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Depth of Field in Photography

Depth of field (DOF) is the distance in front and beyond the object that is in focus. This tutorial will teach you about how to use Depth of Field in your own photography.

Depth of Field in Photoshop

In case you’re looking for a way to imitate Depth of Field in Photoshop (rather than photography, as this tutorial illustrates), we’ve got a great tutorial that will teach you how to enhance your graphics with depth of field in photoshop here at Tutorial9!

A short depth of field can be very useful when you want to isolate your object from the background, such as when taking portraits or macro photography. A large depth of field is great when you photograph landscapes and overall when you want every detail to be in focus.

Control the Depth of Field

There are three variables that affect DOF, the size of the Aperture, the distance to the object and what lens you’re using. (There is a fourth thing that affects the DOF, but that’s the size of the sensor and unless you have two cameras with different sensor sizes this isn’t something to take into account.)


As you can see in the illustration above, a lower f-number equals a shorter depth of field. A higher f-number will give you focus over a longer distance — when you’re having a hard time getting the correct focus it might be a good idea to extend your DOF by changing the aperture.


The distance between you and the object is also important, the closer you are to the object the shorter the DOF. If you’re photographing a person but needs to have a high f-number you can still get a very short DOF by keeping the distance between you and the person to a minimum.


The last thing you can do to affect your DOF is to change the lens. A wide-angle lens has a much greater DOF than a telephoto lens; the most extreme wide-angle and fish-eye lenses don’t even have to focus because they are so sharp on every aperture for the entire DOF (making for excellent scenic shots).

It’s important to know that the depth of field is greater behind the object than in front of it. If you want to photograph, let’s say 20 kids standing in a line, and you want as many of them as possible to be in focus, but you’re unable to have a small aperture, you should focus on the 6th-7th kid in line, which would balance the field of focus about right (depending on your distance to the kids). If you would focus on the 10th kid, that is the one in the middle, the first few kids would be more out of focus than the kids at the back of the line.

Unlike some other parts of photography, the depth of field works in your favor almost every time. If you want to photograph landscapes you usually have a wide-angle lens — the object is far away and you use a high f-number — all these things together gives you a depth to infinity. And if you’re photographing macro you’re close to the object, you have a telephoto lens and often a low f-number — all these things will give you a very short depth which will make your object stand out and make the background soft and non-distracting.

Bokeh

The word Bokeh derives from the Japanese word Boke which means “blur” or “fuzzy“, and that’s just what the term refers to in photography. The out of focus areas in the photograph look very different depending on the depth of field as well as the lens used, some lenses produces much better bokeh than other lenses. The shape of the aperture is one of the most important parts together with the quality of the optics when it comes to how the out of focus areas appear.

The photograph above is meant to illustrate what bokeh is. The lens used was the Canon 50mm f/1.8 which isn’t considered to be a good bokeh lens due to it’s 5 aperture blades.

45 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point

    Photoshop tutorials, from beginner to advanced. photo manipulation, icon design, text effects, interface, layout, painting, photo effects, psd tuts, maxon cinema 4d, designing.
    http://photoshopcs8.co.cc

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    Wasif Ali (1 Point) October 30, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Sir, I have canaon 40d with 18-135 IS lense can it produce depth of field photography. If so please explain how.

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    android (3 Points) September 28, 2010 at 9:52 am

    tutorial from the best professional site for photographer world

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    Warren Jerzyszek (6 Points) July 12, 2010 at 3:58 am

    I’m looking into starting Photography but I find it quite a daunting task figuring out which is the best camera and lenses I should buy… I don’t want to end up buying something that isn’t going to be good enough for what I want to achieve. I was wondering if you know of any good cameras that can get a noob started. I really want to achieve nature shots capturing storms/clouds/wildlife and especially trees. This DOF explanation has been really useful! I cant wait to get started.

