What is Shallow Depth of Field Photography?

If you’ve been in the photography business for a while, you’ve probably heard of “shallow depth of field.” The concept is one of the best skills for photographers to master, and it applies to multiple genres. So you will definitely have to figure it out at some point.

Knowing the basics of shallow depth of field photography is simple, although mastering it takes time. Keep reading to learn more about what shallow depth of field is, as well as how to take such photos and some examples.


What is shallow depth of field?

Shallow depth of field refers to images where a particular subject is in focus, but the rest of the image is out of focus. You may have seen photographers trying out the “bokeh” effect in portrait photography, which is one of the many instances where you would use it.

You need to learn how to take shallow depth of field photos for several reasons. First, it adds context to your image and enhances the story. Besides that, it will be much easier for you to show the audience where to look, which will make your photo more memorable.

A shallow depth of field also adds more detail to the subject you are primarily focusing on, which will make your photos more visually appealing.

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How to take shallow depth of field photos

Now that you know the basics of shallow depth of field photography, you’re ready to learn some tips to help you take better photos. Below are the best ways to improve your shallow depth of field.

1. Use a lens with a longer focal length

When aiming for shallow depth of field in photography, you want to get as close to your main subject as possible without ruining the composition. If you’re shooting something too far away, you might want to consider using a lens with a longer focal length, like an 85mm.

Using a lens with a longer focal length will work in portrait photography, but it’s just as useful for landscape shots; you can also capture unique street photography. A telescopic lens is ideal, but a 50mm can also do the trick, as long as you’re not too far from what you’re trying to capture.


2. Widen your opening

If you’re trying to get a shallow depth of field with a narrow aperture, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Instead, you want to focus on widening it to create distance between your foreground, midground, and background.

How much you widen the aperture depends on what you’re trying to shoot, but f/6.4 or less makes sense in most cases. If you’re shooting landscapes, you still want the viewer to recognize your background, but other styles may not require this. Use your judgment based on your personal situation.

3. Choose your main topic wisely

One of the main reasons you would shoot with a shallow depth of field is to focus on a particular subject. So it makes sense to think carefully about what you want to include as a focal point in your image.


Before you start clicking, spend some time observing your surroundings. Think about the atmosphere and what you are trying to portray before you start filming; you will enjoy much better results if this way.

Examples of shallow depth of field

We’ve talked a lot about shallow depth of field so far, but you’ll understand the theory much better if you see real-life examples. Here are three of them.

Example 1

In the first shallow depth of field example, you’ll notice the seagull is the main focal point. The port behind is blurry, but you can still tell what’s going on.

Example 2

This second example shows a street sign in New York, with a building in the background. As in the previous photo, the building is out of focus, but you can still tell the person took the photo in a busy city.


Example 3

The third example of shallow depth of field is a portrait taken in the middle of a street at golden hour. As you can see, the person stands out against the blurred background, which still captures the life of the scene.

A shallow depth of field will make your photos stand out

Shallow depth of field photography is a great way to tell better stories and produce outstanding results. Regardless of your gender, you should at least become proficient in this skill.

Shooting shallow depth of field photos gives you another tool to use when the situation calls for it, and you can also transfer it to filmmaking if you’re interested in producing video content.


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Stewart C. Hartline