Achieve the shot you want using depth of field

Am I using too much or too little depth of field? This is a question many photographers struggle with. Let’s take a look at some techniques you can use, depending on your subject.


Techniques for shallow depth of field

In most forms of photography, you ideally want to keep depth of field shallow, often shooting wide open to blur those backgrounds. Simple examples of this might be:

  • A portrait image with a soft, blurred, countryside background
  • A child playing on a beach with the sea blurring behind them
  • A bride in a garden with sharp focus on her face and everything else softening

Technique for focusing on a still object:

  • Use a single auto-focus point, which you manually select on your camera. Then move around the frame, placing exactly where you want pin sharp focus

Technique for focusing on a moving object:

  • Use continuous auto-focus mode to ensure focus accuracy is maintained throughout the whole shutter release process


Techniques for deep depth of field

While the examples above focus on shallow depth of field, there are some situations where you will need or want the entire frame in focus, for instance, when shooting a landscape photograph you may want both the foreground and background in sharp focus.

Technique for using deep depth of field:

  • Using F16, or thereabouts, will ensure you have everything sharp and deep depth of field achieved


What will these techniques achieve?

Keeping a shallow depth of field is a powerful photographic technique and it achieves two things:

1. Your main subject will be in sharp focus and that is what the viewer is directed to look at. This is useful in busy photographs where you have numerous subjects.

For example, a sports photographer using a long telephoto lens at F2.8 aperture will be able to keep attention on the ball carrier even though they are surrounded by numerous other people. Remember, to achieve very shallow depth of field, as well as shooting with a wide open aperture (F2.8, for example), you can also use a longer focal length to help. So a 100mm focal length will have substantially shallower depth of field than a 50mm focal length.

2. You can turn your background into a soft blurry mix of colours and soft patterns. This look and feel has often been likened to work produced by the great Impressionist painters and it’s easy to see why. When shooting wide open with shallow depth of field to achieve this effect, you’re generally looking for bright and well-lit colours which will diffuse well into interesting patterns and out of focus shapes.

For example, this works well with foliage or trees diffusing nicely into a green blur and it can be very attractive.

In addition, combining the soft, blurring technique effect with rule of thirds composition can be very effective. For instance, shooting a landscape format portrait image with the subject intersecting the rule of thirds composition lines on the right of frame and diffusing color to the left of frame.


So, open up your aperture, look for colourful backgrounds and become an artist.

Give these techniques a go and let me know how you get on.

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Written by: Philip Leonard

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