Technically Depth-of-field—is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.
The reason is it takes a lot more ability to take a photo of what appears to be clutter and compose it in such a way that you capture a story than it does to isolate by either getting closer or zooming in and isolating a subject.
What Don Rutledge taught me and yet I still haven't begun to execute it as well as he did was to use the environment around the subject to provide context and tell a better story.
He taught me to spend time with a person before I take a photo of them. Spend time getting to know their story, this way once you know them you start to see things around them and their body language that help inform the audience through visual clues as to who the subject is as a person and how they interact with people in their world.
|[Photo 2] Cincinnati, Ohio, 1968: Children with a trophy of the streets. [photo by Don Rutledge]|
In Photo 1 you can see down the street and around the men as they walk down the street in Egypt. While most everyone is laughing as if a joke was just told—notice the woman just behind the men. Her expression tells another story.
I can picture this woman being similar to the woman in Matthew 9:20, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned—caught her at it.
She is not apart of the men's group but has an interest in them.
In Photo 2 you see not just the rat being held by the boy but his friend and the place of their discovery. His friends body language adds so much to the context as does the alley where they found it.
|[Photo 3] This is early morning in Mississippi for Luvenia and Bailey King. King sleeps as his wife puts breakfast on the table. [photo by Don Rutledge]|
This photo [Photo 3] became a favorite photo of many from the story. The photo captures Bailey King and shows how thin he is and how hard his wife also worked to provide for the family. It is not a photo just about Bailey, but his wife as well Luvenia.
|[Photo 4] Appalachian migrant family in Ohio during 1968. [photo by Don Rutledge]|
Don had a patience about him that let him truly be in the moment. He could see things that most missed. I think Don really and truly had more empathy for his subjects than just about any other photographer I have known.
|[Photo 5] Africa—Sally Jones (white coat) felt emotions well up inside as she shared this moment with concerned mothers at the Southern Baptist feeding and health care center's clinic in Ethiopia.|
|[Photo 6] Israel—Missionary kid Sommer Hicks plays on the rocks of the sea of Galilee with her dad, Ray Hicks, in the background. [Don Rutledge]|
Please take a look how often Don uses depth in his photos to tell stories. Here are two coverages of Russia that Don did in the 1980s. Don shot these for a magazine which would only use on average maybe 8 to 12 photos, but look at the true depth of his coverage. I remember seeing these coverages up on so many light tables and Dan Beatty commenting on how he could tell so many stories whenever Don returned.