Friday, April 9, 2010

The Importance of Depth of Field

Depth of field is one of the most powerful tools that a photographer has... More often than not it is the depth of field that causes a snap-shot to be a photograph. Depth of field is the plane of focus (what is sharply in focus) within the photo. The aperture of the camera controls this field. The more open the lens (smaller f-stop number) the shallower the depth of field. This photo for example has a very shallow depth of field.

Notice how the flower in the center is sharply in focus while the surrounding flowers are out of focus. Look too at the flower in the far back. The further away from the plane of focus an object is the more it becomes a blur. A shallow depth of field can be used remove distractions from your main subject. Use this tool sparingly because if you have an extremely shallow depth of field (f-1.2 or 1.4) and you are photographing people it is possible to have the eyes in focus and the nose out of focus.... Not very flattering.

So, what is the opposite end of the spectrum? You guessed it... A large depth of field that shows much of the photograph in focus. This is what you get with most point and shoot cameras so use this sparingly as well. You achieve this with a very narrow aperture (large f-stop number). See the example below and notice how the rocks in the foreground and the trees in the background are sharp.


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What do you use? Well, that is totally up to you. Go out and try different f-stop numbers to see what effect it has on a given subject. You simply have to understand depth of field. Again, I must state that the use of depth of field is one of the photographer's greatest tools. Use it wisely! 


  1. Jason, you are beginning to convince me, without trying mind you, to invest in a better camera than my little point and shoot. Any ideas on how to keep this camera that small so it fits easily into a pocket?

    The same f-stop idea is used in paintings and drawings. Just that the artist has to control the hand and paint instead of a camera and its controls. I love you examples and how you explain the value of the f-stop on a camera.

    Angeline of

  2. Thanks for the comments. There are a few non-DSLR cameras out there that allow you control over the aperture. The Canon G11 for example:
    It would still be a bit bulky but if you wear the right pants I guess it would work just fine. I added several photos to the Flora and Fauna gallery today that will show very shallow depth of field examples. I also added two to the wildlife and one to the Artistic Galleries. Check them out...they should be the first few in each one. Thanks again for the comments.