Creating a focal point within your photographs is one of the most vital aspects of capturing high quality imagery. Drawing your viewer’s eye to one specific area of your image not only grabs their attention, but allows them to become visually aware of the strongest element within your photograph’s composition.
In order to truly highlight a specific subject or part of your scene, you’ll need to understand how to create a distinct separation between your foreground and background. To do this, photographers employ the technique of creating a shallow depth of field.
What is a Shallow Depth of Field?
The technical definition of depth of field in photography is the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects giving a focused image.
Now, a shallow depth of field takes this definition a step further and applies it to pertain to a smaller range of focus. A shallow, smaller depth of field allows you to soften the focus or blur out specific details in either the foreground or background of your image. In doing so, this will draw the focus of your viewer’s eye to one specific part of your photograph.
A shallow depth of field is recognizably visible in various types of photography from up close portraiture, still life imagery, wildlife and even landscapes.
How to Create a Shallow Depth of Field
To create a shallow depth of field in your photographs, you will need to adjust your aperture accordingly.
Aperture refers to the opening of a lens’ iris through which light passes to reach the camera’s sensor. A wide aperture will allow a large amount of light to pass through, while a narrow aperture will allow a small amount of light to pass through. The value of aperture is denoted by an f-stop which can be adjusted based on your lighting conditions. A small f-stop corresponds to a wide aperture, while a large f-stop corresponds to a narrow aperture.
For shallow depth of field images, you will want to allow the most amount of light to reach the sensor of your camera. Therefore, shallow depth of field images require you to set your camera to a low f-stop to create a wide aperture.
Shallow depth of field images are often created when an aperture’s f-stop corresponds to values such as f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.2, or f/2.8. The lower the value, the higher the intensity of background blur in your images.
An easy trick to start practicing your shallow depth of field photography is to use your camera’s Aperture Priority mode. Set your aperture to your desired value and snap away. Examine which aperture creates the most substantial background blur while maintaining the sharpness of your image.
Examples of Shallow Depth of Field Photos
In these examples, you can see how the subject or object remains the focal point of the image, while the background surroundings are out of focused or blurred. For each image, the shallow depth of field draws the viewer’s attention straight to the object in focus.