Depth Of Field Shallow Vs Deep

By | 17/10/2022

Yous’ve probably heard of shallow vs deep depth of field. But exercise y’all know when to use 1 over the other?
This article will give you six great tips for using depth of field for artistic effects, including bokeh. This is the beautiful blurry effect prime number lenses are known for.

A portarit of a mannequin at a market - shallow vs deep depth of field
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

6. A Bigger Sensor Means a More Shallow DoF

Shallow depth of field is easiest using a total frame or larger format camera. A larger dimensioned sensor means better bokeh.
I’ve often spoken with frustrated new photographers who have bought an entry level DSLR or mirrorless camera with a kit lens. They tell me they struggle to create nice bokeh in their photos.
2 things work against this mutual photographic camera and lens option.
Combining a smaller sensor and a lens with a widest discontinuity of around f4 makes it more challenging to create photos with a shallow depth of field. Working with this camera and lens combo you will need to concentrate on zooming in.
Also ensure there’s plenty of distance between your subject and the background. Alternatively, y’all tin zoom wider and become every bit shut as you can to your subject field.
Sensor size here has nada to do with the number of megapixels your sensor has. You can have a 40 megapixel phone camera and it will non produce shallow DOF similar a 12 megapixel full frame DSLR. Information technology’due south the physical size of the sensor that makes the difference.
If yous want to keep a deep depth of field in your photos, using a camera with a smaller sensor or your smartphone will assist.

A line of Buddhist monks praying outside a temple at dusk - shallow vs deep depth of field
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

5. Longer Lenses Are Improve for Shallow Depth Of Field

Whatever camera and sensor size you are using, the longer the lens you put on it, the less groundwork will appear in focus.
This is not because there’s actually less depth of field with longer lenses, simply because they compress distance more.
Wide lenses take in much more background and tend to give the appearance of what’due south in frame being spread out. Using the same aperture setting on a 20mm lens as on a 200mm lens will give you substantially the same corporeality of focus depth.
Information technology appears different because of the compression and the amount of groundwork you can see.
Using a wide or long focal length the DOF at any aperture might measure the same, only will expect unlike. This await is what volition business organisation most photographers.
Attaching a longer lens to your camera or zooming in to your maximum limit will produce photos with softer looking backgrounds.
For this photo of the crimson flowers I used a 300mm lens with the aperture gear up to f5.6. The camera I used has a full frame sensor. Simply some of the ruby-red petals are precipitous.
The unopened flowers at the end of the stem are not sharp. There is no detail in the garden in the background because it is much further abroad.

A photo of red flowers against a blurry yellow background - shallow vs deep depth of field
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Retaining a large depth of field with a long lens can exist challenging. Set your aperture as narrow as you lot tin and focus into the distance.
The further away your point of focus is, the more than in that location volition be in focus in your photo. This is true for whatever lens, but more pertinent with longer lenses when you lot want more than in focus.

4. Wide Aperture Ways Shallow Focus

Kit lenses sold with cameras typically don’t take a very wide maximum aperture. To almost easily achieve a shallow DOF you need to be using a lens with a widest discontinuity of at least f2.eight. Wider is better.
Prime lenses, ones which do not zoom, often have wider maximum aperture settings. A 50 mm f1.4 or f1.viii are both popular and relatively inexpensive.
Using a lens such as these with the aperture set up wide open up, your photos volition have a very shallow depth of field. When you focus on something far from the camera, the narrow field of focus volition non be so noticable.
Longer or wider prime lenses with wide maximum apertures are more expensive.
Using the widest discontinuity on longer lenses can be challenging. With very shallow depth of field and a lot of pinch, it’southward vital to focus precisely where you need to.
Photographing a close portrait using an 85 mm f1.four lens, for case. If you focus on the person’south nose or ears, their eyes will exist out of focus.
Information technology’south near helpful if your subject remains very nevertheless. If they are moving slightly, your focus indicate will be in the wrong place.

A close up portrait of a young Kayaw Girl in traditional dress and face paint - shallow vs deep depth of field
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Often when I am using a longer lens with a wide discontinuity I will take multiple photos in succession. First I focus carefully at the indicate I choose.
This is ordinarily on a person’s optics when I am making a portrait. I will movement very slightly forward and back so my point of focus is varied. At least one frame volition be in focus at the best point.
Wide angle lenses with broad maximum apertures let for shallow focus. Without the issue of compression you get with a long lens, the bokeh is frequently not so soft.
Using a 35 mm or 24 mm at f1.four is not and so difficult as it is with longer focal lengths.
With any lens, when yous’re using the widest aperture setting, you need to take more care to focus precisely.
When you do, the upshot of the very sharp, shallow depth of field, will attract the eye of the viewer. You tin can utilise this technique to guide their gaze exactly where you want them to look.

