Camera settings: Depth of field

Depth of Field is a wildly variable term that shifts according to numerous settings with your device. However, in its essence, the depth of field of your shot is the area to the fore and back of your subject that remains in focus. In jargon parlance, depths of field can either be described as shallow, with a narrow zone of focus, or deep, with a broader range of the composition that is in focus.

How is it about…

Not every type of shot will require depth of field to be as carefully accounted for, but many of the more common or popular types of shots will only produce the best results with carefully calibrated settings that affect the depth of field. Your device’s aperture, focal length, and sensor will all converge to generate the shot’s depth of field. Notice that with these three qualities, it is possible to have the same subject in the same shot include a wide divergence of depths of field.

Intuitively, because there are so many qualities of the shot involved in depth of field, it can be one of the more difficult techniques to master. The most common type of shot that will require a deep depth of field is a landscape. More often than not, you will want a landscape shot to include sharp detail from the closest image of the composition in the foreground to the furthest image in the background, often the horizon. Shots that use a narrow depth of field will generally seek to highlight a focal point while the other elements of the composition melt away into an indistinguishable blur.

Applicable settings for your perfect depth of field

As noted, the three primary settings that will affect the depth of field in your shot are aperture, focal length, and the focus. Two of these qualities, the aperture and focus, are generally adjustable, while the focal length is generally achieved with additional lenses. Though, some devices offer features which can somewhat replicate the effect of different lenses.

  • Aperture:

This is often one of the easiest ways to affect the depth of field as it does not require any additional equipment, movement, or devices. A smaller aperture will offer a deeper depth of field, while a wider aperture will narrow it. However, it is important to keep the focus in mind since a wide aperture and close subject can result in a blurred image if not focused properly. Also, use a smaller aperture in conjunction with increased shutter speed and ISO settings to increase the depth of field.

  • Focal Length:

This can have a significant impact on your shot’s depth of field, but it also often requires purchasing a variety of accessories. If you are a professional photographer, chances are you already have numerous lenses at your disposal. However, if you are a professional photographer, you are also probably experienced enough to adjust the depth of field without needed different lenses. Of course, certain types of shots may require both different lenses and the use of other depth of field techniques. Still, this technique can be useful for portraits with a telephoto lens.

  • Focus:

The point in your shot where the image comes into focus can be seen as the baseline for your depth of field. While technically this in and of itself does not determine the depth of field, it is the center around which all of the other considerations orbit. The same subject shot at different levels of focus will require the aperture or focal length to be adjusted accordingly to provide the depth of field you seek. However, it is mostly futile to start with the other factors and try to work your way backwards to the focus. If you have the skill and experience to do that, you definitely do not need to be reading this article right now.

Common types of shots and depth of field

  • Landscapes:

This type of shot will generally require a deep depth of field. You can achieve this most easily by adjusting your aperture to be smaller. You will want to be sure that the device is positioned for a short focal length with the focus adjusted for the lower rule of thirds line. This setup will require slower shutter speeds to execute properly, so you will likely need to use a tripod to stabilize the device and potentially an increased ISO setting to prevent blurring.

  • Close-Ups:

Close-ups will generally necessitate as short of a focus as you can manage—more so than portraits. In this instance, your best bet will be to use the smallest aperture to wash away as much depth of field as possible since your subject is almost certainly minuscule for this kind of shot. Still, this can be a bit tricky since a close focus will magnify the effect of aperture on the depth of field.

  • Portraits:

The most common depth of field for portraits is as shallow as possible. This will ensure that the subject is crisp and detailed while the background remains blurry. The shallow depth of field will focus the audience’s eye on the subject and keep all attention focused there. This is one of the instances where focus is a primary consideration. With that in mind, you will get your best results with a wide aperture and longer focal length.