Depth of Field in Photography – A Beginner’s Guide

Understanding how to manipulate depth of field in photography to focus and enhance the subject of a photograph is as essential to the art form as finding the light. The depth of field surrounding the subject of a photograph can be used as a spotlight to focus the viewer’s eyes of a classic portrait shot. The wide, large depth of field used in landscape shots serves to emphasize the scene’s great breadth.

Read on to find useful information on identifying depth of field in photography and what factors can affect its size.

What Is Depth of Field in Photography?

depth of field in photograph

‘Depth of Field’ refers to the zone between the closest and farthest objects in a photograph that still appear acceptably sharp. While a camera can only focus on one point, there is a gradual transition from in-focus to blurred and out-of-focus images. This area of sharpness is highly variable from one photograph to the next. The distance can be affected by things like the type of camera used to capture the photograph, the length of the camera’s lens, and the distance between the camera and the subject of the photograph.

How to Choose the Right Depth of Field

Managing depth of field in photography allows the photographer to enhance the impact of the subject of the photograph and direct the viewer’s attention to the most important part of the image. Learning how to manipulate the focal points in an image allows the photographer to have greater artistic flexibility and creativity.

1. Narrow Depth of Field

insect photographed up-close

A photograph is said to have a narrow depth of field when there is only a small area of acceptable sharpness. The images in the foreground and background are blurred. Using a narrow depth of field allows the subject of the photograph to shine. This type of photography is best for capturing portraits, wildlife, and sporting events. In these scenarios, the photographer seeks to isolate the subject from the busy background so that the subject stands out.

2. Large Depth of Field

Flowers at the beach and the sea in the background

A large depth of field means that much of the photograph is crispy and clear. There is only a small area of blurriness in the foreground. Most photographs of landscapes are shot using a large depth of field. This allows the camera to capture as much of the scenic background in focus as possible.

What Affects Depth of Field in photography?

The primary way to control depth of field in photography is by adjusting the camera’s aperture. Aperture types and sizes vary by camera. The two other factors that can impact the depth of field are the camera’s lens and the distance between the camera and the subject of the photograph.

1. Type of Camera

Different types and brands of cameras have various sized imaging sensors inside the cameras. An imaging sensor is the mechanism inside the camera that converts light into a viewable image. The larger the imaging sensor on a camera, the more narrow the depth of field will be at any given aperture.
A camera with a smaller sensor can use a shorter focal length or be positioned physically further away from the subject and attain the same image size as a camera with a larger sensor. The larger sensor requires a longer focal length or to be close to the subject of the image in order to obtain a comparable photograph.

2. Aperture

A camera’s aperture is the adjustable opening inside the lens that allows light to enter the camera and be processed by the imaging sensor. The size, or diameter of the aperture hole, determines the amount of light that enters the lens at any given time. The larger the size of the aperture, the narrower the depth of field. Conversely, the smaller the size of the aperture, the larger the depth of field.

Some cameras have a feature called the “F-number” or F-stop”. This number represents the ratio of the focal length, discussed below, to the aperture diameter. A small number means the aperture opening is large and sending lots of light to the camera’s imaging sensor. On the other hand, a large number means the aperture opening is small and less light.

3. Focal Length

The focal length is the distance between a camera’s lens and imaging sensor when the subject of the photograph is in focus. This number is represented in millimeters (mm). A high number means the camera has better zoom capabilities. The higher the number, the more narrow the depth of field.

Below is a helpful chart that shows the most common focal lengths and their corresponding depth of fields:

  • 70mm = Largest Depth of Field.
  • 100mm = Large Depth of Field.
  • 200mm = Narrow Depth of Field.
  • 300mm = Most Narrow Depth of Field.

4. Distance between Subject and Camera

Setting up the camera the correct distance from the subject of the photograph and the background is paramount to determining the possible depth of field. Depth of field in photography can be as simple as remembering the saying “two steps forward, one step back”The closer the camera is placed to the focal point, or subject matter of the photograph, the less depth of field is possible in the image.

Summing Up

The best way for any new (or even an experienced) photographer to perfect an image’s depth of field is by taking as many photographs as possible. Experimenting with focal length and subject distance is a great way to see how changes to the depth of field can affect the overall, aesthetic tone of a photograph. For a more narrow depth of field, a photographer should position the camera closer to the subject or opening the camera’s aperture. Conversely, for a large depth of field, a photographer should move away from the subject and open the camera’s aperture.

Image Source: 1, 2, 3

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Professional photographer and freelance writer, Amanda is specialized in wedding and travel photography. Every day she enjoys taking long walks around the city, from where she takes inspiration for her day-to-day work. She always hunts magical locations to astonish her subjects.