Focus: the third critical component in successful photography

An online photography talk about the critical role of good focussing in great photography

Focus: the third critical component in successful photography was the subject of my first online photography talk of 2021. I have called it the third critical component because focus forms a holy trinity with composition and lighting. All three must come together for any photograph to have a chance of being successful, dare I say even great. If any one of these three elements is substandard in any photo then that image will be a failure.

Watch this talk here

This talk was recorded, and so you can watch it here now. Just click on the embedded link below. The talk is 40 minutes long, and I really hope you enjoy it.

What does this talk contain?

It may seem blindingly obvious, of course, to say that the main subject of a photo needs to be sharply in focus for that photo to be a success. However, correct focussing goes well beyond just this limited definition.

There are many other issues to consider, such as:

  • Does the entire image need to be sharp, not just the main subject, as is often the case with landscape photography?
  • Or would it be better, for example, to have the background blurred, enabling the sharply in-focus subject to ‘pop out’ of the picture, such as is common in portrait or wildlife photography?
  • Perhaps you need to have just one small part of the photo sharp (containing the main subject) and everything else blurred, ensuring that attention is directed just to this area of the frame;
  • What about blurred motion as the main subject? Does this need to be sharply in-focus even though it is blurred anyway as a result of movement?
Focus: the third critical component

Techniques and technologies

What all the above points cover is the subject of depth of field, and the need to control this in order to control just how much of any photo is sharp.

Depth of field is the amount of an image that is in focus from its nearest point (to the photographer) to its furthest point. This can be varied in a number of ways, primarily:

  • A wide-angle lens naturally has a bigger depth of field than a telephoto lens;
  • A narrow lens aperture (ie a high f-number, eg f/16) creates a bigger depth of field than a wide open aperture (ie a low f-number, eg f/5.6).

So, if you use a wide-angle lens shut down to a narrow aperture you will have a big depth of field, potentially ranging from shortly in front of the camera all the way to the horizon. This is commonly used in landscape photography, though also in other photographic genres.

On the other hand, if you use a telephoto lens with a wide-open aperture you will have a very small depth of field, perhaps a metre or less. This is a technique commonly used in portrait and wildlife photography to ensure the face really ‘pops out’ from its background and commands the viewer’s attention.

As the subject-to-camera distance decreases, perhaps once it is less than about 10 metres, then the depth of field starts to decrease for any lens and any lens aperture. Finally, when you get down to macro photography, such as of butterflies, the depth of field even at a very narrow lens aperture is quite tiny, usually no more than about 1 cm or thereabouts.

Focus: the third critical component

Further content

During the talk I show a range of images that illustrate the above points about depth of field. The final third of my talk covers some practical examples, in which I have deliberately taken sets of photos at different lens apertures and focussing distances, to illustrate how changing these, along with lens focal-lengths, can have a dramatic impact on the type of image that results.

The final section looks at the problems of macro photography and the tiny depth of field available here. In particular I introduce the technique of focus-stacking: taking a series shots focussed at different points, and then blending them together in the computer post-photography.

Overall, the talk gives a tour of the techniques and skills of good focussing, taking it well beyond the simple process of just getting the subject sharp. Instead, the aim should be to control the depth of field in an image through appropriate use of lens focal length and aperture to produce an image that works for the particular subject and its surroundings.

Focus: the third critical component

Find out more about my talks

I hope you enjoy watching this talk. If you’d like to find out more about my talks click on the links below, where you’ll be able to watch recordings of earlier talks, and sign up for some of my upcoming talks.

Each of my talks takes place on a Wednesday evening, once a month, and are free to attend.

I’ll look forward to seeing you online.

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Goals in Photography

The first talk in Nigel’s new series of online photography talks

I held the first of my new online photography talks on 23rd September, the inauguration of a planned ongoing series of free talks that anyone can attend. This first talk, entitled Goals in Photography, saw me explore some of the photography I’ve done during my lengthy career as a professional photographer. Images shown included some of my personal favourites, as well as images that have marked important points in my career, and/or illustrated and explained some of the goals that I constantly strive to achieve with my photography.

Mt Everest, one image in Nigel Hicks's Goals in Photography talk.
Mt Everest seen from the North Face Base Camp; Tibet, China.

Watch a video of the talk now

The talk was recorded and can now be watched on both You Tube and right here, lasting about 34 minutes.

To watch the talk just click on the link below:

Naturally, I really hope you will enjoy the talk. Feel free to leave any comments or queries in the comments section of this blog. I’ll do my best to answer anything you’d like to ask.

Young boy with bubble gum and toy guny, one image in Nigel Hicks's Goals in Photography talk.

Programme of upcoming talks

This Goals in Photography talk was hugely successful, with about 40 people taking part. There will now be three more talks before Christmas, which will be:

14th October – Composition

11th November – Light

9th December – Landscape photography

All the talks will be free to attend. All I ask is that you register in advance so that I know to send you the link to enable you to join.

To find out more and to register for any or all of the talks click on the button below.

Golden Snub-nosed monkey, one image in Nigel Hicks's Goals in Photography talk.
Golden snub-nosed monkey.

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Fabulous Philippines

Nigel’s Birdfair talk about Philippine birds can now be seen here and on You Tube

The talk that I recently gave to the virtual Birdfair 2020 about Philippine birds (called Fabulous Philippines) is now on You Tube, and hence can be seen here. The talk is just over 16 minutes long, and to watch it just click on the link below. I really hope you enjoy it!

