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Understanding shallow depth of field #photography

One of the more difficult concepts to understand in photography is the depth of field. Understand that and you’ve more or less cracked it! Most people know that the shutter button on the camera is pressed part-way down to focus on your subject and then gently pressed all the way down to take the picture. Your focus points decide what will be in focus and so be sure to know what your subject is and get your focus points on your subject. For this shot, I used a wide aperture, in fact, I shot wide open for a shallow depth of field.

shot with a shallow depth of field

Depth of field

My subject was the mayor and that group of people. You can see as we go further away from the camera the shot goes out of focus and the guy who walked into the shot in the foreground is also out of focus. With a wide aperture, more light can enter the camera and so even in low-light I can shoot at a faster shutter speed. In this case, I managed 1/320 of a second and because the light was poor I increased the ISO to 200. I was using a 55 – 300 mm lens and zooming in a lot so a fast shutter speed was also needed because of camera movement.



I took that shot at f/4.5 which you can see is quite wide from this chart. When you shoot at f/8 the depth of field isn’t so shallow and so focus doesn’t fall off so much as you go farther away from your subject. I used f/8 a lot for landscapes. In the UK where we get fewer sunny days, f/8 and f/11 are the normal apertures even on fairly bright days. If there isn’t enough light you can make your sensor more sensitive to light by increasing your ISO. This chart shows it gets noisy at ISO 200 but in practice, you can go to 400 without the noise being obvious. Try to keep ISO at 100 if you intend to print your pictures.

The chart above shows the photographers triangle, aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Try taking some shots on shutter speed priority and set your shutter speed at 1/100 of a second. Try focusing at subjects quite close to you and see what aperture the camera sets for that shot and then try subjects further away. The aperture will go narrower as you go further away. Then try setting the aperture on aperture priority and see what shutter speed the camera sets. See if the photo is to lighter or darker on the preview screen. If your image is too dark increase your ISO.

Shallow depth of field

You only need a shallow depth of field for portraits and pictures of people at events or for pictures of flowers and macro photography. For landscapes, where you want the scene farther from your subject and nearer in focus, you need a deeper depth of field and a narrower aperture. If you go too narrow you won’t get enough light hitting your sensor and so your picture will look dark. Keep practising until you can set your aperture just right and practice on shutter priority too to see what your camera sets the aperture on. A shallow depth of field will mean a wide aperture and give you a faster shutter speed eliminating camera movement, movement by your subject and camera shake giving a sharper image.

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