How to Get Shallow Depth of Field in Your Digital Photos - Digital Photography School

How to Get Shallow Depth of Field in Your Digital Photos

Shallow-Depth-Of-Field

I’ve been taking a lot of portrait shots of our kids lately with my husband’s DSLR (Canon EOS 20D) and I’ve noticed that on some shots that I take the backgrounds is all soft and out of focus while in others it is completely clear. I’d like the soft background more but as I’ve been shooting in Auto mode I don’t know how the camera did it before. Can you give any suggestions? – submitted by DPS reader Sandra

Thanks for the question Sandra. You’re right about the soft blurry backgrounds in portraits – in most cases they are a great way to highlight your main subject and get rid of any distractions in the background.

There are a number of things you might like to try. I’ll start with the easy ones:

Positioning of Subject

One of the easiest things you can do is position the subject you’re wanting to photograph as far away from any objects behind them as possible. If they are standing right in front of a wall you’ll probably end up with it in focus no matter what else you do – but if they’re standing 100 meters in front of that same wall it’s going to be a lot more blurry. Of course this will only get you so far – you’ll need to do some of what’s coming next as well.

Portrait Mode

The Canon EOS 20D has a little wheel on top of it (on the left) with lots of little icons on it. One of those icons is a little head. This icon is the symbol for portrait mode and if you’re not confident with changing apertures (we’ll discuss this below) it’s a good mode to switch to as it will do some of the work for you. Portrait mode chooses a large aperture (a small ‘f’ number) which will make the depth of field (the amount of your shot in focus) smaller.

Aperture Priority Mode

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous switch the wheel to ‘A’ which is Aperture Priority Mode (go on, you can do it). I’ve written on this mode before but to recap – this mode lets you choose the Aperture (the size of the hole in your lens) and tells the camera to choose all the other settings. This semi-auto mode is a great way to control depth of field as it will ensure your images are well exposed. For shallow depth of field and nice blurry backgrounds choose a large Aperture (the smaller the number the larger the aperture). Try taking a few shots at different apertures and see how it affects the background of your shots – this is the best way to learn how to get more creative control in your shots.

Zoom Lenses

I’m not sure what lens you have on your 20D but if you’re like most people these days it will be a zoom lens with different focal lengths. Many zooms will have different maximum apertures at different points along the focal length spectrum. For example if it’s an 18-55mm kit lens it will have a maximum aperture of f3.5 at 18mm and a maximum aperture of f5.6 at 55mm. Many see the bigger aperture at the 18mm end of the range and think that that would be the best focal length for blurry backgrounds. The problem with this is that 18mm is a very wide angle and for portraits it can mean you need to get in really close to your subject and it could distort their facial features (not really desirable).

Instead I find that shooting at the 55mm end of the lens is best. This means you can stand further back (making your subject more at ease and pushing your background even further away from your camera). You’ll probably still get nice blurry backgrounds if you use the fastest aperture available.

The other good thing about zooms is that they enable you to really fill up your frame with your subject which can give it more prominence and your background less.

Get a New Lens

This is an ‘easy’ solution in some ways, but hard if you don’t have the budget. Different lenses have different maximum apertures. Those with larger ones are called ‘faster’ and one of the impacts of having a fast lens is that you can make your depth of field smaller (another is that you can shoot in lower light situations without needing the flash). A good option for Canon DSLRs is the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. It’s very fast, it’s a good focal length for portraits and it is one of the most affordable lenses Canon make.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://www.mickperez.multiply.com Mick`

    i got totally confused with aperture. But I’m, good at it now

  • Lyndon

    Jane,

    Im no expert but I believe that due the available light, the shutter speed is being set to 1-2 seconds by the camera cause the apeture you have chosen is a high number.

    Try reducing your aperture, increasing the ISO on the camera (or using a flash?)

  • Lyndon

    sorry I meant 1-2 minutes not seconds….

  • Chantal

    Hi Darren, Thank you thank you thank you!!!! I have finally found a site where I, a mere woman, can understand and learn from. I have been searching for a course to learn my digital camera for ages and never found anything suitable until I stumbled onto your site, so once again, thank you! My aim is to learn for an hour a day and at long last it is becoming clearer!!!!!!At long last I have grasped the concepts of ISO , aperature and shutter sheed. Hoooraaaayyyyyy!

