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Depth of Field in a Nutshell

If you are new to photography, you have probably heard the phrase depth of field being mentioned in several photography websites, blogs or forums. You would apt to be wondering what depth of field means and how it can help you in taking better pictures. Whether you are into portrait, landscape, sports, wedding and other forms of photography, depth of field is an important concept you will need to understand. It is not complicated to know and can become each of your best tools in photography.

depth of field

“Yorkshire Grit” captured by Tony Taffinder (Click Image to See More From Tony Taffinder)

Depth of field or DOF in short, means range of distance in just a scene that is considerably sharp. To achieve that effect, we have to know how it works, since we know the definition. There are scientific methods to explain DOF but I will not try to bore you from it. I will use simple layman terms to explain what it is and exactly how you can use it to your advantage to produce stunning pictures.

Deep Depth of Field

Have you ever seen landscape pictures which might be sharp throughout the entire scene? There are several why you should this. One of the main basis for the sharpness is because of deep depth of field. Deep DOF means the variety of distance within a scene that's considerably sharp, is wide, covering a wider depth within the scene. This triggered a picture which is considerably sharp across the entire scene.

Deep DOF is vital when taking photos of landscape as you want all details from the foreground right through to the background inside scene to be reasonably sharp. It is also important when taking group shots when you do not want anybody within the picture to become out of focus.

When we use deep depth of field, the following attributes in your camera will alter:

  1. Aperture will likely be small

  2. Aperture value will likely be large, for example f/22

  3. Lens opening will likely be small

deep depth of field

“Rua do Comércio” captured by José mbrito (Click Image to See More From José mbrito)

Shallow Depth of Field

When you happen to be shooting portraits, you would like your subject to be really sharp and stand out inside the picture. You can accomplish this effect using a shallow depth of field. Shallow DOF means the array of distance inside a scene that is considerably sharp, is small, covering an inferior depth inside scene. This led to a picture which is only sharp with the focused subject whilst the foreground and background are blurred.

Shallow DOF is vital when taking portraits because you only want the subject being sharp and stand out inside picture, totally free of other distractions in the picture. It is also very important to taking macros or close pictures of small objects, as you wish them to become really sharp since they will be small. Shallow DOF let your pictures to get some depth into it, creating a three dimension effect.

When we use shallow depth of field, these attributes on the camera will alter:

  1. Aperture is going to be wide

  2. Aperture value will probably be small, for example f/1.8

  3. Lens opening will probably be wide

shallow depth of field

“Town Walks” captured by Alex Lewis (Click Image to See More From Alex Lewis)

Factors that Influence Depth of Field

Aperture - This is the most apparent factor that will determine how DOF modify the outcome of your pictures. How much of the picture is sharp will be determined by the aperture you determine while in manual or aperture priority mode. As stated above, a smaller aperture value (e.g. f/1.8), can create a shallow DOF inside your picture, while a large aperture value (e.g. f/22), can create a deep DOF within your picture.

Distance to Subject - The closer you might be to your subject, the shallower the DOF, while the further you might be away from your subject, the deeper the DOF.

Focal Length - The longer the focal length you utilize, the shallower the DOF, given equal subject distance. Zooming will narrow the distance between both you and your subject over the lens. As you already know from the distance factor, the closer you're to your subject, the shallower the DOF, irregardless of whether you zoomed in or move in closer to the topic. The exact opposite applies when attemping to achieve deeper DOF.


To sum all this up, utilize a low aperture value when taking portraits and macro. Ensure that the space between both you and your subject is close enough to compose your shot. You can close the length by zooming your lens in or by walking closer to the subject. This results in a shallow depth of field inside your picture.

depth camera settings

Photo captured by Mandy Austin (Click Image to See More From Mandy Austin)

As for landscapes and group shots, use a large aperture value. Ensure that you might be not too close to your subjects. You can improve your distance by zooming your lens out or by walking a few steps back from a subjects. This creates a deep depth of field in your picture.

Depth of field is essential and should be understood properly as it will also help you to compose stunning pictures containing depth for it.

About the Author
Roy Lee is a freelance photographer residing in Malaysia, who focuses on wedding, portrait, and landscape photography.

© Copyright - Roy Lee. All Rights Reserved.

For Further Training:

There is often a popular downloadable multimedia guide with videos that explains how to take control over your camera, and have creative and at ease with your photography. By combining illustrations, text, photos and video, it can help you get control very quickly. Includes a bonus Field Guide-a printable pocket guide with many of the most essential information beautifully presented inside.

It can be found here: Extremely Essential Camera Skills

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