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    aishwarya (2 Points) June 15, 2010 at 10:26 am

    like this web site and love this picture

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    Smitha (1 Point) June 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Hi, I’m trying to learn photography through practice and guidance from friends. I have a 70-300 telephoto zoom lens and a EFS 18-55 Lens for my EOS 40D. There is one thing I really have figured out is to take pictures with DOF on my 18-55 lens. I just can’t seem to get Bokeh background. Can someone help me? The A-Dep setting on the EOS 40D will allow you to just adjust ISO speed. How do I get a nice potrait of a person or an object with a Blury background

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    sbean (2 Points) May 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Great tutorials! the best way someone explained DOF to me is this. It is like reading a book. f2..you are only seeing 2 pages..everything else behind the 2 pages is blurred….f4…seeing more…but everything after that is blurred….f16…you are seeing 16 pages…etc. This really helped me a lot to understand the DOF. Happy shooting!!!

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    Best book reviews (1 Point) May 10, 2010 at 5:37 am

    sir..your tutorials are of great help..especially to beginners like me..and if it’s alright to ask on how to maintain a proper focus on the subject..you see i have a problem on keeping the focus of an object whenever i take pictures..and i do not know the proper setting in order to achieve my desired focus..please do help me..i am really grateful for your help..and sir..if possible..if it’s alright for you to discuss more about the bokeh..the proper way to achieve the “circle” like effect of lights..the fast cars..Christmas lights..aperture spheres? the lights that come out from under the trees? and how to heighten colors in our photographs..thank you so much sir..it would be of great help..

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    “legitimate work at home jobs” :http://www.s4yes.com (1 Point) April 9, 2010 at 4:50 am

    Nice Tutorial

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    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 4:03 am

    thanks for sharing. So mush126

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    โหลดเพลงใหม่ฟรี (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    thanks for sharing. So mush119

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    เนื้อเพลง (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 12:07 am

    thanks for sharing. So mush114

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    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 7:56 am

    thanks for sharing. So mush

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    sir..your tutorials are of great help..especially to beginners like me..and if it’s alright to ask on how to maintain a proper focus on the subject..you see i have a problem on keeping the focus of an object whenever i take pictures..and i do not know the proper setting in order to achieve my desired focus..please do help me..i am really grateful for your help..and sir..if possible..if it’s alright for you to discuss more about the bokeh..the proper way to achieve the “circle” like effect of lights..the fast cars..Christmas lights..aperture spheres? the lights that come out from under the trees? and how to heighten colors in our photographs..thank you so much sir..it would be of great help..

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    sushma surin (1 Point) December 18, 2009 at 6:04 am

    thankyou for this tutorial on DoF. I has problem in understanding the right FOCUS on the object. Now i know the DoF will not only give right focus(like focusing on 6th or 7th child in the row ; with aperture fully open ie. f2.8 small number); but will also cover a greater distance and part of the object in a line. pls. confirm if i am right here with my view point.

    Sir, can u please guide me on getting the exact right FOCUS on object . i mean here my objects should not be out of focus.

    DoF is also used to blure the objects by changed aperture numbers in front and back of the image/object.this i greatly understand.

    but how about guiding me on shooting every shot as accurate with right FOCUS on object , and my shots not termed as ‘out of FOCUS ‘ images.pls. help. will be greatfull. regards.

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    texasbbj (1 Point) October 10, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Great help with your simple (for us) explanation.
    Just got a new Olympus E3 (more camera than I need but I will grow into it) and this helps to be able to firgure out some of what all this camera can do….
    Thanks again

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  17. Add point Subtract point

    thanks for your usefull article, I like your tutorial ..

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    Sandhya (1 Point) June 7, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Hi,

    I liked these tutorails. But i dont own a digi camera. For a beginner which camera do u suggest?

    Firstly, I want to go for gud one and economical one. Later, move to SLR and the likes.

