Shallow Depth Of Field Photography

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We spend a lot of fourth dimension as photographers trying to get our images in focus. When an epitome comes out blurry, we hit the delete button and then fast that we barely look at the composition.

But not all images demand to be sharp from front to back. Sometimes, an image is more than beautiful if some parts of it are softly out-of-focus. An epitome tin can accept touch if the focus is “shallow”.

In this article, I’ll permit yous in on the secrets of shallow depth of field (DoF). I’ll aid you lot achieve the look and give y’all ideas on when to use information technology in your photography.

Wildflowers in field using shallow depth of field. Settings: 333mm, 1/400@f5.6. ISO160. Photo by Jenn Mishra

What Is Shallow Depth of Field?

In photography, depth of field describes how much of the prototype is in focus.

A deep depth of field (also chosen “wide” or “large”) ways that most of the epitome is in focus. This is frequently the goal of landscape photography.

Shallow depth of field (likewise chosen “small” or “narrow”) means that only a part of the image is in focus. The background and sometimes the foreground is blurred. Shallow depth of field works in portrait, nature, and travel photography.

The out-of-focus part may exist merely slightly blurred or be completely lacking detail.

Portrait of a woman with a purple headscarf with shallow depth of field
Portrait with hotel lobby background blurred. Settings: 50mm, 1/160@f2.2, ISO100. Photo by Jenn Mishra

How Do You lot Get a Shallow Depth of Field?

There’s a lot of optical physics behind a shallow depth of field. Simply in this article, I’m going to keep the discussion practical.

In full general, your depth of field will be shallow when using a wide aperture. This means setting your f-finish to a small number. On some lenses, the widest aperture is f1.4. On others, the widest discontinuity setting is f5.6. Using aperture priority way may exist a good idea when you’re trying for a shallow depth of field.

Aperture size isn’t the only thing affecting depth of field. Focal length is also important. Lenses with a longer focal length more often than not will have a shallower depth of field. Your camera sensor size volition also make a departure. Cameras with larger sensors (full-frame) will create a shallower depth of field than crop sensors.

Only creating a narrow depth of field isn’t all nigh equipment, it’s also about relative position.

Depth of field volition change depending on how shut you lot are to your bailiwick and how far your subject is from the background.

If you’re not getting a shallow depth of field, step closer. If that doesn’t work, attempt moving your field of study further from the what’s behind. In that location needs to be some distance.

Close-up photo of a fabric with colorful stripes
Detect how the cloth becomes more blurry with altitude from the focal point. Settings: 126mm, 1/800@f11. ISO400. Photo by Jenn Mishra

How to Utilise Shallow Depth of Field

Let me turn to how to use shallow depth of field to make your photography pop.

Here are the top reasons for using a modest depth of field.

To Simplify the Background

One of the main reasons to use a shallow depth of field is to simplify a decorated scene. Portrait and nature photographers use this to create a clean backdrop.

Portrait photo of a woman with shallow depth of field
This portrait was taken in front of a busy store forepart. Shallow depth of field hides the uninspiring groundwork. Settings: 50mm, 1/2000@f1.iv. ISO100. Photograph by Jenn Mishra

Yous may desire to remove all particular leaving only color or you lot may only want to de-emphasize the environs.

In travel photography and photojournalism, subjects are frequently photographed in context. We want to know where the person is or where the action is taking place.

Just nosotros want the context to be secondary. Blurring the environment allows the viewer to run across the context without distracting from the main story.

Photo of a man on a gondola in Venice shot using a shallow depth of field
Venice equally background to this gondoliere. Settings: 240mm, 1/500@f8.0. ISO640. Photo past Jenn Mishra

Dissimilar apertures will produce more or less blur. By and large, shooting broad open up at f2.8 or f1.4 volition create the near blur. If in that location is likewise much blur or you want a chip more than item, select a small discontinuity like f5.6 or f8.0.

A shallow depth of field creates separation and allows your discipline to pop off the background.

To Guide the Eye

A viewer will naturally look at the nigh in-focus part of your image first. Knowing this, you can guide your viewer’southward eye exactly where you want.

In a decorated scene, you can select i focus point. Ane person or object becomes the discipline. Selective focus is of import when you have many points of involvement.

Likewise, you can emphasize role of a scene or a characteristic. For instance, the eyes are the most important office of a portrait. Making the eyes the focal indicate and letting the paradigm mistiness ensures the eyes will be the focus.

