What You Need To Know About Depth-of-Field

Understanding depth of field in photography is paramount to enhancing things like storytelling and layering in your images. In this article, we cover the basics of depth of field and see how different camera settings such as focal length and aperture play a direct role in the depth of field in an image. What You Need To Know About Depth-of-Field.

1. What is Depth Of Field In Photography?

Depth of field (DOF) in photography is the space between two points of an image in focus. It is the area of a photograph that has “acceptable focus” or “acceptable sharpness”.

To understand this concept, look at the image of a coffee mug below. Here you will notice that the closest and furthest parts of the cup are out of focus, whereas the centre of the cup is sharp. This image has a shallow depth of field that covers a short portion of the image inside the circumference of the mug only.

Coffee mug - What You Need To Know About Depth-of-Field

2. Why Use Depth Of Field?

Depth of field is one of the most powerful tools a photographer can use in their imagery. First and foremost, it can draw the viewers eye to a particular part of a photograph. This technique is effective in storytelling because it can isolate a subject in a composition while maintaining its context.

The use of depth of field is effective in other techniques like layering. Layering in photography consists of including a foreground, mid-ground, and background in an image. This technique can be described best with an example used in landscape photography.

In one instance, a photographer may wish to capture an open landscape with no foreground. Making this type of photograph, a photographer will use a narrow aperture such as f/16 – f/22 to capture the entire composition in focus.

Mountains - What You Need To Know About Depth-of-Field

However, when applying layering to landscape photography, the photographer will place detail in the foreground of an image like leaves or grass. In this case, using a wide aperture like f/1.4 will be used to blur the foreground only. Using this technique will help create depth in an image and create the illusion that the viewer is peering through the foliage at the landscape.

3. Variables Effecting Depth Of Field

No matter what type of camera or lens you use, several variables will affect the depth of field in an image. These are focal length, aperture, subject distance, and sensor size.

Understanding the relationships these elements share with the depth of field is vital to improving your photography skills. Take the time to understand them fully in theory and then practice them in a variety of scenarios.

3.1. The Relationship Between Focal Length And Depth Of Field

A longer focal length translates to a narrower depth of field. Conversely, a shorter focal length increases the focal length.

For this reason, many portrait photographers will use longer focal lengths because it allows them to increase the blurriness or bokeh of the background of a composition. On the other hand, wide-angle lenses have short focal lengths, which means they are perfect for capturing scenes with high sharpness throughout the entire image.

Portrait - What You Need To Know About Depth-of-Field

3.2. The Relationship Between Aperture And Depth Of Field

As we learned in understanding the basics of aperture in photography, the lower the f-stop setting on the camera, the wider the opening in the lens will be. The lower the f-stop, the more light a lens will allow entering the camera.

Due to the law of physics, a wider aperture will cause a shallower depth of field in your photography, and a higher aperture setting will increase the depth of field.

3.3. The Relationship Between Subject Distance And Depth Of Field

The distance of a subject from a camera has a direct effect on the depth of field. The closer the focal point is to the camera, the greater the depth of field will be. Whereas increasing this distance will decrease the depth of field in an image.

To help understand this concept better, let us look at an example. If you are using a high focal length such as 80mm with a low f-stop to shoot a portrait of a dog, if you get too close to the animal, you will notice that its nose becomes blurred. However, if you increase your distance from the animal, the entire subject will become sharp.


The nose will be blurry because the short distance from the subject has caused the depth of field to become so narrow it cannot focus on the eyes and the nose. It is helpful to note also that by increasing the distance of a subject from a background, the greater the depth of field will be.

3.4. The Relationship Between Sensor Size And Depth Of Field

The sensor size of a camera also plays a role in the depth of field. For example, if the camera settings are the same on a camera will a full-frame sensor and one with an APS-C sized sensor, the full-frame camera will have a shallower depth of field.

Understanding this is a vital component when deciding on your choice of camera to use. Full-frame cameras are also better in other instances, such as shooting in low light conditions. However, the trade-off is that these cameras are typically more expensive, and their lenses weigh more due to their increased size.

4. Conclusion

Depth of field is a vital element in photography. It has the power to enhance the story or subject in a photograph and create effective layering. Every new photographer should take the time to learn the relationship between the settings discussed and the depth of field to produce the images that match their creative vision.

Now you have a better understanding of depth of field in photography and its relationship with other camera settings, get into the field and practice shooting things with a long and narrow depth of field to see what works and what doesn’t in different scenarios.

What You Need To Know About Depth-of-Field, What You Need To Know About Depth-of-Field, What You Need To Know About Depth-of-Field

David Davis
David Davishttps://shuttergang.com
Hi, My name is Dave, and I am passionate about photography. I am currently travelling to document the world's most interesting people and places. I have started this blog to share these incredible sights and experiences with you, including all the knowledge I gain as a photographer/videographer along the way. If you share a passion for street, documentary, and travel photography, join the mailing list and stay up to date with the latest posts and resources direct from the field.

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