  • http://www.daddyoproductions.net Carrie

    Chantal, glad you found the site, but please be assured, us women members here are fabulous, intelligent, talented, vibrant, and very relevant…the word ‘mere’ cannot be used to describe us, as it should not you! Welcome :)

  • Sonya

    OH my goodness. One thing you said rang so true and I never realized it. Honestly, it was a light bulb moment for me. I have a shoot today and I am excited now!!

    One of the easiest things you can do is position the subject you’re wanting to photograph as far away from any objects behind them as possible. If they are standing right in front of a wall you’ll probably end up with it in focus no matter what else you do – but if they’re standing 100 meters in front of that same wall it’s going to be a lot more blurry

    I was missing this totally.

  • http://www.cambridgeworld.com Cambridge World

    Cambridge World Subcategories: Cameras
    is best camera

  • Toni

    I am also having trouble obtaining consistent blurry backgrounds for portraits on my sony alpha 350. I am able to get a pretty good blur using the macro (flower) setting when taking close ups of flowers, but am not doing as well with people. Wondering if i need a new lens? I also have a telephoto lens (300mm) but don’t usually use it, but wondered if the technique works better with that lens? any feedback from others, especially sony users?

  • Doug

    Toni,

    It’s not the camera but rather the lens. The 300mm will work well.
    Just position yourself around 15′ back and set your F stop open to say F4

    Give that a try.

  • Toni

    Thanks Doug,

    Is there any more versatile lens that I can use to achieve this effect.. problem for me is when I go out, i often don’t want to use the tele lens, way to bulky for family activities which is when i try to get some good portrait shots. I will practice with the 300 mm this week.. thanks for the feedback. Toni

  • Doug

    Toni,

    A friend uses an older Minolta 85mm F1.4 prime lens and swears by it.
    There are some 135MM as well I think.

  • Farook

    If Aperture is actually f/x then does f/5.6 @ 55mm actually give you a more shallow DOF than f/3.5 @ 18mm? (since 55mm/5.6 = 9.82mm and 18mm/3.5 = 5.14mm).

  • Melanie

    Hi i can’t get dept of field correct. Please help! i’m a student. I own a Canon 450 D EOS, Lenses 18-55mm and 55-250. With one could i use to get the depth of field correct. I am clueless. please help it’s an assignment that must be in on monday. I don’t understand why i can’t get this right!
    they want your camera on manual mode, lense on manual focus. What is the correct shutter speed for f22?

  • Doug

    Shutter speed won’t do a lot for your depth of field.

    F22 equals no depth of field in Portrait unless you are doing Macro which will create shallow depth of field even at F22

    The trick is set it for your widest Aperture (F2.8 – F4) and shoot with your 55-250mm set at 100-200mm and get a bit of distance from your subject to fill the frame.

    You can then play around and adjust your shutter speed and exposure compensation to achieve the correct exposure after that.

  • farook

    If Aperture is actually f/x then does f/5.6 @ 55mm actually give you a more shallow DOF than f/3.5 @ 18mm? (since 55mm/5.6 = 9.82mm and 18mm/3.5 = 5.14mm).

  • http://www.davelaphamphotography.com Dave Lapham Photography

    50mm 1.4 thats kinda shallow

  • ayu

    thanks Darren. Your site really informative and practical especially for newbie.

  • http://www.jessikerbakes.blogspot.com Jessica @ Jessiker Bakes

    Nice…just also wanted to say your words “Aperture Priority Mode is a great way to control depth of field as it will ensure your images are well exposed.” is a little off. Alignment that is. Great article!

  • caoi

    how about my sony a380y?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/hasan-amin/ hasan amin

    very helpful , step-by-step lesson in portrait shooting , thank you very much

  • Frank

    I want to focus on a moving subject with a comlpletely blurred background. I tried using a macro lense, but the close distance needed to maintain a blurry background is not enough to accommodate the size of the subject, and the shots end up looking cropped. Any suggestions?

  • jamq

    what shutter speed should you be at to take a shallow dof shoot?
    I have to do a project and need an answer quick!
    thanks a million!

