What Is Shallow Depth of Field Photography?

If you’ve been in photography for a while, you’ve probably heard of “shallow depth of field”. This concept is one of the best skills for photographers to master, and it applies to many genres — so you’ll almost certainly need to understand it at some point.

Knowing the basics of depth-of-field photography is simple, even mastering it takes time. Keep reading to learn more about what a shallow depth of field is, along with how to take photos of this type and a few examples.

What is shallow depth of field?

Depth of field refers to photos where a particular subject is in focus, but the rest of the image is blurred. You may have seen photographers try the “bokeh” effect in portrait photography, this is just one of many instances where you will use it.

You need to learn how to take shallow depth of field photos for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it adds context to your photo and enhances the story. On top of that, you’ll have a much easier time showing your audience where they should be — making your photos more memorable.

The shallow depth of field also adds more detail to the subject you’re primarily focusing on, which will make your photo look more visually appealing.


How to take shallow depth of field photos

Now that you know the basics of shallow depth of field photography, you’re ready to learn a few tips to help you take better photos. Here are the best ways to improve your shallow depth of field.

1. Use a lens with a longer focal length

When aiming for a shallow depth of field in photography, you want to get as close to the main subject as possible without ruining the composition. If you’re shooting something from too far away, you might consider using a lens with a longer focal length, such as 85mm.

Using a lens with a longer focal length works well for portraits, but it’s equally useful for landscape shots; You can also take unique street photos. A telephoto lens is ideal, but a 50mm can do the job too — as long as you’re not too far away from what you’re trying to capture.

2. Widen your aperture

If you’re trying to get a shallow depth of field with a narrow aperture, you’re disappointing yourself. Instead, you want to focus on expanding it to create some distance between the foreground, mid-ground, and background.

How much you want to widen the aperture depends on what you’re trying to capture, but f/6.4 and below is wise in most cases. If you’re photographing landscapes, you still want your background to be recognized, but other styles may not require this. Use judgment based on your individual situation.

3. Choose your main theme wisely

One of the main reasons you take photos with a shallow depth of field is to focus on a particular subject. So it makes sense to think carefully about what you want to include in your photo.

Before you start clicking, take a moment to explore your surroundings. Consider the atmosphere and what you’re trying to portray before you start shooting; you will enjoy better results if this way.

Example of shallow depth of field

We’ve talked a lot about shallow depth of field so far, but you’ll understand the theory much better if you look at real-world examples. Here are three of them.

example 1

In the first shallow depth of field example, you’ll notice that the seagull is the main focal point. The harbor behind it is blurred, but you can still see what’s going on.

Example 2

This second example shows a street sign in New York City, with a building included in the background. Like the previous photo, the building is blurred – but you can still tell that the person took the photo in a crowded city.

Example 3

The third shallow depth of field example is a portrait taken in the middle of a street at golden hour. As you can see, the person stands out against the blurred background — still capturing the vibrancy of the scene.

Depth of field will make your photos stand out

Shallow depth of field photography is a great way to tell better stories and produce excellent results. Regardless of your genre, you must at least become proficient in this skill.

Shallow depth of field photography gives you another tool to use when the situation calls for it, and you can also switch it to movie mode if you’re interested in producing video content.

Photo of a cinematographer in the studio

8 Convertible Photography Skills for Filmmaking

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Sarah Ridley

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