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Shooting with shallow depth of field

shooting with shallow depth of field
shooting with shallow depth of field
The last time I bought a new lens for my camera, I spent the better part of two months reading every review I could find. I hate that feeling of making a major purchase and wondering if I’ve made the right decision or in three weeks will I find something else that would have been two percent more perfect and now I’m left without a means to change, you know? So read, read, read was my system. Go through pages and pages of search results looking for the good, the bad and the ugly.

One of the reviews mentioned that the lens in question was perfect for _one of those crazy depth-of-field photographers. And if you don’t know if you fit in this category, then you definitely don’t. Oh, that just about sold me. For I’ll say it right now: I love crazily shallow depth-of-field. I will go to every length I can think of to get just a tiny sliver of the photo in focus and everything else pleasantly blurred. If that makes me crazy, so be it.

shooting with shallow depth of field
That lens isn’t actually one I have with me on this trip, because it’s the heaviest thing in my entire camera bag and really not practical for carrying every day, but I’ve brought the best compromise I can: the Canon 50mm f1.4. (I’m just carrying two lenses, by the way – the other is a wide angle I’ll talk more about another day.) The 50mm is my most used lens at home and has been my most used lens so far on this trip. It’s small and lightweight, but sturdier than the less expensive f1.8 (which I used and loved until all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the plastic 1.8 back together again) And I almost always have it set wide open to f1.4, which means it’s fast, great even in low-light and creates that crazy one-thing-in-focus look.

If depth of field is a new concept for you – it’s totally easy. See the picture of the soda bottle above? That’s the only thing in focus and the background of the picture is blurred, right? That’s because the depth of field is shallow. The wider the opening on the camera (the aperture), the more you’ll get this effect. If the lens isn’t opened as much, more of the scene will be in focus. That’s why pinhole cameras don’t need to be focused – the opening is so small that everything is in focus! On many cameras (even some point and shoots), the aperture is something you can adjust, and the numbers always work in the same way: the lowest number is the widest opening and the highest number is the smallest opening. So f1.4 means not much will be in focus… f22 (no decimal point) means pretty much everything will be in focus.

shooting with shallow depth of field
As for why I love my depth of field to be so crazily shallow, well… it’s partly because it’s how I see with my own eyes! I’m near-sighted to a pretty crazy amount, so without my glasses I’ll see just one thing in focus and the rest as a blur. There’s something comforting about recreating that with a camera lens! But mostly it’s because I like how you can focus on just one detail, no matter how small, and make the rest of the world fade away into the background. That ornate iron window screen? The background included traffic, a government building and a construction site. Not at all as peaceful as the window itself! I find that time and time again I come back to the idea that you can take all the visual stress out of a photo with shallow depth of field… though it does mean you have to pay attention to getting the right thing in focus, as it would be just as easy here to blur the window frame and focus on the building. Easy but not as lovely, I do believe.

shooting with shallow depth of field
Are you joining the crazy club with me for loving the softness of shallow depth of field? Or does it actually drive you mad wanting to just see everything in focus? I would love to know! If you want to share a link to your favourite shallow DOF photo, please do!

For advice on trying more with shallow depth of field, try
this post for a well-rounded technical discussion,
this post for a quick look at how camera modes can help,
this post if you shoot video,
and this post includes some notes on point and shoot cameras with good control of depth of field (namely the Lumix and the Powershot).


09 January 2011

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20 Comments for Shooting with shallow depth of field

  1. DeAnna Says:

    I love, love, love shallow depth of field! I love your photos in this post too ;D

  2. Judi Davis Says:

    Not a very good photographer here – I’m grateful to have anything in focus! :-) But you have so inspired me to find out exactly what my camera can do. Love these photos; Thanks for sharing them. Jude.x

  3. scrappysue Says:

    Its all I ever wanted to learn to do with my camera and I would take every photo like this if I could. So, count me in as another crazy depth of field kinda girl! Love your photos Shimelle!

