Photo Tip: Learn about Depth of Field

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Depth of Field

Depth of Field (DoF) is an powerful photography tool that is worthwhile learning to hone in on your photography skills. As a professional photographer it’s a technique I use all the time, in my portrait photography sessions and when I’m traveling and taking photos of old ruins, people and temples. It’s a great way to differentiate your photography and direct your viewers attention where you want it.

DoF means the sharp area is affected by several factors: distance between the camera and subject, focal length and aperture. What does all that mean??

What is Depth of Field??

For now let’s skip the complicated explanation. Simply put, by using DoF you can direct the viewers eyes to the most important part of your image, making your subject sharper, therefore standing out. 

Test Yourself!

In the three images below I have used a very shallow DoF  (@f4) to exaggerate this concept.

By looking at the following three images try to identify where the focus is. Do your eyes fall directly where it’s intended, “where the focus is”? After you review these three images I have another set below them with the ‘answers’.

Depth of Field photo

Where do your eyes focus on this image?

Depth of Field example

Where do your eyes focus on this image?

Depth of Field

Where do your eyes focus on this image?


Here’s the Answers

Below are three examples that highlight this concept of a more shallow DoF. The first image shows the foreground flower very sharp, leaving the rest of the image seemingly ‘out of focus’, or not as important. The second image shows the middle flower sharp, which leads your eyes go directly to it.  The third image shows the farther flowers in focus, directing your eyes there.


Image #1 - Shallow Depth of Field Foreground

Image #1 – Shallow Depth of Field- foreground

Image #2 - Shallow Depth of Field middle ground

Image #2 – Shallow Depth of Field- middle ground

Image #2 - Shallow Depth of Field far ground

Image #2 – Shallow Depth of Field- far ground


To contrast this concept of shallow depth of field (f2.8) with a longer focal length (f 22) see the landscape image below. This mountain range and clouds was a photo I took somewhere in the Chilean desert. As you can see, there’s really no focal point, I used f22 for this shot. With a wide open mountain range there’s really no need to focus on any particular spot, and there’s no reason you’d really want to; however, if there was a really cool bug in the foreground (of the mountains, you could focus clearly on the bug and blur out the mountains in the background-that could be a cool shot!).

Depth of Field Landscape in Focus

Depth of Field- Landscape in Focus

Aperture & Depth of Field Chart

This visual may help. This chart starts with a small aperture (f 2.8) which is a shallow DoF, ending in the largest focal length of f 22.

  • Small Aperture (f 2.8)=shallow DoF=maximum blur
  • Large Aperture (f 22)=long DoF=everything in focus

Photo of an Aperture chart


Depth of Field Examples Using Portraits

High School Senior Photograhy at Acclaimed Photography. Senior photography in Bothell

Here’s a portrait example of a medium DoF, around f 5.6. As you can see, the eyes and face are in focus and the background is a bit softer.

High School Senior Photography at Bothell Landing, Senior photos

This photo displays a long DoF, f22, where everything is in focus. You see the boy clearly as well as the entire bridge.

Your Assignment-Try this Technique for Yourself
  • Photograph Flowers (like I did for this example)
  • Photograph a person with foliage in the background at f2.8 and f22. Focus on the person’s eyes in both images.
  • Photograph an old fence with a barn in the background at f2.8. See how the barn is ‘blurred’ in the background? Keep your focus on the fence.
  • Photograph a stack of books at f2.8, focusing on the corner of the first book. What happens to the 10th book in line?

In Conclusion, controlling your aperture (DoF) is a great way to give your photos more creativity! Give it a try, take some test shots and I love to hear a report back on how you’re doing with your photography!

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