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    Randee Daddona (1 Point) April 29, 2009 at 11:33 am

    I love your site! I found it by accident and so glad I did. It has a personal feel unlike other sites in which everyone claims to be an expert, you speak to the people! Thanks for that!
    Randee

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    Three cheers for a site worth bookmarking! Decent website really do come and go and are lost in the ether of the net, but your tutorials are truly gold! The information here is clear, concise and truly timeless! I’ve been doing a lot of reading after getting my hands on my first dSLR (nikon d40), f/number relating to depth of field was something I just couldn’t seem to really get a handle on. A lot of sites go into the heavy math equations and that’s fine and all, but it was a bit superfluous. You broke down DoF so well I clearly understand it in a single read :D After reading your article, I picked up my cam and snapped about five million shots, specifically watching the DoF with f/number adjustments. Trial and Error is great and all, but when an article like this explains it so clearly I just can’t help but be amazed! Thank you so much for the tutorial here :D You’ve saved me countless hours of trial and error ^_^

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    @Eva:
    Yeah, you’re right. I was thinking about a low f-number and got lost in my own thought there I guess.

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    Thank you for the tutorial. I have a question regarding the “Changing Lenses” section. You write, “If you want to photograph, let’s say 20 kids standing in a line, and you want as many of them as possible to be in focus, but you’re unable to have a small aperture…” Do you mean “but you’re unable to have a large aperature”? A large aperature would mean you were able to get all of the children in focus, wouldn’t it?

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  23. Add point Subtract point

    THANKYOU, I am a total novice and was told I need to know about DOF (get me using the lingo:p), this was an easy to understand article.

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  24. Add point Subtract point

    i glad to read this tutorial, i learn a lot of tips for being a photographer, I was newbies for photographer, this site will help me for stepping stone to become a professional photographer. More power to people at beyond of this site.. GOD bless

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    Jonathan (1 Point) August 29, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Very informative! I was unsure about ways to maximize DOF as it applies to focusing beyond subjects rather than in front of..Now i know

    Also, anyone interested in unbiased research with reagard to Canon lense performance..Check out William Castleman’s website. By trade he is a professor of Veteranarian science & the University of Florida…. But he is obviusly a great photographer as well

    His findings reagarding the Canon 50 mm 1.8 (a 74$ lense) vs the 1.2 (1600$) is shocking.. .. I have the 1.8 and find it is a great lense for the value

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    Fezly, more or less every lens can use the aperture f/22. Most lenses can be stopped down to apertures in the range around f/22-32. So for example lenses can have the range f/2.8-22 or f/1.4-32 (but this is often not written on the lens, you can find this information on the companies websites or such).

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    Fazly Emir (1 Point) July 2, 2008 at 1:53 am

    forgive my ignorance… :D

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    Fazly Emir (1 Point) July 2, 2008 at 1:51 am

    question… is there a lens that has f/22 aperture? what kind?

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  29. Add point Subtract point

    You’re diagrams depicting how those 3 things can effect your photos are priceless Fredrik. Thanks so much for yet another incredible Photography Tutorial.

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    @doncarlito, I’m glad to hear that you find the tutorials helpful! Just wanted to point one thing out, that you might already know, the Canon G9 is not a DSLR camera. It’s a great camera with many powerful features, but it shouldn’t be confused with a DSLR camera. You probably knew that, but I just wanted to make sure since it’s important to know.
    I think a G9 will be a great camera to learn more about photography with.

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    doncarlito (1 Point) May 26, 2008 at 11:39 am

    i dont have any idea about photography..im really greatfull of all your tutorials,Iv learn alot..i just own a point and shoot but now im confident enought of getting my self a DSLR (but still in learning stage,i think a g9 will do)..thanks for tutoring.

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    walid (1 Point) May 23, 2008 at 10:25 am

    cool tutorials man.

    ur really helping me undertsand photography so i’m not as nooby as i used to be.

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    Chad (1 Point) May 8, 2008 at 7:31 am

    I have read a lot of articles about DOF, but this one is no doubt the easiest, simplest, the best one to understand! THANKS YOU!

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    Tyler durden (1 Point) May 5, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    all of these photography tuts are great good job Fredrik!

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    iii James iii (1 Point) May 5, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I’m loving the constant stream of tutorials.

    All these photography ones inspire me to go out and spend a few more bucks on a high quality camera. Instead of the little Sony T series ones.

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