  • http://www.gryphy.com Alisa Loveday

    Thank you for explaining this in plain English. I have read about this concept so many times on different photography sites only to leave scratching my head and not quite feeling like I “get” it. Suddenly after reading this page, I had an a-ha moment! It finally made sense. Excellent post!

  • Denise

    I have a sony alpha 330 and I normally use the portrait setting if I wanna make the background blur. However I don’t get the effect as much as what is shown in the picture above. I tried messing with the Aperture Setting but I come to find that when I click the shutter button it’ll take a while to process the picture and everything in my picture will be blurred. I’m still learning how to use this camera so any info would be great! Thanks!

  • Doug

    Denise,

    It sounds like you are going the wrong direction in Aperture priority. You will want to get it down to f2.8, f3.5 or the smallest number available for your lens. If the shutter is staying open too long then most likely you went the opposite direction “smaller opening” F11, F16 etc

    Do yourself a favor and buy the relatively inexpensive 50mm f1.8 or 50mm f1.4 if you have a little more to spend.
    With these lenses depth of field “Blurry background” is a given since you will be shooting at f1.8 and these lenses are very fast even in low light. This should be your second lens after the kit lens.

  • Doug

    Denise,

    It sounds like you are going the wrong direction in Aperture priority. You will want to get it down to f2.8, f3.5 or the smallest number available for your lens. If the shutter is staying open too long then most likely you went the opposite direction “smaller opening” F11, F16 etc

    Do yourself a favor and buy the relatively inexpensive 50mm f1.8 or 50mm f1.4 if you have a little more to spend.
    With these lenses depth of field “Blurry background” is a given since you will be shooting at f1.8 and these lenses are very fast even in low light. This should be your second lens after the kit lens.

  • James

    Just bought a cannon 7d and was going to take a photography class but I broke my kneecap in three pieces. What settings should I use for shallow depth of field. I have a 28-135,a 70-300is 1:4-5.6 and a 70-200mm 1:2.8 L and on the first one a macro 0.5m/1.6ft

  • James

    Also have a bower fisheye 0.16x 58mm

  • http://diminishingfaith.blogspot.com Rohit

    I’ve noticed that the DOF is thinner for the fastest aperture (f/5.6) at 55mm than it is at the fastest aperture (f/3.5) at 18mm.

  • A Cherch

    Photonoob, every heard of the iphone? it lets u go online, even when our not @ home….

  • A Cherch

    more importantly, i have the 20 d, with a 17-85 mm lens, would that suffice in-order to get a shallow depth of field?

  • http://www.wix.com/quicksilverstudiosco/quicksilverstudioscr Richard “Rick” Ohman

    Being a professional photographer does not mean I cannot use ocassional mentoring once in awhile. I find this site extremely valuable for any photographer and shall contribute my own “blogs” on occassion or if asked for advice
    Richard “Rick” Ohman
    rick.ohman@yahoo.com
    San Ramon Alajuela
    Costa Rica
    http://www.wix.com/quicksilverstudiosco/quicksilverstudioscr

  • Pablo Tejada

    Very nice,
    I mostly shoot at ISO 100 and I totally ignored a faster shooter would create a smaller DOP.
    So i think i could shoot at ISO 200, faster shooter speeds and i should get smaller DOP

  • http://www.familyphotographysydney.com.au Steven John McConnell

    Why would anyone pay $500 for some face-to-face photography course when this website offers such great info? Love it, great work. Basics for photography beginners explained simply.

  • http://www.artgallery.co.uk Steve Jones

    Admittedly I am just starting out, but I wasn’t sure what Apreture Priority mode was. Well, now I do! Thanks for this post.

    Steve @ Art Gallery

  • http://tcthornberry@mac.com Thomas C. Thornberry

    Responding to Pablo, wouldn’t you achieve larger appreture and therefore a shallower debth of field by lowering the iso not raising it?

  • http://www.lenstutorial.com LensTutorial

    Hello guys,

    I hope I can help someone with a free LensTutorial application that I’ve done for iPhone/iPad crowd.

    It can show you effects of shallow dof along with angle of view, so you can plan your photographic settings in advance choosing right lens, camera, distance to model, focal length and aperture.
    Or just use it to get more visual intuition about complex math between focal length, aperture, angle of view and depth of field.

