In other posts, you’ve read about aperture (opening in the lens that lets light pass into the camera body) and how aperture affects exposure. Hopefully, after several experiments, you now have a feel of how aperture works.

While fidgeting with your camera’s aperture, you probably discovered (accidentally or on purpose) its side effect on your photo, namely, defining the scene’s depth of field.

Armed with this information, you can move beyond your camera’s automated settings and take more creative images by learning how you can get a shallow depth of field to your photos. In this article, we’re going to focus on all the different ways for you to get a shallow depth of field.

Understanding Depth of Field

One of the things that make photography interesting is that you as the photographer, have control over the size of the depth of field.

Fine, but what is it?

“Depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appears acceptable sharp in an image.”

All the other areas outside of the depth of field will look blurred. It’s usually used to highlight the main focus of your photo. With a little fiddling, you can make the depth of field larger or smaller.

Small Depth of Field or Shallow Depth of Field

When using wide apertures like f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8, or f/4.0, the area in front and behind the focus point becomes shallow or very slim. Thus, the object or subject in front and right behind the plane of focus becomes out of focus. 

This is opposite of using a small aperture, such as f/22, which allows for everything in the frame to be in focus. You’ll also need more light to enter the frame since the aperture opening is much smaller, which can be done by adjusting your shutter speed.

Several types of photography use a shallow depth of field to isolate the subject from its environment.

For example, a shallow depth of field creates a sense of intimacy around the focal point of your portrait photography. This is because of your capacity to blur the background, foreground, or both. 

Factors That Affect the Depth of Field

There are four primary factors that determine how much or how little depth of field you are working with:

  • Distance to the subject: The rule is simple – if you want a shallow depth of field, focus on a nearby object, and for greater depth, focus on faraway ones. The closer you focus on your subject, the shallower your depth of field will be.
  • Alternatively use a lower f-stop (wider aperture): The smaller number gives a shallow depth of field, while the larger ones will result in a bigger DOF.
  • Focal length: Telephoto lens produces a shallow depth of field. Shallower than any other type of lens. This is why many wedding and portrait photographers like to use a longer focal length lens (like the 70-200mm focal length lens) as focal length lenses create wonderful bokeh (smooth out-of-focus areas of the photo).
  • Sensor size: The smaller the camera sensor, the larger the depth of field, whereas the larger the sensor, the shallower the depth of field. This is why you cannot get a shallow depth of field using a point-and-shoot camera because its sensor is too small compared to a full-frame camera.  

How to Get a Shallow Depth of Field

A shallow depth of field is an excellent way to capture shots that sharpens the subject and blurs the background. Having said that, let’s look into the vital points that can help you manage a shallow depth of field for your pictures. 

Mind the Subject’s Position 

One of the best ways to get a blurry depth of field is by placing the subject you want to photograph as far away from any objects behind them as possible.

Likewise, a good distance away from the background results in less distraction. 

Hence, it would be best to put distance to help maximize the blur in the background and highlight your target better. 

Find a Focus Point

A viewer will normally look at the most in-focus part of a photo. Knowing this, you can guide the viewer’s eye exactly where you want. When you have many points of interest, the selective focus can help provide a shallow depth of field. 

For instance, choose a point where one part of a photo becomes the target. If you’re into portrait photography, you can make the eyes the focal point and let the rest of the photo become blurry. 

Use Portrait Mode

Are you wondering how to get a shallow depth of field using camera modes?

Most DSLR cameras now feature a portrait mode, which selects a wide aperture that makes a small depth of field. As a result, the amount of focus in your shot becomes smaller as well and it’s easier to get a shallow depth of field. 

Try Aperture Priority Mode 

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, switch from Portrait to Aperture Priority Mode. Unlike the previous mode, Aperture mode allows you to pick the aperture while the mode tells the camera to select all the other settings.  

This setting is a great way to control a shallow DOF while ensuring your photos are well exposed. Try taking a few shots at different large apertures and see how much blur you want for your images. 

Compensate the Large Aperture 

The lower the f-stop number, the shallower the depth of field. If you choose a wide aperture to create a small DOF, this means you’ll be letting in a lot of light. For photography, you’ll need to compensate for it by increasing the shutter speed or using a neutral density filter. 

Utilize a Zoom Lens

When it comes to photography, you’ll need to have gears that allow you to be flexible. One of those is a zoom lens with different focal lengths. With a zoom lens with a different focal length, you can fill up the frame easily while highlighting the subject and blurring the background. 

Many zoom lenses will have various maximum apertures at different points along the focal length spectrum. For example, an 18-55mm kit camera lens may have a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at 18mm and a maximum aperture of f/5.6 at 55mm. 

While a 18mm lens can give you a blurry background, you’ll need to get in really close with the subject. Instead, try shooting at the 55m end, so that you can stand further back and push the background further away from the camera. 

Create a Bokeh 

Sometimes you may not notice that in your attempt to blur the background or foreground, you’re also creating an aesthetic quality of the blur in out-of-focus areas of an image. 

In photography, this is what we refer to as bokeh. It is the quality of blur you get at a shallow depth of field that may produce circular discs of light due to out-of-focus points of light. 

Experiment With Foreground Framing 

Blurry foreground framing forms a soft frame for your subjects. Shoot through things like foliage or bars to create a blurry layer. Framing also lets you make an illusion as if something is surrounding your subject. 

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Depth of field preview?

Did you know that you can see how the photo would look (how much DOF you have) even before you snap the picture? It depends on your camera.

Many manufacturers now put a DOF preview on their cameras somewhere in the front, usually near the camera lens mount. After focusing on your subject, press the preview button to check the image that you will create and see if you got a shallow DOF. Pretty cool!


By understanding the photography concept of depth of field, you can focus on creating stunning images with a shallow depth of field that showcase exactly what you are looking to showcase.

But if you are looking for a stunning portrait that “pops” right off the screen… now you know how to best and accomplish that look!

Chat soon!

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