  4. katrina Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    I’d always wanted to take pics but never thought I could till I took up your photography course last year, I then got stuck because my camera didn’t allow me to manually change anything. I now have a new camera, still fairly cheap but I have far more control. I’m now working my way back through that course.
    My ex is a photography enthusiast and I’ve asked him to explain how to do this and I just got a whole bunch of technical speak I couldn’t understand – you made it simple and easy to follow, the sign of a great teacher!
    I was off out to photograph the reflections of a bridge this morning, now I’m more inspired and have something new to play with :)

  5. alissa Says:

    here here, sister!
    i must confess.
    i am a crazy about shallow DOF girl, too!
    LOVE it!
    love your photos!

  6. Lisa Says:

    I’m with you too! Love the effect you get with DOF and my favourite play around trick is to create bokeh (I took so many of the pretty lights this Christmas!) I love the idea of using it more everyday to get the type of shots that you have shared so thanks for the inspiration. This is a DOF bokeh shot I am particularly proud of just a simple forget-me-not.
    Thanks for this post – makes me want to go out and explore!
    Hope you are having an amazing time – enjoying reading about your travels and adventures.

  7. Debby B. Says:

    Hi, love your photos but I am still struggling to do all the clever things you do. This year is the year I will be learning to use my camera as well as I can. Reading your blog makes me want to try and do all the artistic and clever stuff you do. With practice I’ll get there. Thanks so much for all your inspiration and fantastic photographs.

  8. Mel Says:

    I’m definitely in the shallow dof camp – I love, love, love it! :-) I got a new camera for Christmas and the first thing I’m doing is figuring out the aperture settings for just this kind of shot…. And the first extra lens I’ll get will be one that helps me get even better effects! Thanks for the links, I shall follow them with interest xx

  9. Clair Says:

    I’m with you – it’s the camera equivalent of covering the world in snow.

  10. Lisa-Jane Johnson Says:

    You’ve inspired me to take more pictures and in a different way than anyone or anything else ever has! I wish I had known about you and that DSLRS had been around when we went travelling. Where was the window shot taken? I LOVE shallow DOF and I think it fits right for scrapbooking like nothing else. I’m loving hearing about your travels but missing you on Facebook! xx

  11. Alysse Says:

    I am verry fond of a shallow DOF. Love you pictures. Here’s one I love

  12. Danielle Says:

    Thanks for this post! I have a Canon G9 which I LOVE because it is small enough to go with me everywhere, yet is completely manual. However, I NEVER take it off of auto. I’m a big chicken. This article helped me remember that it is possible to take those crazy in focus pics that I love and that I need to dial my camera down to Aperture Priority and PLAY! Thanks again for the great info. :-)

  13. Taylor Says:

    I love shallow depth also. Right now I usually have to fake it, but fake it til you make it right! But I also just took my camera off auto last week :)


  14. Laura Says:

    So, is your true love the awe inspiring 1.2? If so, I have a funny story to share. I too lamented for months before taking the plunge.

  15. Lola Says:

    I love shallow DOF! So much so that the only lense my husband said I needed was his Nikkor 50mm f1.4 (he lets me use his extra camera body—a Nikon D200). Here is a link to photo I took for your LYP,LYP class last summer.

  16. wannabe rebel Says:

    Yep shallow depth of field does it for me too !!

  17. byron Says:

    I’m a crazy DOF person as well. Unfortunately unable to use a DSLR these days, since C uses it. one of these days I’ll be able to afford or at least justify purchasing one, and C and I will be able to use our little lens collection with both camera bodies.

  18. sandie Says:

    Oh I love your new photos Shimelle! Depth of field is something I love though my camera is limited in what it can do as it is digital hybrid. I love it all the same and have bought a Samsung camera from my son that has more manual control. I need to play. I’m not like you and do not read manuals or instructions unless I am driven to distraction. Perhaps if I read them first I might not get to this point. Note to self!!
    I am doing Project 365 again this year so trying out new ideas and experimenting is part of my plan. I will have to include more SDF after being so inspired by your pictures.
    Here is a link to acouple of photos I have taken so far using shallow depth of field:

  19. Deborah Says:

    I love, love, love shallow depth of field! I am so glad you mentioned which lenses you are using – I was going to email and ask (had a feeling one of them was a 50mm – I love mine!). Loving following your travels – thank you so much for sharing.

  20. JJ Says:

    I have the 1.8 because that’s what was in my budget. but I love it – it’s always on my camera! And I love shallow DOF too.

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