A close up portrait of a young Kayaw Girl in traditional dress and face paint - shallow vs deep depth of field
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

3. Discipline to Groundwork Human relationship Affects Depth Of Field

Placing your discipline farther abroad from the background will hateful the background is more out of focus. The farther away from your camera, the softer the bokeh will appear.
This photo of a Thai woman dancing in a street parade demonstrates this well. Her right mitt is in focus. Her face is not sharp.
Looking into the distance behind her you can run across the amount of blur increase.

A photo of a Thai woman dancing in a street parade
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

I made this photo with a 105 mm lens with the aperture set to f2.v on a total frame camera. I wanted to only take her right paw in focus, but to besides show the colour in the background.
While she was dancing I carefully positioned myself and made the photograph when the person behind her was hidden from view.
Had this next person been visible, they would not have been very blurred, because they were closer to my subject field. They would have been distracting.
Subject to background altitude affects the amount of blur no thing what discontinuity setting y’all use.
If you only have a kit lens with the widest discontinuity effectually f4 and desire a blurred groundwork, separate your bailiwick from the background.
If you have enough space between them, and use your widest aperture setting, the background volition be blurred.

ii. Get Shut to Your Subject for a Shallower Depth of Field

Getting in as close as your lens will let yous to focus, volition help you lot obtain a shallow DOF. Combining this technique with Tip #iv can brand it possible to have photos with a soft background even with a kit lens.
Position your bailiwick far away from anything in the groundwork. Go far close and frame your discipline advisedly.
Coming in close will mean that whatsoever is in the background volition mistiness. Naturally, the wider your aperture is set, the greater the degree of blur in the background.
When you want more detail to be visible in the background, back away from your subject. Being further from the indicate you focus on volition give yous a larger depth of field.
This is common in mural photography when y’all are are wanting to find the hyperfocal distance.
I will often position myself further away from a person when I am making an ecology portrait.
Being too close tin can mean there is not enough detail in the groundwork to put the person in clear context.

 Two trays of red and yellow apples -shallow vs deep depth of field
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

1. Use Depth of Field to Tell Your Subject’s Story

The techniques outlined above will assist yous create lovely soft backgrounds. Many times this is desirable to enhance the storytelling potential of your photographs.
Careful manipulation of your aperture, lens choice and distance ratios allow you to control the degree of background blur. By slightly blurring a background, rather than having it completely soft, your photos will exist more striking
Observe the sweetness spot. When the background is blurred plenty not to be distracting yet contains sufficient particular. This creates a more than narrative image.
In this photo I have focused on the samlor rider sitting in his tricycle. The samlor passing in the groundwork is not sharp, but information technology’s nevertheless clear enough that you can see what information technology is.

Asamlor rider sitting in his tricycle - shallow vs deep depth of field
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Had I blurred the background more, any helpful detail would be lost, calculation nothing to the story of the photograph.
Having more of the background in focus would mean distraction away from my main bailiwick.

Quick Guide to Achieving a Shallow DOF

Creating photos with a shallow DOF and soft bokeh is made easier past:

  • Using a photographic camera with a large sensor dimension, (disregard the megapixel count.)
  • Having a lens with a wide maximum aperture, (commonly f2.8 or wider.)
  • Using a long lens rather than a wide one, (100mm or longer depending on the maximum discontinuity.)
  • Having plenty altitude betwixt your subject and the background.
  • Getting as close as possible to your subject.
Two girls taking a selfie with a camera - shallow vs deep depth of field
© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Mastering the use of a shallow vs. a deep depth of field requires cognition of the principles involved. It’s non simply about using a lens with a wide aperture.
Plenty of exercise is also necessary.
Work through tips two through five with whatever sensor size you lot have. Get a feel for how each 1 affects the corporeality of mistiness you run into in the background of your photos.
Once you have a good agreement of these principles, you will be more capable to control the level of blur. You’ll soon exist able to tell how much or how trivial blur volition piece of work best in the photos yous are making.