Portrait photo of a man with shallow depth of field
Shallow depth of field ensures you lot’ll expect at this Indian man’south face up first. Settings: 89mm, 1/100@f5.half dozen. ISO500. Photo by Jenn Mishra

We can also highlight relationships between subjects in an image.

When using a shallow DoF, everything on one plane will be in focus. It doesn’t affair how far apart the subjects are horizontally. Yous can cleverly apply this to emphasize a relationship. Ii subjects on the same plane will pop out of an otherwise blurry scene.

With many subjects in the epitome, shallow depth of field allows yous to prioritize subjects.

portrait photo of a girl holding a pocket watch
Centre and watch are in focus. Settings: 50mm, 1/1000@f1.4. ISO100. Photo by Jenn Mishra

To Depict the Middle Abroad

The flip side to guiding the center towards a focal bespeak is drawing the center away. Blur can de-emphasize a defect or anything that could distract from your principal subject. Whether this is a cleft in a wall or a decorated oversupply.

One petty-known utilise of a shallow depth of field is to remove visual barriers from your epitome. Visual barriers like fencing or mesh, get between us and our photographic subject.

Photo of a bird with a black background
This bird is backside mesh fencing in a zoo. A shallow depth of field makes the mesh disappear. Settings: 251mm, i/400@f5.6. ISO1600. Photo by Jenn Mishra

This is the same principle as simplifying a decorated scene, but information technology has to do with the foreground.

Wide apertures are effective if y’all’re shooting through a busy foreground. A narrow DoF turns information technology into a soft blur.

You tin even utilise shallow depth of field to obscure a person’due south identity. Other elements of the scene can be in focus, just the person’s face blurs.

This is a compromise for parents who don’t want to bear witness their children’southward faces on social media. A family unit scene can still exist shared, but with the child obscured.

To Create an Effect

Using a shallow depth of field softens the scene and creates a mood.

Which mood depends on your subject and how you use the mistiness. Soft edges tin create a romantic or nostalgic look. Or past obscuring details, the effect can be mysterious.

Taking away details creates an impressionistic scene. Take away fifty-fifty more detail and you can create an abstract paradigm. We might only meet an edge or part of an object. What’due south left of the subject area blurs into an abstract.

Creating an outcome includes shaping the bokeh. Bokeh is the shape of the out of focus light. The shape is usually round because that is the shape of your aperture. But you can change that by placing a bokeh filter in front end of your lens.

Bright bokeh lights behind a water splash

To Layer and Frame

Blurring both your foreground and background creates a frame effectually your subject field. Even mundane environments tin can be nice with a bit of blur.

Shallow depth of field adds dimension, but it also separates layers. This is important when creating 2nd images from a 3D world. Layers that our eyes notice don’t ever come up beyond in the scene.

Photo of a woman on a field of pink tulips -shallow depth of field
Shallow depth of field adds frame. Settings: 50mm, 1/2000@f1.8. ISO100. Photo by Jenn Mishra

Tips for Creating Shallow Depth of Field

Learning to control depth of field in my photography took some practice. If yous’re not getting the results y’all’re looking for, here are a few tips:

  1. Try a unlike lens
    – Lenses vary in how well they create shallow depth of field. Focal length and discontinuity affect depth of field, but some lenses but seem to create a nicer blur.
  2. Move closer
    – Changing your relationship to your subject can make a big departure in the depth of field.
  3. Motion field of study away from the background
    – If you’re not getting a shallow depth of field in your images, make sure at that place is actually depth to your field. Create distance between your subject and the background. Creating depth of field is all about depth relationships.
  4. Use a depth of field calculator –
    Depth of field calculators compute hyperfocal altitude. I’one thousand not going to go into the math of it all in this article. Just, DoF calculators figure out how much of a scene will exist in focus. Peculiarly important is how much in forepart of and behind your field of study will be in focus. Usually, almost 1/three of the scene in front of your subject will be in focus, and 2/3 of the scene behind will exist in focus. You tin find DoF calculators within apps similar PhotoPils or calculate it online.
  5. Increment shutter speed
    – The large aperture needed to create small depth of field lets in a lot of lite. Effort increasing shutter speed or using a neutral density filter.
Photo of spoons placed on top pf each other with shallow depth of field
Photographing spoons macro. Settings: 90mm, 2.5sec.@f18. ISO400. Photo by Jenn Mishra


An image with a shallow depth of field will look partially out of focus. The bailiwick volition be in focus, but the groundwork and maybe the foreground volition be blurred. How much blur is up to the photographer.

Photographing with a shallow depth of field allows you lot to control what is in focus and where your viewer looks. Soft focus is pleasing in many images and simplifies the scene.