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Disappearing fence

Making foreground objects "invisible"


How can you get a clear picture of the tiger without the fence?
How can you get a clear picture of the tiger without the fence?

Here’s the problem.

You are at the zoo and want a sharp picture of a tiger. But, the big cat’s enclosure is a high wire fence and the only way to take a picture is to shoot through it.

Trouble is, the holes between the wires are so small that any picture you take will have some wire in front of the lens. You can’t get a clear shot. What do you do?

You make the fence disappear, of course. It’s not that difficult, either.


You know that if something is in focus or in partial focus, it will show up on your film or your digital camera's sensor. But, if something that occupies a small part of your picture frame is so far out of focus that it cannot even be seen as a blur, then it will not show up on your film. It will seem to disappear.

So, here’s what you do. Use a long lens. A telephoto lens in the range of 105 mm to 300 mm will do the job. Get close to the fence so that it is only inches or less away from your lens. Select an aperture that will give you medium to shallow depth of field - enough for your subject, the tiger, to be in focus when the animal is at a distance that it fills your viewfinder frame, but not enough for the wire fence to be in focus at all. The tiger should not be too close to the fence you are shooting through, otherwise its wires may come into partial focus, and show up as fuzzy lines over the image.

Throw the fence so far out of focus that it seems to disappear. This is only partially accomplished in this image.
Throw the fence so far out of focus that it seems to disappear. This is only partially accomplished in this image.

Here it is fully accomplished. One tiger, nice and sharp, with no fence visible, even though it is right in front of the lens.
Here it is fully accomplished. One tiger, nice and sharp, with no fence visible, even though it is right in front of the lens.

Take a picture, being sure to hold the camera steady. The shallow depth of field should permit a reasonably fast shutter speed, one that should be at least equal in number to the focal length of the lens if you are hand-holding - i.e. when you are using a 250 mm lens, your shutter speed should at least be 1/250 sec. If it’s a 300 mm lens, the shutter speed should be no slower than 1/300 sec.

If you can’t select a fast shutter speed,

  • (1) change to a faster film or a faster ISO sensitivity setting in your digital camera,
  • (2) wait until the tiger is in brighter light, or
  • (3) use a tripod or other camera support for a slower shutter speed. Be sure to minimize blur, though. Wait until the animal stops moving or shoot when it is walking towards you.

  • That’s all there is to it. Your image will show the tiger but not the enclosure, and people will think you must have been inside the fence or out in the wilds when you took the picture.

    The technique is also effective when photographing many other subjects on the other side of wire fencing - for example, baseball action through a wire backstop.

    It works in eliminating not just wire, but other foreground objects, too - skinny branches, wire windows, cable fences and so on.

    This technique will work behind home plate, too. You can just see some of the wire backstop, which would not be visible if the photographer had been a few inches closer.
    This technique will work behind home plate, too. You can just see some of the wire backstop, which would not be visible if the photographer had been a few inches closer.

    Both of these moose photos were taken through wire fencing at the Greater Vancouver Zoo.
    Both of these moose photos were taken through wire fencing at the Greater Vancouver Zoo.

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