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Depth of field (DOF) refers to how much of your image is in focus and how much is out of focus. But why should you care about it? DOF will give you control over what someone’s attention is drawn to first. You can change the emphasis of a photo and mastering the art of DOF will make you a better storyteller.
To help you achieve this, we have outlined six areas to consider when it comes to controlling DOF:
The aperture controls the amount of light that enters the camera. Think of it as the pupil of your lens; it will dilate to let more light in and contracts to restrict the amount of light it allows in. Similarly, a wide aperture setting will let in more light than a narrow one would. These settings are measured in something called f-stops.
If your lens has an aperture wider than f/2.8 you will have a shallower DOF and a blurrier background. The easiest way to influence your DOF is to control your aperture, and it is one of the first things a photographer will consider when they want to adjust DOF.
By increasing the distance between camera and subject, you are increasing the area of focus. This means that when you are further away, you will have more of the subject in focus and less if you move closer.
Changing the distance will, of course, change the composition. To remedy this, you can change the focal length or lens to maintain your desired composition.
You might also consider how this works with your background; if you and your subject maintain the same distance from one another and move simultaneously away from the background, you will make the background blurrier.
By changing your focal length, you are also changing the viewing angle; as the focal length increases, your background will become more out of focus. The closer you are zoomed into the subject, the smaller the viewing angle and the less your image will be in focus.
Just like distance, be aware that changing your focal length will also change the composition.
You may have heard the term but aren’t entirely familiar with it. Bokeh or “Boke” comes from the Japanese language and translates to mean “blur.”
Bokeh is created by the lens, and different lenses will produce different styles. Generally, bokeh appears as small round shapes in the out-of-focus parts of an image. That is a simplistic definition, however, as it actually refers to the look of those out-of-focus parts, whatever the shape and whether they form shapes at all.
So, while DOF refers to the relationship between how much of your image is in focus vs. how much is out of focus, bokeh is the quality of the background blur in your image.
If you are sharpening detail resolution to increase DOF by “stopping down a lens”; this means there is less light going into the camera. To balance this out you will want to use a higher ISO or longer shutter speeds. Out of these two options, you will probably end up opting for lengthening your shutter speed because you can only increase the ISO so much before noise becomes an issue. If the shutter speed is too long, you will need a tripod to get sharp images.
The wonderful thing about digital cameras is they allow you to preview an image and check the DOF. Unfortunately, what you see on your DSLR camera isn’t actually taken with the settings you chose for the picture because you’re looking through the lens at its widest aperture.
More modern cameras have a feature called “DOF Preview”, which will help you better assess what the DOF will be in your final image.
When it comes to controlling the depth of field, you will learn by doing. Take the time to get to know your camera better. Change apertures, and try different focal lengths, move in the space and change your viewing angle. Once you’ve taken your pictures, analyze them and figure out what you like about them and what you don’t.
We hope this guide gives you a good starting point for DOF, and how to change those parts of your pictures that you might not like. The important part, though, is to have fun!
Featured Image Credit: Semmick Photos, Shutterstock
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