7 min read

UNDERSTANDING DEPTH OF FIELD

Depth of field (DoF) is one of the most important concepts in photography. Understanding what Depth of Field is, and knowing what factors affect it, is something all photographers should understand.

A simple definition of depth of field is the distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appears acceptably sharp, or in other words, how sharp your image will be.

This zone will differ from photo to photo. Some pictures may have very small zones of focus which is called shallow depth of field.

Shallow Depth of Field, Photography, Wildlife

Image with Shallow Depth of Field

Others may have large zones of focus which is called deep depth of field.

Deep Depth of Field, Photography

Image with Deep Depth of Field

In this post, I’ll explain in easy terms what depth of field is and talk about the ways you can master it.

There are three main factors that will affect how you control the depth of field:

1. Aperture

Aperture is a hole within a lens, through which light travels into the camera body. If you think it as the human eye, the aperture is like the pupil of your camera, which can open and close to change the amount of light that passes through.

Aperture is probably the first thing most photographers think of when adjusting the depth of field.

With a small aperture, your image will be sharper (deep depth of field), and with a large aperture, your image will have a shallow depth of field.

Large apertures correspond to small f-stop numbers, on the other hand, small apertures, correspond to large f-stop numbers.

Aperture Scale, camera, lens, photography, light, depth of field

Aperture Scale. Photo credit: art 209 photography

Large aperture = Small f-number = Shallow depth of field
Small aperture = Larger f-number = Deep depth of field

Maybe it will be easier to remember this concept: the lower the f-number, the smaller the depth of field. The higher your f-number, the larger the depth of field.

For example, using a setting of f/3.5 will provide a very shallow depth of field, while f/22 will provide a deep Depth of field.

Apertures, Photography, Depth of field

Aperture: f/4 — Aperture: f/16

2. Subject Distance

Another relevant factor that affects depth of field is the distance between the camera and the subject.

The closer your subject is to the camera, the shallower the depth of field will be. Therefore, if you move farther away from the subject that will deepen your depth of field.

The shorter the distance from the camera to the subject, the smaller the depth of field. If you get closer to the subject and focus on it, you’ll realize that the background is out of focus.

Subject Distance, Photography, Depth of field

Aperture: f/8 — Aperture: f/8
Subject Distance: 1 meter (2 feet) — Subject Distance: 3,5 meters (11 feet)

3. Focal Length

The focal length is the distance between the optical center of a camera lens to the image sensor. Is what in common terms, is called zoom.

With a longer focal length (‘zoomed-in’), the depth of field is reduced, as a result, the background will be more out of focus and isolate the subject. A shorter focal length (‘zoomed out’) will increase the depth of field.

To see more about how focal length is measured go to my previous post “Get To Know Your Camera.”

Focal Length, Photography, Depth of field

Aperture: f/8 — Aperture: f/8
Subject Distance: 5 meters (16 feet) —– Subject Distance: 5 meters (16 feet)
Focal Length: 85 mm. — Focal Length: 24 mm.

When should you use a shallow depth of field?

A shallow depth of field is commonly used to make a subject stand out from the background and is often used for portrait photography.
Shallow depth of field can be useful in wildlife and sports photography, where you want the subject to stand out from its surroundings to bring attention to it.

Wildlife, Sports, Photography, Depth of field

Images with Shallow Depth of Field

When should you use a deep depth of field?

A deep depth of field is commonly used in landscape and cityscape photography as it is important to get as much of your scene in focus as possible.

Landscape, Cityscape, Photography, Depth of field

Images with Deep Depth of Field

Once you understand how these factors affect the depth of field in a photograph, you’ll have the artistic freedom to create the images you want to show to the world.

As always, you’ll learn more with practice, experimenting, and taking the time to understand how your camera works.

Try different apertures, move closer or farther away from your subject, change your focal length, try different perspectives of the same subject or background, and analyze your pictures to know how you’ve performed.

I’m hoping this post will be helpful and you can take advantage of it!

And, of course, if you have any question, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments, I’ll be happy to answer it!

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