Focus is one of the most important elements in photography, it's main point is to communicate what the photographer is trying to show to the viewer.
If the subject is a couple and the background is in focus and the couple out of focus then this contradicts the photographers intention to photograph the couple.
Sometimes, focus is used artistically with a small amount of detail in focus within an image but should always be used to communicate what the photographer is trying to show you.
There are basic rules in portrait photography. If shooting a head shot and the subject is looking at the camera their eyes must always be in focus. There's no point in composing an image perfectly if you are going to focus on something intended to be in the background. When photographing full body shots of people you have more opportunity to get the focus right as you are likely to be further away from the subject and it is easier to get them in focus as a whole than to go close in and pick out smaller focusing points such as the eyes.
The aperture used when the photograph is taken will determine the depth of field (the area in an image that will be in focus) the wider the aperture, the more will be in focus.
Photographers who have been trained and understand the equipment they use will be able to manipulate the focus by using the aperture creatively therefore producing precisely focused images with a real artistic quality to them.
Generally, if you have hired a photographer who shoots with the Auto Mode and nothing else this is an indication that they do not truly understand how to use their camera. It does not matter how much money they have spent on a camera, if they do not understand how to use it then they cannot give you the best results the equipment is designed to give. A good photographer could take a stunning photograph using a point and shoot camera.
Watch out for photographers who may fall under the category of 'all gear and no idea.'
Passionate photographers who love what they do will have undertaken the relevant training (even if self taught) to take the best photographs they can and should have a good portfolio to show off the skills they have learnt.
Here are a few things to look out for when looking through a portfolio to help you choose a skilled photographer:
1. Variety. Are there a few images that look like the same picture but just edited differently or is one a cropped version of the other? - a good portfolio should have variety throughout, images from the same shoot are fine with a different pose, styling, lighting etc. There's no need for the same picture 6 times in different shades of black and white or a slightly different expression. Look for quality rather than quantity.
2. Lighting. Has the lighting been well thought out? Are there strong black shadows outlining people where they have just been blasted with a flash or has the photographer carefully placed their lighting source to make sure the lighting is not too harsh for the subject? Has the photographer got photographs that show they understand how to light images differently to get varied lighting effects? For example, below is a photograph set up with low key lighting to create a moody atmosphere that just shows the model as my focus.
Here is another photograph from the same photoshoot but with a different lighting set up to add variety to my models final portfolio prints.
Another lighting set up that photographers may use in their portfolios is 'separation of light' This is where the light used to light the model is from a different source to that of the light used to light the background and the two are separated so not to over lap each other. Below is another image from the same shoot where separation of light has been used to add variety.
I'll rummage through my archives for an example... Ok so I have found an example, its not people in the background its another unwanted object within the frame which should be removed either at post processing or when taking the photograph.
I hope this entry has been helpful. I will continue this post next time. Thanks for reading :D