Depth perception…

Depth of field, or DOF, seems to be a common area for discussion in photography, primarily because it is often subjective. What you choose for your depth of field in any particular image will have an impact not only on what is in focus and out of focus, but also on the impact the image has on the viewer. If your DOF is too shallow, a viewer may find the lack of a strong area of focus a turn off. Meanwhile, others may find the abstract nature of soft DOF appealing. Surely, DOF discussions are very much like opinions – we all have our own.

Having said that, there are some times when you would want a wider or a more narrow DOF depending on your subject matter. So, on that basis, it helps to understand how we can control our DOF. As I thought about this post, I came up with a total of:

Seven Tips to Control Depth of Field

  1. Aperture adjustments – the most obvious way, increasing aperture (decreasing the f-number or widening the opening) reduces your DOF, while decreasing the aperture (increasing the f-number or narrowing the opening) increases your DOF.
  2. Focus into the scene – by positioning the main point of focus into the scene, you can enjoy an increased range of focus for your DOF as a certain portion in front of, as well as behind your fosucing point will also be as sharp as your specific point.
  3. Parallel Planes – another one that is rather unique to macro photography, but when working with extremely shallow DOF values, it can help to keep your subject in focus if you position your camera back on the same plane as your subject. If you are not on the same plane, your subject will fall out of focus as it recedes toward the background and/or as it gets closer to the foreground.
  4. Use a tripod – especially useful in macro photography when you have a very shallow DOF – even the slightest of movements will result in a blur even within your specified DOF area, so stabilize the camera with a tripod when opening up the aperture
  5. Hyperfocal Distance – Jeff Revell dedicated an entire post to this the other day, so go to PhotowalkPro to read more about it. I kind of alluded to it in #2, but the more detailed answer will give you a better grasp of where to focus and how to achieve HFD
  6. DOF Preview Button – all shots in an SLR camera are viewed at the widest aperture opening so we can compose our focus point where we want it. However, the DOF preview button will stop down the aperture blades to out final aperture setting for us to give a preview of the range of sharpness through our image. Probably one of the least used tools on your camera (don’t worry, I forget to use it all the time too!)
  7. Change the focal length – your depth of field is also a function of the focal length of your lens. Longer focal lengths will be less able to produce a wider DOF (image is sharper throughout), while wider angle lenses typically can produce a wider range of sharpness to extend your DOF. This is partly why a wide angle lens is recommended for landscape photography.
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3 comments for “Depth perception…

  1. May 8, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Great tips – DOF is a great artistic tool for composition and to draw attention to the things you want emphasize. I personally don’t do it a lot, but I know a lot of folks will shoot with a high depth of field and then may selectively blur things in Photoshop later. I find that it doesn’t do as good a job as the camera does, but it can allow you to have a photo with a high or low depth of field (depending on how much you blur it in Photoshop).

  2. May 8, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Thanks Brian, I’ve actually read these repeatedly in various Photo mags…just compiled the most-often repeated ones and threw them together for this post. Glad you liked it!

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