What is Depth of Field and How You Use It

Welcome back to Photo Tip Friday. I hope you had a chance to put into practice last weeks tip on Composition and start to take your photography to a new level.

This week we are going to cover a subject that seems to confuse a lot of people.

They can see the impact of implementing different variations of Depth of Field but how to put it into practice can be somewhat of a mystery. I am going to attempt to demystify it for you.


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What is Depth of Field?

First, let's take a look at what DOF means. Defined it is simply the range in a scene, from near to far, that is in sharp focus. Here is an example of "shallow" depth of Field.


In this photo you can see that the subject, in this case the Masai Warrior, is in sharp focus but the trees in background are out of focus or "soft".

If we had used a large depth of field here the warrior and the trees would be in sharp focus and the subject would get lost in the trees.

By employing a shallow depth of field I have made him stand out from the background and made the photograph have impact.

This technique is used often in portrait and food photography to make a certain part of the scene stand out from a busy background.

How to Achieve this Effect:

In order to achieve this effect, you can shoot on Aperture Priority mode and use a wider aperture or F-stop (eg. 1.8, 2.8 or 4.0) or a longer lens like 70mm and above.

Longer lenses automatically have a shallower depth of field. Most new DSLR’s come with a DOF Preview which can help a lot giving you a preview through the lens of the desired effect.

For those of you using a point and shoot you’ll get your best results if you zoom in all the way, focus on something close, and have a background that is much further away.

So when would you use a large Depth of Field?

Landscape photography is the perfect time to use a large DOF. When keeping the majority of the image in focus is a priority this is when you want to maximize your DOF.

In the image below I wanted to keep the sign in the foreground in focus and the Icebergs in the background also in focus because they both added to the scene.

In order to do this, I chose a small aperture (f11 to f14) and a wide focal length of 17mm. This allowed me to keep the whole scene in focus.

Using a Large Depth of Field in Greenland

Using a Large Depth of Field in Greenland

In summary, the 3 things that control depth of field are Aperture setting, focal length, and distance from your subject. By manipulating each of these in different ways you can achieve different results. My advice is to experiment. Grab your camera and think about what you want the shot to look like and then apply the rules above to achieve it.

Insider Tip: In order to achieve better results with DOF make sure to use a tripod and a Shutter release. This will allow you to keep steady and keep what you want in focus. This is especially important with shallow depth of field shots.

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