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The Photographer’s Guide to Depth of Field
A Light Stalking Guide

Photograph by Nicolas Raymond

What is Depth of Field?
Photography can be a simple form of art but at the core is a complex set of rules,
mathematics and integral components that are used in the creating of any photos, on top
of composition. This article is designed to be uncomplicated and explains what depth of
field isand how you can use it to enhance your photography. At the core definition, depth
of field is:



the portion of a scene that appears acceptably sharp in the image. Although
a lens can precisely focus at only one distance, the decrease in sharpness is
gradual on each side of the focused distance, so that within the DOF, the
unsharpness is imperceptible under normal viewing conditions.”

That’s somewhat complicating to understand and just about every tutorial that I’ve ever
read trying to explain depth of field refers to some math equations but essentially, depth
of field is focusing on one specific element in your field of view and by adjusting the
aperture setting on your lens determining what else will be in focus. If you want
everything to be in focus you are aimingfor deep focus, where as the foreground,
background and everywhere else in the frame is all in focus and sharp.
The most common application for this is in an old photo term called sunny 16. The sunny
16 rule basically says if you’re outside on a sunny day, set your camera to f/16, your
shutter speed to 1/125th and shoot, your photos should all appear well exposed and be
sharp front to back.The opposite of deep focus is shallow focus, where you as the photographer select a
portion of the frame while composing what you want to be in focus and by setting your
lens aperture to wide open, a common term photographers use that refers to a lower f/
number on your lens, you create separation between the focused portion and the
unfocused portion. The quality of this out of focus area,which is determined in part by
the quality of lens, aperture setting, distance to the subject in focus from the camera and
the distance from the subject to the “other” portions of the composed area, is commonly
called bokeh by photographers.

The Photographer’s Guide to Depth of Field: A Light Stalking Guide – www.lightstalking.com

1

Why Worry About Depth of Field?
Why Worry About Depthof Field?
Photo by Wili

If you’re shooting a portrait outside like this one,
and you shoot wide open, or with shallow focus,
your subject becomes the focal point of the
image. It’s still plainly visible to see they
are on a street, but the focus is on them,
not the location. By shooting with
shallow depth of field, a viewer’s
eye is instantly drawn to the
blonde in the bottom
rightcorner, as she
is the focus.

The Photographer’s Guide to Depth of Field: A Light Stalking Guide – www.lightstalking.com

2

Why Worry About Depth of Field?
So why is it important to know about depth of field and how do you go about
implementing it into your photography? Shallow depth of field lets you draw the viewer’s
eye into specific parts of the image, creating a visible distancebetween subject and the
rest of the otherwise flat, two-dimensional photograph. On the other side, using a large
focus point will ensure that things like sunsets or group shots of people are sharp from
corner to corner in your image. Implementing these two basic techniques of depth of field
allows you to choose how the viewer of your photograph perceives everything and allows
you to be creativewith what is and isn’t in focus.
Both the earlier linked wiki article and this one by Bernie feature the actual math
calculations and illustrations that explain in great detail how depth of field is calculated,
what the potential bokeh will look like and how to calculate things like the circle of
confusion. This table and explanation is extremely helpful, but it’s also very confusing in...
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