Depth of Field

Depth of field is probably one of the most difficult fundamentals to master in photography. Amateur also likes to chase after shallow DoF.

So what really is DoF? Depth of field is the zone within a photograph which is in focus or is sharp.

So why are people obsessed with DoF?

DoF is the very first thing that an amateur photographer can easily achieve to impress anyone. And also DoF is mostly equipment dependant and not everyone has access to these equipment.

In this photo, you can see that Tina and her immediate surrounding is in focus while a feet away the focus has been thrown off. The area in focus is what we termed as Depth of Field.

DoF is particularly critical for two group of photographers, one group is landscape photographers, the other group is portrait photographers. Landscape photographers want a ‘far’ or large DoF so that most of the foreground to the background is within the ‘sharp’ zone. On the other spectrum is the group of portrait photographers who wants a shallow or small DoF so that the subject is in focus and separated from the blurred background.

So what governs DoF?

A few factors governs how large or shallow the DoF will be:

1) Aperture

In general, the larger your aperture, the shallower the DoF and vice versa. For portrait lenses, you can find that they are usually equipped with eye popping F/2 or lesser. The DoF on the F/1.4 lenses is so shallow that the nose and eye lashes of your subject can be in focus but the eyes are already out of focus! While if you want larger DoF, you simply do the reverse and increase the aperture size. However, it does not mean that if you turn it all the way up to F/22 your photo will be the sharpest! All lenses have their “sweet spot”. They usually falls in between F/4 to F/16. For more information on Nikon lenses “sweet spot” please check out here.

2) Focal Length

The longer your focal length the shorter the DoF you have. Sometimes if you do not have a fast F/1.4 lens for portrait, you can use a longer focal length lens like a 300mm to get a similar DoF. However please remember that with a longer lens, your minimum focusing distance will increase. You may need a walkie talkie to communicate with your model if you use a 400mm lens to shoot a full body portrait!

3) Distance of subject to camera

A lot of people (even more experienced photographers) missed out the distance from your subject to the camera also play an important part in determining DoF. The nearer you are to your subject the shallower your Dof will be from your background.

Hyperfocal Distance

This is another subject which is particularly hotly pursue by most amateur landscape photographers. Hyperfocal distance settings means the a certain “sweet spot” in a particular lens that allows for maximum depth of field. This mystical “sweet spot” can be hard to find or put into practice because we carry at least a few lenses when out shooting. To remember all their hyperfocal settings is almost impossible.

I will update more about Hyperfocal Distance when time permits.

Link: DOF Calculator

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Chi Siang Written by:

Hi! I am a Singaporean who used to work and live in Saigon for 6 years. I am married to my Vietnamese wife and we travel back to Saigon regularly. My years living amongst the Vietnamese and not amongst the expats community, gave me an unique insight into Vietnamese people, their culture, and their way of life.


  1. May 21, 2013

    Often, this is an desired effect for portraits. In choosing a longer focal length, you can isolate the area occupied by the subject and shift the viewer’s focus on the subject. Conversely, greater depth of field through use of wider focal lengths helps to include the surrounding scene.

  2. August 29, 2013

    One of the common mistakes that catches people out is where their DOF occurs within the image. Many people mistakenly think that if they focus on the foremost point of the subject they want in focus, everything behind it will be sharp. But your DOF extends both in front of the point of focus and behind it too. Using this information to your advantage can maximise on the success of focus in your shots. It can vary from almost half in front of the point of focus and the balance behind, to the vast majority of it behind, as in the case of landscapes taken with short focal lengths. So if you know that you have a limited amount of DOF for your chosen settings and scene, choose your focus point carefully. See my tutorials on using the 50mm f1.8 lens for examples of how where you focus effects the perceived sharpness of shots and my 300D FAQ on using the DOF preview button for more details of how this can help you estimate available DOF. A very common mistake with landscape photography especially, is that photographers think they need a very tight aperture in order to secure the massive DOF needed for landscape shots, but once you get beyond about f11, you encounter diffraction from the lens iris blades and the images themselves are consequently less sharp regardless of any other factors. So ensuring you get sufficient DOF for the scene, but using the sharpest and sweetest part of the lens is a very worthwhile skill to hone and photographers are very often surprised to find that you can get good DOF in landscape shots, even with quite wide apertures. None of the landscapes on this page were taken tighter than f11 and most have foreground and details on the distant horizon, all sharp.

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