What's wrong with the photo you have attached? You have separation in there, and the family looks pretty sharp. If you decrease your DOF even more, you're going to make it less and less apparent what the background is. The background can add to your picture; give it a sense of place. If you decrease your DOF even more, you're going to destroy any detail whatsoever in the background, and at that point, you might as well be shooting in front of a fabric or canvas background. If anything, I'd almost rather see a little bit more DOF in that image, as right now it almost looks like it was possibly green screened.
This is an interesting point. I guess the optimal level of background blur is in the eye of the beholder. I am trying to create an extreme bokeh, as I enjoy the portraits that are created so, like this, or that.
of course I do understand that with a single person you can go as open as f/1.2 which changes the story altogether, but the fact remains that the completely blurred fall leaves are appealing ... to me!
If I were you, I wouldn't waste your time on DOF calculators. I'd spend more time on posing, especially with toddlers/infants.
I completely agree, and I ensure you that I spend a lot of time posing this particular family ... as I am part of it :-). I am not planning to spend any time with the calculators, I just wanted to verify that doubling my distance and my focal length will increase the blur of the background while keeping the subject in focus and framed the same. You see, everybody knows that increasing the focal length (but keeping everything else constant) increases the blur, but in my case I have to also (a) increase the distance to the subject (which tends to make the background sharper, as it decreases the ratio "distance_to_background / distance_to_subject") and (b) close down my lens. So it was not obvious to me that the complex interplay between focal length, distance ratio, and f number would lead to a dreamier background. Now, should I aim for a dreamier background to begin with? Maybe you are right and I shouldn't. I still want to try it though.
I like the family portrait, but it is slightly ruined, and could be much better, if you could get the baby to not make a funny face and look at the camera.
Absolutely. I hate the way the baby looks like she's hanging there and how she doesn't look at the camera (although getting a baby to look anywhere is not a small feat). This was an exploratory shot, trying out the location, it's not "the fall family" shot. Hopefully not anyway, as the weather has a say as well.
Now, I don't want to say you're unable to do that, but in that case, I'd question why you posted this image over a better one.
No offense taken whatsoever. I like a good constructive feedback like yours and that's why I post shots even when they are not that great.
Also, I'd spend some time balancing out the exposure throughout the image. The background is a tad bright; the grass is a touch too bright,
This is the tradeoff between bokeh and exposure. I'm shooting with a remote flash, so I'm limited to 1/250 speed (because my cheap triggers won't do HSS). f/5.0 was the largest aperture I could set and get reasonable exposure, good DoF and good background blur. I guess you would have closed down a bit to expose the scene better at the price of some bokeh. I could improve it in post, but I hope my "final" shot will be on an overcast day so that I won't have to worry about that.
and the water is not the color we all know it looks like in person.
You must have not seen the Tennessee river recently :-)
I didn't alter the colors in post, so that's exactly what the river looks like. However, if you meant "the color we all expect water to be", then I guess you are right. I could have made it look blue-er in post, but I didn't want to bother. I will give you this though, I rejected this location exactly because of the amount of brown river in the background, so your criticism is spot on.
Beyond that, again, I wouldn't spend your time looking at DOF calculators, but instead, learning how to properly choose a scene that doesn't require you to decrease your DOF dramatically. Most well done environmental portraits actually have quite a large DOF. Think about it this way: in the studio, you have to do something special to make a family portrait interesting. The standard family pose can be quite boring, especially in front of a solid colored background. When you shoot so your DOF is really small, you're essentially doing something very similar. It may be several colors, but pretty much all detail is lost. It then becomes another boring family photo.
This is all why I recommend smaller apertures: the family remains the main subject, but your eyes are allowed to drift through the photograph and appreciate the beauty behind them as well.
I know my reply is not a direct answer to your question, but I do feel I have given you some very good advice that you can take (or leave) and possibly learn from. What questions do you have for me?
I will keep your advice in mind. I've always liked dreamy backgrounds in people photography, and I'll keep pursuing them -- as we only learn by trying -- but at least now I know that not everybody shares this preference. As for more questions, they will come with my next post, which I will greatly appreciate if you also criticize.