Most of the time when we take pictures, we like for the entire scene to be in focus. But what about those times when we’re photographing a person and you want just them to be in sharp focus while the rest of the background has that soft, blurred look?
That’s known as shallow depth of field and photographers employ it frequently in portrait photography, as well as when photographing things like food. It’s a way to draw the eye’s attention to the subject in a photo and minimize any distracting background objects. It can be handy to know how to create the effect whenever you want.
Here is how you do it:
The aperture of your camera controls the depth of field. The larger, or more wide open, the aperture is, the shallower the depth of field. A very shallow depth of field means more of your photo will be blurred. On your camera, the smaller ‘f’ numbers mean shallower depth of field. So a setting of f2.8 or f4 will leave more of your photo blurred while an f8 will have more of the photo in sharp focus. If you want everything in focus, you can go up to f16 or higher.
There are some easy ways for beginner photographers to achieve a shallow depth of field — you can practice with different methods and see which one works better for you.
Put distance between your subject and the background.
Probably the easiest method is to use a little strategic positioning to do the hard work for you. When you do this, you want to make it so that your subject — the thing you want to focus on — is positioned with as much distance between it and the background as possible. If you are photographing a person standing in front of a bunch of trees, put as much distance between the person and the trees as you can. This will help enhance the blurry effect of the background.
Use your camera’s “Portrait Mode.”
On most digital camera’s you will find portrait mode along with all the other shooting options (this can be on a wheel located at the top of the camera or a selection you make from the menu on the preview screen). The portrait mode icon looks like the silhouette of a head. This is pretty universal among cameras, so if you don’t immediately see it, you can look around under the settings.
Selecting portrait mode will automatically choose a larger aperture (the lower ‘f” numbers) which will give you the smaller, shallower depth of field that you are going for.
Use your camera’s “Aperture Priority Mode.”
You can switch to aperture priority mode by finding the ‘A’ on your camera settings. This will allow you to select the aperture of your choice, in this case one of the smaller ‘f’ numbers, while letting your camera to choose the rest of the settings. This can come in very handy if you’re not familiar with all of the manual controls on your camera, but you want to have a little more control than when the camera is in the fully automatic mode. Consider this a semi-auto mode, a happy medium.
Remember, to achieve that lovely soft focused blur to the background, you want to choose the widest aperture you can that will still allow for your subject to be in complete focus. If you choose an aperture that is too wide (the very small ‘f’ numbers), then parts of your subject could come out blurry because the depth of field is too shallow. It’s helpful to play with this option by taking shots with several different aperture’s until you settle on the one that works best for you.
If you are more advanced, or after you get comfortable with these techniques, you can then shoot in manual, where you select both your aperture, speed and ISO.
Sarah Taylor is an avid writer and photographer working at Veri Photography where she constantly hones her skills, letting her passion speak through her texts and photos.