How I Shoot: So What Is Depth Of Field Anyway?.
It’s time for a new How I Shoot series!
I decided this time to tackle what is a real shooting issue for a lot of people – Depth Of Field.
And since this is called How I Shoot this is really appropriate because I always shoot with depth of field in mind. Always.
Depth of field is one of the easiest ways to make your photos pop. However most people just don’t understand it or know how to use it.
But it’s easy – I swear! And if you work at it a bit, you’ll be better at controlling the look of your images right from the camera in no time!
So what is depth of field anyway?
Depth of field is the range of sharpness in your image.
That’s it. That’s all it is.
Depth of field does not have anything to do with focus. When you look through your viewfinder and hear that satisfactory little beep right before you shoot – that has nothing to do with DOF. That is your point of focus within your scene, not your range of sharpness.
Depth of field does not control what you focus on, it simply controls the range of sharpness in the areas before and after what you’ve focused on.
Check out this example to see what I mean:
I focused on the swan in all of the images. But we don’t want to pay attention to the swan for this exercise, what we want to pay attention to are the swan’s friends – yellow duck and the crazy blue anteater.
If you look at the little glass animals before and after the swan you can see that they vary greatly – from completely blurred out (f/1.8) to sharp (f/22). This is our depth of field (or the range of sharpness).
Remember: Depth of Field is the range of sharpness in your image.
The aperture f/1.8 provides a shallow depth of field (only the swan is sharp, both friends are blurry) and aperture f/22 provides a much greater depth of field (all three glass animals are now sharp).
Do you want an image that is sharp throughout or has a specific area of sharpness?
By changing the aperture settings on your camera you can change the range of sharpness in your image. You can control how much of your photo is sharp and how much of it is blurred.
Why would you want to control your own depth of field?
Changing your depth of field gives you an immense amount of creative control when it comes to your images. One of the largest stumbling blocks for most aspiring photographers is the understanding that YOU create what the viewer sees. How you create an image influences how it is viewed and it is critical to keep that in your mind as you shoot.
Depth of field let’s you control the mood of your image and more importantly it let’s you show off, what you want to show off.
Do you really want your viewers to see one important item in your scene? Use a shallow depth of field. Depending on your lens (some lenses allow for a more shallow DOF than others), choose the lowest aperture available like f/1.8 or f/3.5 and use that to take your photo. Focus on the important object and let the rest of the scene blur out.
This technique means that when your photo is viewed later, the viewer’s eyes will automatically go to the spot on your image that is sharp, giving it more weight and importance. This is a natural reaction and something we all do. We all look for the area in an image that is most in focus – this is how you can create what the viewer sees.
Do you want a crisp, sharp image with detail throughout? Choose a higher aperture number like f/18 or f/22 to ensure you get the best range of sharpness in your image.
Types of images that can greatly benefit with a little Depth Of Field love:
You always want to pick a focus point when shooting your food images and then let the rest of the image gradually blur out. Let the people not only see your yummy dish but fixate on the most interesting part of it. Remember their eyes will naturally focus on the sharpest part of the scene.
Veggies: f/3.2 shutter speed 1/640 ISO 250
I know you’ve seen a portrait that really pops and you probably want to create something similar but no matter what you do, your subject just seems to blend in with their surroundings, instead of popping out from it. That’s the depth of field. Focus on their eyes (not the nose, not the mouth) and choose a shallow depth of field, then watch as they automatically stand out from everything else around them as it turns to blur.
Randy: f/2.8 shutter speed 1/320 ISO 250
Oh I love me some detail images! Details give you a glimpse into the scene you are photographing but in an indirect way. Wedding photos are really good examples of this – how many shoes, rings and cake images have you seen? A LOT. That’s because they set the scene. They aren’t the main players on stage but they’re the background orchestra that brings it all together so whatever you do, don’t forget about them. Details usually look best with a shallow depth of field.
Rain Drop: f/2.8 shutter speed 1/800 ISO 800
Grand Tetons: f/16 shutter speed 1/320 ISO 400
Typically when shooting a landscape you will want a greater depth of field. If you’re shooting a mountain range you’ll probably want most of the scene to be sharp so choose the are you want to focus on, then choose a larger number like f/18 to give you a maximum range of sharpness in your image.
Guatemalan Family: f/6.3 shutter speed 1/100 ISO 640
If you have a group photo to take then you’ll do best if you go middle of the road: think f/5.6 – f/11. It’s enough to get everyone in focus (assuming they’re standing close to one another) but still separate them just slightly from the background.
These are just some basic examples of common types of photos that can be greatly improved when you know how to properly control your depth of field.
I’d love to know if you found this How I Shoot post useful or have any questions regarding Depth Of Field.
Also, if you have some photos you want to show off that you think demonstrates great depth of field control just leave a link in the comments!
Good Luck and Happy Shooting!
Shameless Plug: Want to learn more about how to improve your photos right now?
Check out my photo ebook – Getting Out Of Auto. Learn the ins & outs of exposure, composition and special techniques to help you get photos like the ones you see above.
*Please remember all photos on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of Beers and Beans Travel Website & Bethany Salvon. Please do not use them without my permission. If you do want to use one of them please contact me first. Thanks!