About the Fabulous Philippines talk

The talk introduces some of the Philippines most important forest habitats, and then showcases a few of the country’s most significant bird species, concentrating on those that are endemic, or unique, to the Philippines. These include the Philippine Eagle, several hornbills, the Philippine Bulbul, the Coleto and the Bleeding-heart pigeons.

The photography used comes from my Wild Philippines project, which was published a few months ago as a book, called Wild Philippines. Video clips in this talk, showing me working in the Philippines, were shot while I was gathering material for the project.

Bleeding-heart pigeon, a Philippine bird.
Negros Bleeding-heart pigeon.

About the Birdfair

The Birdfair is an annual UK event, usually held on the shores of Lake Rutland, in eastern England, that celebrates everything to do with birds and bird conservation. Not surprisingly, for 2020 the event was forced online, with a virtual event running for a week in mid-August.

Hopefully, for 2021 the event will be back in its rightful spot in the English countryside!

Getting a copy of Wild Philippines

If you find this talk interesting and would like to find out more about Philippine wildlife, and in particular the Wild Philippines project, click on the link below.

The Wild Philippines book is widely available from high street and online book shops (including Amazon). In the Philippines, it is stocked by National Book Stores. You can also buy it directly from this website: just click on the link below to go to my book shop.

Wild Philippines cover

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A Wild Philippines talk at Birdfair

The UK’s annual festival of all things to do with birds, Birdfair, has started and will run 18th-23rd August. I’m so proud to be able to say that in the line-up is a talk by myself, in which I’ll be showcasing the birds of the Philippines, a talk entitled by the organisers Fabulous Philippines.

Using photography from my recent book, Wild Philippines, the talk will explore the avian wildlife of that wonderful country, highlighting mainly just a handful of the many species unique to the country. These include the mighty Philippine Eagle, all 11 species of hornbill, and a host of pigeons and doves, to mention just a few.

Philippine Eagle
A Philippine Eagle

Birdfair goes online

Normally held on the shore of lovely Rutland Water, a major sanctuary for birdlife in eastern England, this year of course Birdfair has to be wholly online. That hasn’t stopped the organisers pulling together a superb event, with a huge line-up of talks, events and exhibitions.

To go to Birdfair’s home page click on the link below:

My Philippines talk at Birdfair

My talk on birds of the Philippines, which the organisers have entitled Fabulous Philippines, goes live at 8am (UK time; 3pm in the Philippines, 3am USA east coast) on Saturday 22nd August, so you’ll be able to watch it online from then and for the next three months. The talk will also be published next week on my You Tube channel.

Consisting of a mix of videos and stills photography, with my own narration, the talk runs for 15 minutes, introducing the Philippines’ main terrestrial habitats and some of their representative life. As already mentioned, the photography comes from my recent book project Wild Philippines.

Naturally, I really hope you’ll watch the talk, and that you’ll find it enjoyable. You can find my talk at the address below. The page is already live, but it won’t be possible to launch the video until Saturday 22nd Aug.

An early morning view across farmland near Tumpis (at about 1350 metres) to the summit of Mt Apo, Mt Apo Natural Park, Davao, Mindanao, the Philippines.

Getting hold of a copy of Wild Philippines

Wild Philippines is widely available from both high street and online book stores around the world, including Amazon. In the UK, the main high street outlet is Waterstones, while in the Philippines it is National Book Stores.

It can also be bought directly from me through my website. Just click on the link below to go to the relevant page.

Wild Philippines cover

I hope you’ll enjoy my Birdfair talk!

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Wild Philippines in Geographical mag

I’m really pleased to be able to say that the July issue of Geographical magazine (the monthly publication of the Royal Geographical Society) contains a prominent feature on my book Wild Philippines.

Consisting largely of extracts from the book’s first two chapters, it also features some of the photography, focussing largely on the Philippines’ unique, or endemic, animal species.

You can see the article here, by clicking on the image gallery below:

Moving forward with Wild Philippines

This is a fantastic new development, as I have to say in all honesty that we’ve been having all kinds of trouble managing to promote Wild Philippines. Not surprisingly, much of that is down to the Covid-19 pandemic, which completely wiped out plans to promote the book in the Philippines itself. So the Geographical article is a major boost and step forward in getting news about the book out there, at least within the UK.

Wild Philippines cover

About the Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographical Society (RGS), founded in the 19th century, is the UK’s most well-known research and exploration body, specialising in the promotion of study into geographical issues, both in the natural and the human worlds.

Some of the UK’s most famous explorers have been and indeed still are members of th RGS.

Geographical magazine is its monthly publication, going out automatically to all RGS members. It is also available generally, normally on sale in many good newsagents.

To find out more about the RGS click on the link below:

Find out about the RGS

To find out more about Geographical magazine click on this link:

Find out about Geographical magazine

Find out more about Wild Philippines

Wild Philippines is a major publication, written and published by Nigel Hicks and published by Oxford-based John Beaufoy Publishing. Its 208 pages give a hugely valuable overview and snapshot of the status of Philippine wildlife and its conservation. In addition, Wild Philippines features over 300 photos that focus in on the country’s huge numbers of utterly unique plant and animal species, ranging from the mighty Philippine Eagle to the vast numbers of orchid and medinilla plant species.

To find out more about Wild Philippines, and to see sample pages click on the link below:

Find out about Wild Philippines

Getting a copy of Wild Philippines

Wild Philippines is available around the world through all good book shops, both high street and online.

To buy directly from me contact me by phone (+44 (0)7977 546961) or click on the link below:

Buy a copy of Wild Philippines online

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