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Depth of Field

 

 

 

Theoline is the name of the schooner that Abbott found unloading potatoes at Pier 11 on the Hudson River side of Manhattan. Standing on the ship’s deck, she tried several lenses and finally settled on a wide-angle lens to create this complicated composition. The ship’s masts, rigging and sails in front of the upright rectangles of the New York city skyline produces a tangled scene. In the lower half of the picture big solid lines of the edge of the boat and the flat area of the deck reach out into the confusion and help resolve the composition. Both the buildings in the background and the diagonal lines of the ship’s rigging are in sharp focus, made possible by Abbot’s ability to photograph with great depth of field.

As Abbott described it, making this photograph was as complicated as it looks: "This boat was rising and lowering, and I had a tremendous depth of field to cope with here. All these lines which I wanted very clear. When the boat was up, the buildings would go down, so it was all very carefully and slowly arranged." (Kay Weaver and Martha Wheelock, Berenice Abbott, A View of the 20th Century, Ishtar Films, 1992)

Depth of Field

Depth of field is the area in sharp focus between the object that is farthest away from the camera (the background) and the object that is closest to the camera (the foreground). While many variables such as available light, film speed and shutter speed contribute to depth of field, the setting of the camera's aperture has the most impact when everything else remains constant. Some photographs may call for the greatest depth of field possible, where there is sharp detail in the foreground and background. Other photographs may call for soft focus backgrounds or foregrounds when too many details may be distracting.

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts