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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

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 mastered this technique, your images will have much greater impact.

What’s It All About?

You get a shallow 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. 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.

The depth of field in photography is very important. It is the difference between having the entire scene in focus, or singling out an area of a person’s face.

Shooting with the aperture wide open is a really good way of taking soft, naturally lit photos.

This is because the aperture produces a shallow depth of field photography, which allows 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 image 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. Even though the maximum aperture varies, they were all shot at their maximum.

The reason for this is because the bokeh of the photo looks much better. For those who don’t understand what that means, I suggest reading this article.

For the purpose of this post, think of it as the aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photograph. It relates to how ‘nice’ the background blur looks when out-of-focus.

Although the numbers 1.4 and 2.8 seem close together, 1.4 actually allows 4 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.

The 20 Tips You’re After

20 – Wide Bokeh

The wider the aperture, the wider your bokeh will be. Anything other then 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.

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 focal point. You can choose to worry about this 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.

16 – Single Out

Shallow DoF helps draw the attention to a certain part of the body, leaving the rest blurred.

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.

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.

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.

Not only did I focus on the model’s face but the flowers she was reaching for too.

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.

20 Tips for Shooting With a Shallow Depth of Field

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

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Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

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