Focus-on-Foto-Fun “Isolating Your Subject”

Theme Number Five is “Isolating Your Subject”

As a landscape photographer who in-JOYs photographing the BIG picture, it is sometimes difficult to think about what the viewer might be drawn to in one of my photographs. My intent is that they will find the grandeur of a scenic landscape just as interesting and captivating as I do, but that might not always be the case. There are people who in-JOY seeing a close-up, or abstract of a scene just as much as anything else. In fact, there are even those who prefer a Zen-like image over all others where things seem quiet and peaceful, focusing only on one thing while everything else in the photograph is nothing more than a blur, or dull in color for instance, which makes the subject stand out. It’s what draws the viewer’s eye without all the distraction of a larger, more complicated scene. These are not typically the photographs I would take, so I thought it would be FUN to explore “Isolating Your Subject” as a theme.

There’s certainly more than one way to do this, but let’s start with something we all probably do with our DSLRs whether it’s intentionally done to isolate the subject, or not. We change our depth of field by opening up the aperture on the camera we’re using to the widest f-stop. This will vary on different cameras and lenses, but it’s usually f/4 or f/2.8. Some lenses will even shoot at f/1.4. This allows more light to come into the camera sensor, and keeps everything in focus in a smaller area of the entire photo, blurring objects that are in front and/or behind the area in focus, while drawing attention to – or isolating – your subject.

The technique is most often used when taking portraits, and also when photographing people who are moving and active, such as when playing sports or performing on stage. The photographer wants to isolate, and therefore, highlight the subject – the person (maybe it’s a bird or animal) – or the action taking place. It brings out the detail of the subject, and draws attention to it.

If you have a telephoto or zoom lens, you can determine how much of the scene is in focus by changing the focal length you use while shooting. When focusing on a subject that is close to the camera, your depth of field will fall off almost immediately. The farther out you focus, less of the scene will be blurred because you’re using a longer focal length. Macro lenses can be used for close-up subjects, and both can be good for creating abstract photographs by focusing only on the smallest, most intimate details of a subject. You only see lines and curves, plus soft colors around the detail you wish to highlight.

There are other methods that can be used for “Isolating Your Subject” in addition to differential focus. I’ve seen wildflower photographers who take a large black card with them when shooting in the field. They place it behind the most beautiful flower to eliminate any distractions in the background. This can also be done with the right elements in play, such as the sun shining on the flower with deep shade behind it, and then post-processing it to make the background even darker. Tracking a moving subject is another method used for “Isolating Your Subject.” I’ve seen this used while the photographer was riding a bicycle, keeping the handlebar in focus and showing the movement of the scene around the bike. Or, when tracking animals in the wild, or vehicles in traffic.

Note: Phone cameras will typically average, or equalize, the light on every subject you photograph, so you will have to experiment a little to get what you want when “Isolating Your Subject.” There are many excellent apps available that will change the look and feel of your phone-captured photograph once it’s taken, too.

Experiment to see what you can come up with, and be sure when you post your photographs to Focus-on-Foto-Fun to tell us what camera and settings you used, so we can all learn from one another. Tag your posts with #focusonfotofun and #isolatingyoursubject, and be certain to tag me @georgiamichalicek on IG, and post your photographs to the Focus-on-Foto-Fun page on FB at


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