    Check it out here: http://www.lenstutorial.com

    Drop me a note if you have suggestions or feature requests.

  • Chaitanya

    Can you suggest a budget digital camera (point & shoot) having depth of field control feature?

  • Daisy

    Hi I am struggling with my Nikon d3200 getting a picture where it’s blurry in back ground :/ I am setting it on all right settings but it just keeps taking a sharp shot. So frustrating. Please help :( x

  • Chuck

    Hi guys, we just took the family up to pikes peak for the 4th and I brought my 18-55 and 55-250 with my t3. Both served me well but if I’m taking a photo of a flower or my wife I tend to use the 55-250 and zoom or stand further back. I love a more shallow DOF and usually leave apature at 4 when possible but should I just be using my smaller lens and move forward ?

    Also I’m trying a shot where I have her lean against a brick wall and ill stand back maybe 15 ft and get a shallow DOF and focus on her. The DOF became more in focus about 7 ft or so before it got to her. Is that be wuss aperture wasn’t small large enough? I.e F2 F1etc?

  • lulu

    i would just like to say i love this article. i read it everyday before bed! see you soon

  • Johan Bauwens

    Dof doesn’t only depend on the f-number, but also the focal length of the lens and the distance to the subject, although these two factors compensate for eachother.

  • Sailaja

    Very helpful post…thanks

  • http://brankicaunderwood.com/ Brankica

    I was looking for a similar lens from Nikon and it says their version it isn’t supported for a d3200. any ideas about a lens that has same specifications and will work on d3200

  • Chellie

    I want to take a close up face shot about 0.5metres from the subject and have the whole face completely in focus to illustrate texture and tone of the skin. What should my aperture setting ultimately be? And in AV priority setting with a ring flash will it automatically adjust the amount of flash and shutter speed?

  • melish

    Could you make an article like this for ppl that don’t use cannon? EVERYTHing I find online are for cannons or the examples given are for cannons. So frustrating.

  • Kyle

    The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is supported for all cameras. What that means is that you will not be able to use auto focus with the selected lens. If you are not worried about that, you should be fine.

  • Gabriel

    You might wanna spell it CANON with a single N. :P

  • r neelabh

    hi this is Rishi, i use fujifilm hs25 exr. i tried your tips for shallow depth of field, but the maximum possible aperture is f/2.8. i mostly use it in manual mode with back button focusing, some of shots does have shallow depth of field, but most of doesn’t. & second question is.. In manual focus the pointer doesn’t search between multiple subject, even though it has an option of multi spot & average but no special changes occur . suppose i’ve to keep the subject at one side either left or right of the frame in that case i have to adjust the angle lens.

Some older comments

  • Chuck

    July 5, 2013 11:11 pm

    Hi guys, we just took the family up to pikes peak for the 4th and I brought my 18-55 and 55-250 with my t3. Both served me well but if I'm taking a photo of a flower or my wife I tend to use the 55-250 and zoom or stand further back. I love a more shallow DOF and usually leave apature at 4 when possible but should I just be using my smaller lens and move forward ?

    Also I'm trying a shot where I have her lean against a brick wall and ill stand back maybe 15 ft and get a shallow DOF and focus on her. The DOF became more in focus about 7 ft or so before it got to her. Is that be wuss aperture wasn't small large enough? I.e F2 F1etc?

  • Daisy

    March 20, 2013 01:45 am

    Hi I am struggling with my Nikon d3200 getting a picture where it's blurry in back ground :/ I am setting it on all right settings but it just keeps taking a sharp shot. So frustrating. Please help :( x

  • Chaitanya

    March 18, 2013 10:33 pm

    Can you suggest a budget digital camera (point & shoot) having depth of field control feature?

  • LensTutorial

    February 17, 2013 11:26 pm

    Hello guys,

    I hope I can help someone with a free LensTutorial application that I've done for iPhone/iPad crowd.

    It can show you effects of shallow dof along with angle of view, so you can plan your photographic settings in advance choosing right lens, camera, distance to model, focal length and aperture.
    Or just use it to get more visual intuition about complex math between focal length, aperture, angle of view and depth of field.

    Check it out here: www.lenstutorial.com

    Drop me a note if you have suggestions or feature requests.

