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20 Tips for Shooting With a Shallow Depth of Field

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What’s It All About?

Shooting with the aperture wide open is a really good way of taking soft, naturally lit photos, as the aperture produces a shallow depth of field, and allow the maximum amount of light in. It’s also a great way of drawing the viewers eye to a certain part of the photo, as the majority of the photo will be out of focus. The photos in this post were shot on 3 different lenses; a 24-70 f/2.8, a 35mm f/1.4 and a 50mm f/1.8, and even though the maximum aperture varies, they were still shot at their maximum. The reason for this is because the bokeh of the photo is much better, and for those that don’t understand what that means, I sugest you read that article, but for the purpose of this post; it’s the aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photograph. It relates to how nice the background blur looks when out-of-focus.

Even though the numbers 1.4 and 2.8 are really close together, 1.4 actually allows 4 times more light into the lens then 2.8. If you’ve read my post on aperture, you’ll understand what this means, but here’s a quick explanation of how it works. f/1.4 is 2 stops wider then f/2.8: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8… And for every f-stop, the lens allows half the amount of light in, so f/2 allows half the light of f/1.4 and f/2.8 allows half the light of that. Because these photos were shot with the aperture wide open, the allow a lot more light and create much softer photos.

Tips and Photos

The wider your aperture, the wider the bokeh will be, and anything other then wide open will cause the bokeh to be the shape of the aperture rings (usually pentagon or octagon

It’s a great way to produce soft backgrounds like this photo below shot at f/2.8.When you’re shooting indoors, there’s a lot less available light so bouncing flash off a wall and shooting with a wide aperture, creates just the right amount of light to create an good exposure.
When your aperture is wide open, your depth of field is really shallow and it’s hard to find a good focal point. You can either really worry about this or not worry at all. In the photo below, shot at f/1.8, the lack of focus actually makes it look better in my opinion. Shallow DoF helps to draw the attention to a certain part of the body, and leaves the rest blurred.When you have mutltiple subjects in a scene, a wide aperture will only focus on 1 person, making it a great tool for selective focus in photography.
The photo below was shot wide open, which kept the background blurred, even though the subject wasn’t far away from it, and that makes the photos look a little eerier in my opinion. To emphasise the DoF, place the subject in the scene moving away from you.
Shot in twilight, the wide aperture allowed me capture loads of natural light in the background that I wouldn’t have captured otherwise.

The foreground may be out of focus, but that doesn’t me it doesn’t matter. Consider what’s in your foreground and how you can use it to spark some interest in your photo.

Be very careful where you’re focusing. Rather then focusing on her nose, I focused on the light on her cheek, underneath her sunglasses because that produced the best overall focus. Natural light if your best friend when shooting with a wide aperture. You can be more adventurous with placement of key features in a photo when you’re using a shallow depth of field, as the eyes will be drawn to whatever’s focused.
A wide open aperture is important when you’re shooting into the sun as the lens flare will be the same shape of your aperture, and anything other then wide open will cause the bokeh to be the shape of the aperture rings (usually pentagon or octagon).Wide apertures are great if you want to viewer to only look at a single part of a photo.

Top Tip! If you focus on the eyes of a your subject, the rest of the face will appear in focus too, even at f/1.4.
Wide aperture allows you to capture loads of light, which means you can turn up your shutter speed and take photos while you’re walking, of other moving subjects.If there’s movement in your photo, focus on the most still part of the photo, like the lips in the photo below. Wide apertures are particularly effective if you’re shooting through objects in your foreground as it turns them to a soft blur.
If you’re going to be shooting with a wide aperture, consider what else you can put on that same focal plane and have multiplie points of interest in the photo. Not only was the camera focused on the model’s face, but the flowers she was reaching for too.

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20 Tips for Shooting With a Shallow Depth of FieldThank you for reading my post, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

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Comments

6 thoughts on “20 Tips for Shooting With a Shallow Depth of Field

  1. Todd

    Good post Josh,

    We shoot a lot of people too, and we love to shoot at 2.8 for the very reasons your talking about, but as I’m sure you have came across, when shooting real people, not models, its hard for them to stand still or hold an interesting pose long enough to keep 2.8 sharp within a certain range. So I have moved to f3.5 or even f4 most of the time to be safe. Still ads the same effect for the most part, and now with all the post production tools at our fingertips, I find that making sure those eyes are sharp most of the time is more important than trying to get it just right straight out of camera! Cheers
    Todd

    Reply
  2. Darren

    I think i spend 80% of the time at f4 and hardly ever go above f8 (unless i’m after some stars) and i’ve lenses that go down to f1.4 but find that too soft for me… And like the post above as long as the eyes are sharp i’m happy.
    Darren

    Reply
  3. Jolyn Laney

    I don’t like the Jack Daniel’s photo, because it looks like there’s a big baby doll eye in the background! but other than that, it’s good. The weird background was just throwing me off.

    Great post. I’m hoping to get a 50 mm for Christmas which will really help in my aperture shooting.

    Reply

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