HOW TO: Depth Of Field

Most photographs can and are taken handheld, due to the convenience this affords. Especially since stabilized lenses and camera bodies are commonplace nowadays.

I have found shooting in a wooded setting, with the inherent low light levels typically demands the use of some kind of camera support, especially if I want to achieve greater depth of field. Which requires a smaller (higher number) aperture setting and a slower shutter speed to increase the depth of field. For example, if I wanted to show the interior expansiveness of the woods, and have the majority of the image sharp and in focus, I would want a greater depth of field.

Woodland photography also lends itself well to shallow depth of field images. This is more the norm, due to the lack of light and having to use wider apertures (smaller number) which decreases the depth of field. Using a shallow depth of field is perfect for isolating subjects or capturing small vignettes of a scene.

Some of my favorite woodland plants are the understory varieties which include dogwoods, azaleas, rhododendrons (flower bud in above photo), redbuds, and mountain laurels. I love how these shrubs and trees, along with wildflowers, add a splash of color in the shade of the forest. The colors are more saturated and contrast well against the green of the leaves. Photographing the blossoms in the filtered light is something I look forward to every spring. And playing with the depth of field adds to the enjoyment and creativity.

Achieving a sharp photo and a good exposure is possible without a camera support. Although using one will make the task easier by providing a stable platform, allowing for more choices of shutter/aperture combinations, which in turn means more ranges of depth of field.

A nice reward indeed.

  1. May 9, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Even after all this time I still get higher number vs. lower number confused. But DOF can be dodgy sometimes and a tripod or something sturdy to lean on helps to make the shot. Again, great tips and photo.

    • May 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Thanks T. In time it will become second nature and you are right…anything sturdy will help!

  2. photographybyjoylene
    May 9, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Good post – this is true, especially if you don’t have an extremely steady hand, like me 🙂 Higher shutter speeds also help! I love shallow DOF as I tend to focus in on small details rather that the whole picture.

    • May 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks Joy, Ditto!!! Same here with the small details!

  3. May 9, 2012 at 9:29 am


    • May 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks Karen, the Rhodies are blooming well this year!

  4. May 9, 2012 at 9:53 am

    So beautiful… Thank you for sharing with us these precious notes dear David, You are so nice. With my love, nia

  5. tedgriffith
    May 9, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Great tutorial, David. I need to get into the practice of using my tripod more consistently because I really prefer shooting at 100 iso and with a polarizer. Between the two it really increases the shutter time and/or aperture. 🙂

    • May 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks Ted, I’m with you …the lower the ISO the better!!!

  6. May 9, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Great post, David! You’ve explained it so well. I love your photo as well.Perfect example of a shallow DOF and even the rule of thirds 🙂

    • May 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      Wow such compliments…thank you Gracie!!!

  7. May 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Thank you for the lesson.

  8. May 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Great photo and info! I got a new macro lens for xmas and I am experimenting all the time with the settings. It is a challenge for an amateur, but I’m slowly improving. May I ask what settings you used for this photo?

    • May 10, 2012 at 8:28 am

      Sorry Fergie…I forgot to mention what lens I used. Nikon 35mm 1.8. Super lens…just about equal to 50mm in film days. Sharp and colors render perfectly!

  9. May 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Gorgeous cerise colour. Very pretty.

    • May 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks Meanderer, I will have to post a photo of some open flowers. They are gorgeous this year!

  10. May 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks Fergie, Photography is all about experimentation (playing as I call it). For this photo the settings were f3.2, 1/80th of a second,on a tripod, daylight WB, ISO 200.

  11. May 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you for this advice. I went on a photography course some time ago and was puzzled by the Depth of field. I think I may have it now!
    I must get a tripod os some sort of support too. Today I used a wall but they are not always available! 🙂

    • May 11, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Glad to be of help my beautiful! Tripods certainly are handy, but sometimes you just have to “use watcha got!” I have used walls, fences, the roof of a car, tables, etc.!

  12. Jo Woolf
    May 10, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Beautiful intense colour – I love this, and the background is perfect.

    • May 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      Thanks Jo, I love how certain colors are more intense in the shade. I’ll post some of these blossoms now that they have opened. It’s been a good year for the rhododendrons!

  13. May 10, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Fantastic post David.. I too am a big fan of shallow of depth of field. Even gets me in trouble at times when I work with people because depending on the setting I may only get a small fraction of their face in focus lol.

    • May 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      I know what you mean! Often times DOF can really be tricky…thank goodness for DOF preview buttons. Even after checking it still isn’t quite right and then after increasing just a stop or two, it’s too much…ahh the trials and tribulations of being a photographer.

  14. May 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I have a professional-grade tripod and a light-weight collapsible one in a cover I can fasten to my belt. You now have me CONVINCED not to go on a shoot without my “sidekick.”

    • May 14, 2012 at 11:30 am

      They may be inconvenient at times, but they make all the difference in the world! By adding a quick release to the camera and tripod will also make life easier. I used to hate attaching the camera and taking off until I bought a quick release. After that, I had no reason to leave it at home or in the car!

  15. Nandini
    May 14, 2012 at 4:55 am

    Gorgeous DoF. 😀 And what a pretty reward. Cheers!

    • May 14, 2012 at 11:31 am

      Thanks Nandini, the colors really worked out well with this one!

  16. May 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Oh David, such good timing. I love this shot! The timing is great because I am studying depth-of-field and hyperfocal point now and just starting to realize how many factors there are: the lens, the distance away from the object, the aperture. Thank you for the lesson.

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