No doubt you’ve heard of the term shallow depth of field. This is one of the fundamental ideas behind why we use certain apertures.
In this article, we will run through what it means and how you can use it. Once you’ve learned how to control depth, your images will have a much greater impact.
What’s It All About?
You get a shallower depth of field when you have a wide aperture. This always becomes confusing, as the word wide makes you think of the biggest end of the scale.
That’s not the case. What you get is actually a smaller aperture.
The widest aperture is the smallest f/stop possible. In some lenses, this can be as wide as f/1.2. The opposite would be f/22, which is a narrow or deep depth of field.
To add to the confusion, we also use wide-angle lenses, which tend to put more of the scene in focus. Although not giving you a super sharp image, the focal length plays a part in the available depth of field.
Depth of Field
Depth of field when photographing is very important. It is the difference between great photos with the entire scene in focus or singling out an area of a person’s face.
It’s the difference between great macro photography and an out of focus image. Shooting with the aperture wide open is a really good way of taking soft, naturally lit photos with your DSLR camera.
This is because thesetting produces shallow , which allow the maximum amount of light in.
It’s also a great way of drawing the viewer’s eye to a certain part of the photo as the majority of the image will be out of focus.
Keep in mind that sensor size also affects how deep your DoF can get. The bigger the camera sensor, the deeper DoF.
The photos in this post were shot on 3 different Canon lenses; a 24-70 f/2.8, a 35mm f/1.4 and a 50mm f/1.8. Even though the maximum lens aperture varies, they were all shot at their maximum aperture or low f-stop number.
The reason for this is because the bokeh of the photo looks much better. Some images offer a close-up frame compared to others.
Although the f-numbers 1.4 and 2.8 seem close together, 1.4 actually allows four times more light into the lens than 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 than f/2.8: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8… for every f-stop, the lens allows half as much light in, so f/2 allows half as much light as f/1.4 and f/2.8 allows half as much light as f/2.
Because these photos were shot with the aperture wide open, a lot more light can enter, creating much softer photos.
Note: A large aperture is the same as a wide aperture.
The 20 Photography Tips You’re After
20 – Wide Bokeh
The wider the aperture, the wider your bokeh will be. Anything other than wide open will cause the bokeh to be the shape of the aperture rings (usually pentagonal or octagonal).
19 – Soft Backgrounds
It’s a great way to produce soft backgrounds like in the photo below, shot at f/2.8.
This is great for landscape photography where you want a sharp subject in the foreground and a soft background.
18 – Right Light
When you’re shooting indoors, there’s a lot less light available.
Bouncing the flash off a wall and shooting with a wide aperture creates just the right amount of light for a good exposure.
17 – Don’t Focus
When your aperture is wide open, your depth of field becomes extremely shallow and it’s hard to find a good focus point.
You can choose to worry about the focal point or, as I would advise, 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. The are outside the focus point is very shallow, drawing attention to it.
16 – Single Out
Shallow DoF helps draw the attention to a certain part of the body, leaving the rest blurred.
This will increase your image quality, and draw the viewer in.
15 – Selective Focus
When you have multiple subjects in a scene, a wide aperture will only allow focus on one person, making it a great tool for selective focus in photography.
This is a great way to highlight your main subject.
14 – Eerie Mood
The photo below was shot with the aperture wide open. This kept the background blurred even though the subject wasn’t far away from it. That gives the photos an eerie feel in my opinion.
13 – Follow the Lines
To emphasize the DoF, place the subject in the scene moving away from you.
12 – Forget Your Foreground
The foreground may be out of focus but that doesn’t matter to me. Consider what’s in your foreground and how you can use it to spark some interest in your photo with a deeper depth of field.
11 – Careful Focusing
Be very careful where you’re focusing. Rather than on her nose, I focused on the light on her cheek underneath her sunglasses because that produced the best overall focus.
10 – Use Natural Light
Natural light is your best friend when shooting with a wide aperture.
9 – Featured Placement
You can be more adventurous with placement of key features in a photo when using a shallow depth of field. The viewer’s eyes will be drawn to whatever you’ve focused on.
8 – Lens Flare
A wide aperture is important when shooting into the sun. The lens flare will be the same shape of your aperture.
Anything other than wide open will cause the bokeh to be the shape of the aperture rings (usually pentagonal or octagonal).
7 – Divide and Conquer
Wide apertures are great if you want the viewer to only look at a single part of a photo.
6 – Focus on the Eyes
Top Tip! If you focus on the eyes of your subject, the rest of the face will appear in focus too. Even at f/1.4.
5 – Use the Shutter Speed
Wide aperture captures loads of light. This allows you to turn up your shutter speed and take photos while you’re walking, of other moving subjects.
4 – Creative Motion Blur
If there’s movement in your photo, focus on the stillest part of the photo, like the lips in the photo below.
3 – Soft Foreground
Wide apertures are particularly effective if you’re shooting through objects in your foreground. It turns them to a soft blur.
2 – Multiple Points of Interest
If you’re going to be shooting with a wide aperture, consider what else you can put on that same focal plane and have multiple points of interest in the photo.
1 – Lots of Light
The number one tip for gaining shallow depth of field photography is the abundance of light it gives you.
Sometimes, for those beautiful photos, you need all the light you can get.
Want to know more? Check out our article on depth of field and its creative uses.
And don’t forget to check out this video.