Have you ever noticed the nice blurry background in your pictures? Do you know what creates such an effect in your photos? In this article, we will go through Shallow Depth of field (DOF) in photography which is responsible for such nice background in photos. As a photographer, this will be a complete guide for you to understand the effects of shallow depth of field in photos and how to produce it.

If you are new into photography, then I recommend reading, Depth of field in Photography, to get a clear understanding of the basics of DOF in photography.

What is Shallow Depth of Field?

A shallow depth of field is created in your photo when the plane of focusing is small. It will make the subject stand out from the rest of the elements in the scene, provided rest of the things in the background are at a distance from the subject.

How to get a Shallow Depth of field?

You should have the right camera settings to get a shallow depth of field in your photos. Let us explore the different camera settings which we need to set to get this effect.

Baby Portrait with Shallow Depth Of Field

Right Camera Settings for Shallow Depth of Field

1. Camera Mode

As you all know, all DSLR cameras and digital cameras come with various camera modes. So, you should choose the right camera mode to get a shallow DOF. You can make use of the following camera modes to get this effect.

1.1 Portrait Mode

Portrait Mode for Shallow Depth Of Field

Most of the digital cameras come with an inbuilt portrait mode option. This mode is useful for taking family portraits and also for portrait photographers. It is an automatic mode, where a camera will try to get a shallow depth of field for the subject in focus, blurring the rest of the elements in the background.

Nowadays, most of the smartphone cameras are also coming with “Portrait mode” or “Depth of Field Effect mode,” where the camera keeps the subject in focus, blurring rest of the scene. In the case of smartphones, software does this job. So, you won’t be able to get the same quality effect as you get in a DSLR camera, where the camera optics is responsible for this effect.  

Example for Shallow DOF in DSLR Camera Vs Smartphone

White-Spotted Fantail Flycatcher

  • This image was shot with Canon 1DX Mark II DSLR camera with Canon 500mm f4 L IS II Lens. 


Portrait Mode in Xiaomi Redmi MI A2 Smartphone Camera

  • The above image was taken with Xiaomi Redmi MI A2 Smartphone camera. The In-camera portrait mode was used for this shot . It has produced some good results, considering the fact that it is a smartphone with limited capabilities.

1.2 Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority Mode for Shallow DOF

This is the most commonly used semi-automatic mode in a DSLR camera. You can set the Aperture value and camera will give you rest of the parameters based on the exposure after metering. In this mode, you need to choose a large Aperture opening which corresponds to the small Aperture value. So, it is a lens feature as the Aperture forms the part of the camera lens.

1.3 Manual Mode

Manual Mode for Shallow Depth Of field

You won’t learn photography unless you start shooting in manual mode in your camera. Here, you need to set the Aperture, Shutter Speed and  ISO to get your desired exposure value.

So, you need to choose a lower Aperture value to get a shallow depth of field.

If you are using a nifty fifty lens, then you can go ahead with the lowest Aperture value of f/1.8 for a shallow depth of field, provided your subject is in focus for this Aperture value. This is one of the best inexpensive camera lens to get shallow depth of field in your images.

2. Aperture

Camera Aperture Opening

The main factor that decides the depth of field of a photograph is the camera lens aperture. You need to choose a low Aperture value to get a small plane of focus. It will give you a shallow depth of field.

3. The Focal Length of Lens

The camera lens focal length also plays an important role to get a shallow depth of field. So, let us see which all focal lengths are useful for shallow DOF.

You will get shallow depth of field as the focal length increases. So, a telephoto lens will give you a better shallow depth of field than other lenses. It also depends on the angle of view, smaller the Angle of view, shallow the Depth of field.

“Higher Focal Length = Shallow Depth of Field”

“Smaller Angle of View = Shallow Depth of Field”

So, if you are using a 100-400mm zoom lens to photograph a bird, then you will get good shallow depth of field at 400mm than at 100mm.

4. The Distance of the Subject from Background

If your subject and the background is at some distance, then you can get a shallow depth of field and blur the background, provided you use the correct camera settings.

5. Distance of the Subject from the Camera

If you are doing a portrait shoot then you can easily control the distance of the subject from the camera. You can position your subject in such a way that he/she is close to the camera, at a comfortable distance. Thus, you can get a shallow DOF.

If you are photographing birds, then you need to approach the birds to reduce the distance between you and the bird. The bird will allow you to get closer to it only up to a certain range. So, you should approach slowly, taking a click after every 2 or 3 steps.

Why do you need Shallow Depth of Field?

Portrait of a Lady with Shallow Depth Of Field

Now, the question is, why do you need Shallow Depth of Field in your photographs? In order to answer this question, you should know the situations where it can be useful to you

So, let us have a look at the different situations. 

1. To Isolate the Distracting Background

Sometimes the backgrounds are distracting, and it can switch your viewer’s eye away from the subject in focus, which you don’t want. So, you need to isolate such distracting backgrounds in camera, without doing any high-end photo edits.

This is where Shallow Depth of field comes to your rescue. You can make use of it in such situations to isolate your subject from rest of the scene. You can even apply it to distracting foregrounds also. Here, you will get a nice foreground blur, when you apply it to the scene while shooting.

2. To Get the Subject Alone in Focus

When you are shooting portraits, you would be more interested in getting the person or model in front of your camera alone in focus, rather than the surroundings. So, you need a shallow depth of field to do this.

Examples of Beautiful Pictures with Shallow Depth of Field

Let us explore some beautiful pictures which use shallow depth of field effect.

Lady Portrait with Shallow DOF


Boy on Phone with Shallow Depth Of Field


Lady In Street with Shallow Depth Of FieldConclusion

So, let us summarise the whole thing. If you want to get a shallow depth of field then use a larger Aperture, reduce the distance of the subject from the camera, use higher focal length, use smaller Angle of view, increase the distance of the subject from the background. You can try any of these things.

I don’t recommend to use shallow depth of field for all scenes. Some photos look great with a deep depth of field.