How does shallow depth of field work?
Shallow depth of field in photography is achieved by shooting photographs with a low f-number, or f-stop — from 1.4 to about 5.6 — to let in more light. — to let in more light. This puts your plane of focus between a few inches and a few feet. Depending on your subject and area of focus point, you can blur the foreground or background of your image. With a smaller f-stop number — a wider aperture — more light enters your camera. This means your shutter speed should be fast enough to avoid overexposure or blowing out the whites in your photograph. Optimising your depth of field settings is crucial to getting the right results. Understanding the relationship between all your settings on a DSLR camera — aperture, shutter speed, focal length, and ISO — is crucial to successful shallow depth of field. For example, the longer your focal length, the shallower your depth of field.
Another method of getting a shallow depth of field is to increase the distance between the camera, your subject, and your background. Even if you don’t own a lens that is capable of very wide apertures such as f/1.4, you can get a nice effect by moving away from the subject and zooming in on them, or making sure they’re separated from the background. A person standing 20 feet from a group of trees will create a softer background than if the person is leaning against one of the trees, or a solid wall.
Successful shallow depth of field.
“As a new photographer, if you want to highlight a subject, shallow depth of field is one of the easiest ways to do it,” says photographer Derek Boyd. It’s a wonderful tool that helps direct your viewer to what’s important in the image. By highlighting one point, and softly blurring the rest of the composition, you can add significance to your photograph. You can also use it to “defocus something to pique someone's interest, and make them wonder more about it,” says photographer Stephen Klise — making the subject softly blurred can add depth and intrigue to an image.
Photographer Hannah Concannon makes a similar point: “Using a shallow depth of field, you can really highlight an interesting part of your image,” she says. “I did a photo shoot a few months ago where I had a bunch of flowers, and then I found these little black plastic houseflies. I would just put one in there and see if I could focus, and make the shallow depth of field only center on the housefly.” Shallow depth of field can draw a viewer’s focus and highlight something unexpected.
Artist Cheryl Medow uses shallow depth of field to great effect when photographing birds in their natural habitats. By shooting with a shallow depth of field, the birds are in focus while their backgrounds are completely blurred. This allows her to easily cut out the subject’s surroundings and create stunning composite pieces, adding an element of surrealism to her work.
How do I find depth of field?
Depth of field in photography is set by adjusting your camera’s aperture (the hole in your lens that lets light into the camera to take a photograph). By adjusting the aperture, you can make the hole wider or narrower. These changes are measured in F-stops.
- Low F-stops create a wider aperture (f/1.4 is the lowest)
- High F-stops create a narrow aperture (f/22 is the highest)
Settings vary across camera manufacturers, but the setting you’ll be looking for is Aperture Priority – sometimes shortened to AV or A.
Shutter speed is also crucial to depth of field in photography. While aperture concerns the size of the hole in the camera lens, shutter speed relates to how long the lens remains open after you’ve clicked the shutter. Aperture and shutter speed are so entwined that when you adjust one, the other is automatically optimised, in many camera settings.
What aperture gives the best depth of field?
To achieve the effect of a blurred background or foreground in an image, you need to set your camera’s aperture to a low F-stop.
- f/1.4 is the widest setting. Only to be used in dim light, it’ll likely leave your subject also looking blurry.
- f/5.6 is slightly narrower. This setting will keep your subject in sharp focus, but you may need additional light.
Why is shallow depth of field good?
Photographers love shallow depth of field for the dramatic effect it creates. Portrait and nature photography are both enhanced by this technique. Subjects shot with shallow depth of field almost leap from their background, taking on a near-3D effect. This is because your subject remains in sharp focus against a blurred, out-of-focus background. Details, such as cheekbones, muscle, individual strands of hair, all stand out.
We asked three photographers why they love shallow depth of field in photography.
- Hannah Concannon says she uses it to “highlight an interesting part” of an image.
- Stephen Klise says by defocusing an area of an image you can make people “wonder more about it”.
- Derek Boyd says it’s “one of the easiest ways” to draw attention to your subject.