How To Take Pictures Through A Fence

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week

If you've ever photographed animals at a zoo or taken pictures of kids playing any number of sports, chances are you've had to try to shoot through a chain link fence. If you happened to do it just right, you may not have noticed much different from a normal shot. But if you didn't know the best approach, you may have ended up with distracting bits of fence between you and your subject. If you really did it wrong, you ended up with a picture of a fence and not much else. So here are a few tips to up your chances for success the next time you need to shoot through a fence.

- First of all, get as close to the fence as possible. Ideally you'd like to be next to the fence and position your lens so that it's avoiding the fence altogether or at least minimizing its influence at the edges of the lens (and therefore at the edges of the frame). This is the ideal way to make pictures without a hint of fence interference, but it isn't always practical to be right next to the fence. What you do need to do, though, is ensure that you're at least closer to the fence than the distance from the fence to the subject. If the subject (and therefore your point of focus) is 20 feet beyond the fence, make sure you're within 20 feet of the fence yourself.

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week- The use of a longer telephoto lens will help to minimize the depth of field and maximize scene compression—as well as your chances that the fence won't interfere with the finished picture. The wider your lens, the more noticeable the fence will be. So choose the longest lens that you can make work for your composition. 

- Set the aperture to wide open. This usually means f/2 or f/2.8, or whatever the smallest number (the biggest opening) is on a given lens. This will create the shallowest depth of field possible, minimizing the influence of the fence on the scene. 

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week
- Watch the light. First off, definitely don't use a flash or you'll risk illuminating the fence and, even worse, creating a grid of fence-shaped shadows on your subject. Even if you're not using flash, though, you've got to watch the light. Pay attention to the position of the sun, and try to position yourself so that it is neither backlighting the fence (which can create highlights and flare that take away from your shot) nor directly front-lighting it (which can make the fence appear brighter and therefore more prominent in the scene). A diffuse source from a cloudy day will be helpful, but even direct sunlight from the side or an overhead position that doesn't create too much drama can help the fence recede into the proverbial shadows. If you can find a spot in which the fence is shaded, try shooting through that area to minimize its effect even more.

- Manual Focus. If you rely on autofocus—which I find is so often tricked that I prefer shooting in manual mode unless I have a specific reason not to—you're bound to accidentally focus on the fence instead of the subject beyond. So choose manual focus and control what's sharp—ensuring it's the subject and not the fence.