Lesson 5 – Depth of Field

Depth of field - also sometimes known as depth of focus (although that does has a different technical meaning - some people use that term) - is an area many photographers feel some confusion over.

By changing the aperture in the lens, you can make the resulting picture have more of the picture in focus from near to far, or you can limit the picture's focus on one place.

At ƒ1.8, the focus point will be much more defined with things in front of and behind the subject becoming softer looking the further from the subject they are. This is a very nice way to bring attention to the subject.

At ƒ22, the focus will seem to be sharp from very close to the camera to pretty much infinity. This is great for giving a sense of the place you shot the image, or for including many people in the image and keeping everyone clearly in focus.

However, there are limits to how that will appear in the final image.

Exercise: Find a subject/object that is still or will be in one place for a couple of minutes. Stand about 2 feet from the subject and focus on it. Set your ƒstop to 1.8 (or a close as possible to that based on the light) and set the shutter speed to get a proper exposure according to your meter. You can set the camera to Exposure Priority (AV mode) and let the camera set the shutter speed automatically. You should be using  50 mm lens or a zoom lens set to about 50 mm.

Now set your ƒstop to 16 and change the shutter as needed.

Step back to about 10 feet from your subject and re do the above settings - first at ƒ1.8 then at ƒ16.

To really push this exercise, try all the above steps with different lenses or at different lengths if you have a zoom lens - i.e.. try it at 35 mm and at 200mm, or whatever your zoom lens range is.

PS - a related subject is Bokeh which is a taken from a Japanese word 'bokeh' which roughly means blur or haze. When a photographer says an image has 'good bokeh' he means the out of focus areas have a smooth quality. Different lens and camera combination have different qualities of bokeh.

Next Lesson: How the shutter can affect your image

20 thoughts on “Lesson 5 – Depth of Field”

  1. Take your photgraphy even further after exploring the classes here - sign up for the Photography Masterclass Click Here!
  2. Pingback: Aperture HELP
  3. hi, you did well, very useful lessons..my question is,can photoshop and the smart new digital cameras make the art of photography for all peopel and easy to do .

    1. That is a great question, and the short answer is ‘yes – it’s easy to create BAD art with modern cameras and photoshop.’

      However in striving to create art that communicates the message you intend and create the emotional impact you want to achieve – as well as stand up to the test of time, the most important part of the camera is ‘still’ the seven inches BEHIND the viewfinder.

      Yes, modern cameras make it easier to take snapshots and get the technical side done reasonably well (although it still falls short in some situations) and photoshop can certainly enhance a good picture – but neither REPLACES your mind, your ‘vision’ of what you’re trying to communicate, or you soul – that indefinable thing that makes your pictures into “your” pictures.

      It has been my experience that as you practice photography, it gets easier and easier to get the picture to communicate your ideas, your message, you vision.

      There is nothing wrong with taking snapshots – they are personal records of people, times and places we experience – those things we want to remember and share. Snapshots enrich our lives and serve as mementos to where we have been and what we have done.

      Sometimes, when we pursue creating art in photography, we forget to relax and enjoy the people, times and places we are experiencing.

      Creating art is about decisions – what mood do I want to create, what feature do I want to emphasize, do I expose for to show detail in the shadows or do I expose to create drama with black shadows, do I try to include everything in front of me in focus or do I limit the focus (the subject of this particular lesson by the way), do I crop tight or do I leave a loose negative space around my subject, and the list of decisions goes on and on.

      The more you practice, the more these decisions become ‘automatic’ because you have a particular way of seeing and message you want to communicate. As well, the technical side becomes easier to match your vision with practice.

      So no, modern cameras and photoshop do not make it easy to create art, but they do give you great tools to help in the process of creating art.

  4. Dear Admin.. much thanks for your answer, the answer make me very happy, and i agree with all what you have said….thank you very much again. yours saad haadi

      1. really nice shots!!!! thanks Saad it was a pleasure looking at them!!!
        thanks admin for the lesson and the explanations!!!

  5. On my Nikon D7100 when in Manual mode, upon zooming in it will only let my apeture go to F5.6, is there a setting I could have on that I should not or is the the norm?

    1. Hi Tiara – most lenses have a range of maximum aperture which is what you’ve discovered. It will be the most wide open aperture at the widest angle the lens will shoot and then loses light and thus becomes a smaller aperture as the lens moves to telephoto.

      The only way around this is to buy a more expensive lens that has a constant aperture such as f2.8 or f4. Because these don’t change as you zoom, they are quite a bit more involved in construction thus the added cost.

      The other option is to buy basic prime lenses (which don’t zoom) put on the length you want (ie 85mm, 35mm etc) and zoom with your feet. Some prime lenses are very expensive but many can be bought for a reasonable budget if you stick to a maximum aperture of f1.8 or f2 and shorter than 135mm.

      1. Depth of Field is directly proportional to the size of the lens opening. This is why an aperture of 2.8 will result in a shallower DOF than say f/5.6. However, the longer the lens e.g 200mm vs 50mm the shallower the resulting DOF at the same aperture.

        1. Hi Jim, thanks for your input, those are great points Other factors are; distance to the subject from the camera, and the size of the sensor in the camera. Of course the best way to learn all this for your camera and lenses is to practice using each setting for the aperture from wide open to most closed and at various distances like 3 feet and then 10 feet.

  6. Thanks a lot Admin for tremendous work. Saad Haadi congratulations for sharing with us you snaps most of which are amazingly beautiful. Definately you have the talent and how i wish everybody could grasp the view in which you bring to light the best out of the everyday things we most often take for granted. You mastered Lesson 1; INTENT. I admire and salute you.

  7. These lessons have been of great value to me as a novice and budding “shutterbug”. I am practicing constantly and (this may seem a bit strange to some folks) to absorb these lessons better I talk out loud as I envision myself giving the lessons to would be photographers as this helps me learn much quicker.
    As a footnote I will thank Saad for sharing his truly inspiring and beautiful photos, I especially feel very strongly toward photos of people and animals that convey some strong messages through their eyes.
    Thank you, George Thomas

  8. i shoot photos for quite a long time for hobby now. but i want to get back to the basics and learn more of the terms and really educate myself on this. glad i found this page. 🙂

  9. Your blogs been very helpful for me, great thanks and big hug from a newbie, wish i could really used your valuable tips, get on the road and become a good photographer. Btw, your blog isn’t only technical for me, by ur writing i’m spiritually encouraged, moved by your old fashion talking. Haha, again, great thanks!

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