Depth of field is an easy concept to understand and use. There is no reason why you can’t start using it today. Chances are you have already started using depth of field photography, you just don’t know it.
Understanding Depth of Field
What is depth of field is simple. It’s how much of your scene is in focus. That’s it.
And here’s a more complicated definition. Depth of Field is the distance between the closest objects in focus and the farthest point of focus.
Consider this. You are out photographing a beautiful landscape. And you want to be able to see the whole scene for what it is.
Here, you would use a deep depth of field, as it will keep your foreground and background in focus.
You enter a scene and set your camera to capture a perfect exposure. Then you need to reevaluate your settings if you decide to change your aperture.
Let’s say you are photographing at the settings ISO 100, f/16 and 1/125, and you decide you want a shallower depth of field.
You need to move your aperture from f/16 to f/2.8, which means you have added five stops of light.
You need to take this light out of your scene, otherwise, it will overexpose the image.
The ISO is at it’s darkest, so we only have the shutter speed to play with. We need to take those five stops out, which we do by changing the shutter speed to 1/4000.
When to Use Depth of Field
Consider the following two photographs. The first capture was with a wide depth of field using a wide aperture, such as f/16. As you can see everything is in focus.
Both the foreground and the background have the same amount of focus, and thus, attention.
The photographer wants to show you the entirety of the scene. It’s all interesting.
The mountain in the background gives a great focal point. And the foreground gives you a leading line with that crack.
The second image is very different. Here the photographer used a shallow depth of field, using a shallow aperture such as f/1.8. Only the foreground is in focus.
This choice is down to the photographer, as they wanted to push the focus on the flowers in the foreground.
The background is still there, and it gives the scene a presence as you can still get a sense of where you took the image.
The blurry background doesn’t distract attention from the foreground.
How to Use Depth of Field for Creative Photos
Using a Wide and Shallow Depth of Field Together
One interesting way to show a scene is to find a way to use both wide and shallow depth of field photography together. This can be best done by using another photograph.
This has been a trend of late. Especially with photographers holding a historical image over the modern live version of a setting. Or consider the photograph below.
The photographer used their mobile to capture a wide depth of field.
Then they photographed using a shallow depth of field.
Bokeh has been a trend on its own for the last few years. It means ‘blur’ in Japanese, and photographers use it to blur the background lights.
It does add an interesting background to an image, but be careful not to overuse it.
The background can become more interesting than the foreground. This image uses a very shallow depth of field, f/1.8.
Placing the Focus on the Middle Ground
Don’t focus on the foreground or the background. Focus somewhere between instead. Your focal area should be where you want to take the viewer’s attention to.
So your focus should be on that point, no matter where it is.
As you can tell, this image is more interesting because of the shallow depth of field. It wouldn’t be as interesting if the whole scene was in focus.
Also, the photographer used movement to pinpoint the police officer. Not just a shallow aperture.
Background as a Focal Point
There are images that I love, and that is because of an unconventional focal point. Here, most photographers would have focused on the camera in the foreground, and left the mountains blurry.
This photographer chose the opposite, and it broke my initial focus. You can use this technique to your advantage.
Turn that everyday landscape into something way more interesting.
Before you go, check out this cool video on using depth of field as a creative tool.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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