still love to see some of your shots of that area since I recall it enjoying some of the most facinating scenery and sunsets anywhere. Perfect for a mirrorless camera shoot. Hope to get back there with my GX7 and a good wide angle lense one day.

  • Heather Broster

    As a Canadian, I am ashamed I did not know that! :)

  • Mal Shephard

    Tub means Tobermory in Canadian.

  • Rainer

    I don’t like the LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/4000, f/ 2, ISO 200 – Summicron 35mm (with grass foreground and lake background).

    Instead, I like the LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/4000, f/ 2.4, ISO 200 – Summicron 35mm just below.

    And I definitely like the LEICA M (Typ 240), 1/2000, f/ 2, ISO 100 (the second last one).

  • Mathieu

    What do you mean by “Tub”? :)

  • Mathieu

    Thanks Gordks. Do you still shoot this kinds of things?

  • Mathieu

    What’s not to like about shallow depth of field? :) As long as it isn’t overused.

  • Gordks

    I definitely like almost all of those shots! I have often found myself experimenting with this as well. It reminds me of when I was still in the single digit age group and spent much of my time lying on the ground with my nose inches from whatever bug, frog, spider web, or whatever else had my attention at the time. The narrow depth of focus ‘feels’ similar to the very narrow and focused field of attention I can recall from those days.

  • Erika Brenner

    I think the pics work fine and I agree that rules should be broken. But then, I am also a big fan of shallow depth of field in almost all cases:).

  • Mal Shephard

    I also found the shallow DOF quite interesting for landscape shots, in particular under a forest canopy. Found it almost by accident simply by checking live view image compositions. BTW love to see some of your earlier shots from the “Tub”.

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