Depth of Field Matters!

When we approach the topic of depth of field, most people nod along about how the composition can change pretty dramatically when moving between various apertures – but have you ever really studied the differences?  Take some time and do an exercise.  It’s not that difficult, and really seeing the differences in photos can totally lift the roof on your approach to composition.  For this exercise, I took a scrap piece of lumber, and nailed 6 framing nails into it about two inches apart from each other.

Step two was to set up the lighting, the tripod, and the “wood art” in a scene where i could adjust the aperture and keep everything else constant.  With my own little studio set here in the house, that was accomplished easily enough.  I set the focal point on the nearest nail, and dialed in the exposure I wanted.  Then, I switched to manual focus so as to not bump or have the camera try to shift it for me and dialed through the various f-stops.

Step three – simple post production:  camera calibration, white balance, and lens correction.  I also applied a 75 value to the sharpening slider from the detail panel, but did so universally.  So, with everything but aperture constant, here’s the results:

Aperture f2.8

Aperture f4.0

Aperture f5.6

Aperture f8.0

Aperture f11

Aperture f16


So, at this point you should have enlarged the photos above, and scrolled through the entire gallery so you can see exactly what is sharp at f2.8 all the way through f16.  By the time you get to the end, so much has changed and often gradually, it’s hard to see the difference.  But if you look at the f2.8 and f16 shots side-by-side – they are worlds apart compositionally speaking.  Now I grant you, nails hammered into a 2×4 piece of lumber 2″ apart is not the most artistic piece ever shot, but it hopefully illustrates what can happen to a photo simply by changing the aperture and keeping everything else constant!

WHere do you think creatively adjusting your depth of field would work?  Try to think outside the box here too.  A few ideas for starters:

  • A flower from close up…
  • A portrait shot, with background blurred
  • Macro photography – bugs and insects, computer chips and parts

There’s a whole world out there with plenty of opportunities to create gorgeous photos with only your creativity to limit you.  Where do you want to go today?

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2 comments for “Depth of Field Matters!

  1. March 12, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Good article Jason. DOF is so important and most of my clients, whilst not understanding it, mention they love photos with that type of depth to them.

  2. March 15, 2011 at 1:38 am

    Hey, it’s good to see people talking about the basics of photography applicably. I want to drop off a link to my blog where I post links to deals on Canon photo gear. I’ve recently posted a few TS-E lenses which add a whole another dimension to DOF.

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