Shallow Depth of Field – How, What & Why?
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 the Shallow Depth of field (DoF) in photography which is responsible for such nice backgrounds in photos.
You can consider this as your complete guide to understand the effects of shallow depth of field in photos and how to produce it.
If you are new to photography, 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?
You can get a shallow depth of field in the image when the plane of focus is small.
It will make the subject stand out from the rest of the elements in the scene, provided the rest of the things in the background are at a distance from the subject.
How to Get a Shallow Depth of field?
You must know the right camera settings to get a shallow depth of field in your photos.
Let us explore the different camera settings which we can set to set to get this effect.
Right Camera Settings for Shallow Depth of Field
1. Camera Mode
As you all know all DSLR, Mirrorless, and digital cameras come with various camera modes.
You need to choose the right camera mode to get a shallow DoF. You can use the following camera modes to get this effect.
1.1 Portrait Mode
Most 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 the 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 smartphone cameras are also coming with “Portrait mode” or “Depth of Field Effect mode,” where the camera keeps the subject in focus, blurring the rest of the scene.
In the case of smartphones, the software does this job. So, you won’t be able to get the same quality 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
- This image was shot with Canon 1DX Mark II DSLR camera with Canon 500mm f4 L IS II Lens.
- 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 or the aperture mode is the most commonly used semi-automatic mode in a DSLR camera.
You can set the Aperture value and the camera will give you the rest of the parameters based on the exposure after metering.
In this mode, you need to choose a large Aperture opening that corresponds to a small Aperture value. So, it is a lens feature as the Aperture forms part of the camera lens.
1.3 Manual Mode
So, you need to choose a lower Aperture value to get a shallow depth of field.
If you are using a nifty fifty lens, 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.
It is one of the best inexpensive camera lenses to get a shallow depth of field in your images.
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. Focal Length of the Lens
The camera lens focal length also plays an important role to get a shallow depth of field.
So, let us see which focal lengths are useful for shallow DOF.
You will get a shallow depth of field as the focal length increases. Thus, a telephoto lens will give you a better shallow depth of field than other lenses.
It also depends on the angle of view, the smaller the Angle of view, the shallow the Depth of field.
“Higher Focal Length = Shallow Depth of Field”
“Smaller Angle of View = Shallow Depth of Field”
So, if you use a 100-400mm zoom lens to photograph a bird, you will get a good shallow depth of field at 400mm than at 100mm.
4. The Distance of the Subject from the Background
If your subject and the background are at some distance, 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
When you do a portrait photoshoot, 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.
When you photograph birds, 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 distance. So, you should approach slowly, taking a click after every 2 or 3 steps.
Why Do you Need a Shallow Depth of Field?
Now, the question is, why do you need a 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 background of the subject is quite distracting. 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 the camera, without doing any high-end photo edits.
It is where Shallow Depth of field comes to your rescue. You can make use of it in such situations to isolate your subject from the rest of the scene.
You can even apply it too 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 will be more interested in getting the person or model in front of your camera alone in focus, rather than the surroundings.
So, you will need a shallow depth of field for subject isolation.
Examples of Beautiful Pictures with Shallow Depth of Field
Let us explore some beautiful pictures which use shallow depth of field effect.
Let us summarise the whole thing. If you want to get a shallow depth of field, use a large Aperture, reduce the distance of the subject from the camera, use a higher focal length, use a smaller Angle of view, and increase the distance of the subject from the background. You can try any of these things.
I don’t recommend using shallow depth of field for all scenes. Some photos look great with a deep depth of field. So, use it accordingly.