Depth of Field

Depth of FieldControlling depth of field (DOF) can be one of the most powerful tools in a photographer's arsenal.


DOF is the depth of the area that appears in focus compared to the rest of the scene. This depth can range from a few millimeters to virtually infinite.

There are three things that control DOF:

  1. Aperture setting - The lower this setting, the larger the aperture opening is. The larger the aperture opening is, the narrower the DOF will appear to be.

    • If a narrower DOF is desired, increase the setting of the aperture.
    • If a deeper DOF is desired, lower this setting.

  2. Focal length - The length of camera lens has a profound effect on DOF. The further the front lens is from the film or image sensor (the longer the lens), the narrower the DOF. The closer the lens is to the film or image sensor (the shorter the lens), the deeper the DOF.

    • Many photographers use a telephoto lens just because of its narrow DOF characteristics.

  3. Distance from subject - The closer the subject is to the camera, the narrower the depth of field it will appear in.

    • If a short lens is all that is available, the f-stop is all the way down (aperture is fully open), and a narrower DOF is still desired, move in closer to the subject.

Common Uses

Depth of Field: Subject FocusSubject Focus - If the background is busy and distracts from the subject, a narrow DOF will blur the background and make the subject stand out.

Landscapes - Since it is commonly desired to have all of a landscape in sharp focus, a wide angle lens is normally used. Aperture settings are also set high. With high aperture settings, slower shutter speeds are necessary. Getting the exposure just right can take a bit of practice.

Macro Photography - Desired or not, macro lenses give the narrowest DOF because of their extremely short focal lengths and the need to get very close to the subject. This DOF is measured in millimeters and can help create some amazing shots of everyday items.

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