Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
If you’ve ever wondered what is the depth of field when taking pictures, or how to understand the depth of field when it comes to photography, you’ve come to the right place. The definition of depth of field is the distance between the closest and furthest objects in an image that appear sharp.
What this means is that the depth of field is the area of your picture that is completely clear to your viewer’s eye. You can have a narrow depth of field or a large depth of field depending on what kind of picture you want to take.
To understand this a bit better, keep in mind that there is always a single point of focus in any picture. But in front of and behind the focal point, there are zones that can either appear in focus or blurred. These zones can be small, like in a narrow depth of field where only your subject’s immediate surroundings are clear. The zones can also be wide, with the majority of the photo in focus.
Why is Depth of Field Important?
Depth of field is incredibly important because it will make your photography stand out. By having the ability to determine what’s in focus and what isn’t, you open up the door for more artistic shots, more sophisticated photography, and a more impressive portfolio. If you really want to be a professional photographer, you must learn how to emphasize certain parts of your photographs while ignoring others. This is what depth of field is all about.
Different Depths of Field
If you want to take a picture with the entire image sharp from the front to the back, you need a deep depth of field. This is the most popular when it comes to landscape photography – when you need to show off every single detail in a scene. It’s the same for architectural photography, everyday photography, and anything else where every aspect of the picture is important.
For a narrow depth of field, also called a shallow depth of field, you’re drawing attention to just one part of the photograph while the rest is blurry. Not blurry in a bad way, more like a creamy blur with the background rendered smooth.
A shallow depth of field is almost always used for portrait photography, for macro photography, and for anything else where you have a particular subject that you want clear while ignoring the background and foreground.
How Do You Determine the Depth of Field?
It’s hard to actually tell what your depth of field is when taking pictures. Luckily, most modern DSLR cameras have a preview button that will show you the depth of field. While you’re looking through the viewfinder, simply press the button and the camera will show you how the image will look.
You can also use live view to preview the depth of field. Or if you’re interested in measuring the depth of field yourself, you can always use a special calculator online to determine the exact depth of field you’re using. You can also download apps to your phone that help calculate the depth of field.
How Do You Change Depth of Field in Photography?
You can change the depth of field a few different ways when taking pictures. You can alter your aperture, you can reposition your camera to be closer or farther from the subject, and you can play with the focal length of your lens.
The aperture is the eye of your camera, the opening through which light passes and enters your camera sensor. When your aperture is wide, it lets in more light. When your aperture is narrow and restricted, less light enters your camera sensor. This single setting is one of the most important to understand when it comes to producing different depths of field.
Large apertures are better for producing shallow depths of field. When the eye of your camera is wide open, you’ll create a background blur in your picture while only keeping your target completely in focus. Just remember that the lower the F-stop, the larger the aperture.
To create a deep depth of field, just use a smaller aperture (a higher F-stop). By having the eye of your camera closed almost completely, you’ll get a crystal-clear photograph from the front to the back with no blur.
The distance between your camera and the subject plays a huge role in depth of field. The closer that you have your camera pointed at your subject, the smaller the depth of field will be.
Think of this like your very own eyes. If you get extremely close to something, your eyes focus only on that subject and the rest of your vision is blurry. It works the same with cameras. When your lens is just inches from a subject, the subject is going to be clear while everything else is a smudge in the background.
But if you keep your camera a fair distance away, your subject and everything else in the picture are going to appear sharp. It’s the same if you were standing at the edge of the room and looking at someone on the other side; they’ll be completely in focus. If you take a picture from the same distance, the depth of field will be the same.
Keep in mind that moving the camera really only works with small subjects such as objects and people. Even if you move the camera just a few inches closer to your subject, it can dramatically change the depth of field.
When you’re taking pictures of buildings, landscapes, and other subjects out in nature, you don’t really have the option to move the camera a few inches for a different depth of field. This is why you’ll almost always have a deep depth of field when taking pictures of vast environments.
The final way to manipulate the depth of field is by changing focal length. For example, a wide-angle lens has a short focal length and will always offer a deeper depth field. A telephoto lens has a long focal length and will give a shallow depth of field.
But there’s a bit of a trick here. The difference is only noticeable if you’re shooting from the same distance away. With a wide-angle lens, you’ll always have a clear depth of field with the whole image being perfectly in focus. But as your focal length gets longer, the area around the subject continuously gets blurrier while the subject itself gets crisper.
Most wide-angle lenses are around 70mm. As you increase the focal length up to 100mm, 130mm, and even 200mm, your subject gets larger, more in focus, and more detailed. The depth of field gets narrower and narrower until only your subject is clearly visible in the picture.
Does Camera Size Effect Depth of Field?
One thing that a lot of people leave out when talking about the depth of field is the actual size of your camera sensor. Cameras that have smaller sensors also have smaller lenses, giving them a naturally larger depth of field. This is when you compare such a camera to one with a full-sized, large sensor.
This is the primary reason why it’s almost impossible to change the depth of field with a smartphone camera or even just an ordinary point-and-click camera. These devices have extraordinarily small sensors, which only work to provide a large depth of field. You can’t really change the settings to get a narrow depth of field because the camera sensor is just too small.
If you’ve ever tried to get creative with your phone camera, this is one of the reasons why it feels so limited. You can’t really use selective focusing to emphasize certain parts of the picture. Sure, you can move closer to your subject, but there’s no real way to change the focal length or to achieve a shallow depth of field.
To sum up what we’ve learned today, the depth of field in photography can be described as the area of an image that is entirely in focus. The depth of field changes based on aperture, your nearness to the subject, and the focal length of your lens.
Once you understand how the depth of field can be manipulated, you’ll be able to take a lot more creative photos. But this is something you’ll need to practice in real life. Learning about it online is one thing, but going out and taking different shots and messing around with the depth of field is the only real way to get better as a photographer.
Just remember that if you want to play with depth of field, you’ll need a real camera like a DSLR or a mirrorless model. Smartphones simply don’t work when it comes to getting creative with depth of field.
We recommend taking a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens with you on your next photo-shooting excursion, then practicing with a variety of subjects at different distances and using different apertures.
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