  • Thomas C. Thornberry

    December 8, 2012 10:29 am

    Responding to Pablo, wouldn't you achieve larger appreture and therefore a shallower debth of field by lowering the iso not raising it?

  • Steve Jones

    September 27, 2012 07:51 pm

    Admittedly I am just starting out, but I wasn't sure what Apreture Priority mode was. Well, now I do! Thanks for this post.

    Steve @ Art Gallery

  • Steven John McConnell

    September 27, 2012 11:32 am

    Why would anyone pay $500 for some face-to-face photography course when this website offers such great info? Love it, great work. Basics for photography beginners explained simply.

  • Pablo Tejada

    May 1, 2012 11:58 pm

    Very nice,
    I mostly shoot at ISO 100 and I totally ignored a faster shooter would create a smaller DOP.
    So i think i could shoot at ISO 200, faster shooter speeds and i should get smaller DOP

  • Richard "Rick" Ohman

    January 14, 2012 05:58 am

    Being a professional photographer does not mean I cannot use ocassional mentoring once in awhile. I find this site extremely valuable for any photographer and shall contribute my own "blogs" on occassion or if asked for advice
    Richard "Rick" Ohman
    rick.ohman@yahoo.com
    San Ramon Alajuela
    Costa Rica
    www.wix.com/quicksilverstudiosco/quicksilverstudioscr

  • A Cherch

    October 31, 2011 07:40 am

    more importantly, i have the 20 d, with a 17-85 mm lens, would that suffice in-order to get a shallow depth of field?

  • A Cherch

    October 31, 2011 07:38 am

    Photonoob, every heard of the iphone? it lets u go online, even when our not @ home....

  • Rohit

    September 25, 2011 07:56 pm

    I've noticed that the DOF is thinner for the fastest aperture (f/5.6) at 55mm than it is at the fastest aperture (f/3.5) at 18mm.

  • James

    September 12, 2011 05:34 am

    Also have a bower fisheye 0.16x 58mm

  • James

    September 12, 2011 05:31 am

    Just bought a cannon 7d and was going to take a photography class but I broke my kneecap in three pieces. What settings should I use for shallow depth of field. I have a 28-135,a 70-300is 1:4-5.6 and a 70-200mm 1:2.8 L and on the first one a macro 0.5m/1.6ft

  • Doug

    August 12, 2011 11:39 pm

    Denise,

    It sounds like you are going the wrong direction in Aperture priority. You will want to get it down to f2.8, f3.5 or the smallest number available for your lens. If the shutter is staying open too long then most likely you went the opposite direction "smaller opening" F11, F16 etc

    Do yourself a favor and buy the relatively inexpensive 50mm f1.8 or 50mm f1.4 if you have a little more to spend.
    With these lenses depth of field "Blurry background" is a given since you will be shooting at f1.8 and these lenses are very fast even in low light. This should be your second lens after the kit lens.

  • Doug

    August 12, 2011 11:39 pm

    Denise,

    It sounds like you are going the wrong direction in Aperture priority. You will want to get it down to f2.8, f3.5 or the smallest number available for your lens. If the shutter is staying open too long then most likely you went the opposite direction "smaller opening" F11, F16 etc

    Do yourself a favor and buy the relatively inexpensive 50mm f1.8 or 50mm f1.4 if you have a little more to spend.
    With these lenses depth of field "Blurry background" is a given since you will be shooting at f1.8 and these lenses are very fast even in low light. This should be your second lens after the kit lens.

  • Denise

    August 11, 2011 11:02 pm

    I have a sony alpha 330 and I normally use the portrait setting if I wanna make the background blur. However I don't get the effect as much as what is shown in the picture above. I tried messing with the Aperture Setting but I come to find that when I click the shutter button it'll take a while to process the picture and everything in my picture will be blurred. I'm still learning how to use this camera so any info would be great! Thanks!

  • Alisa Loveday

    July 14, 2011 02:49 am

    Thank you for explaining this in plain English. I have read about this concept so many times on different photography sites only to leave scratching my head and not quite feeling like I "get" it. Suddenly after reading this page, I had an a-ha moment! It finally made sense. Excellent post!

  • jamq

    April 10, 2011 11:11 pm

    what shutter speed should you be at to take a shallow dof shoot?
    I have to do a project and need an answer quick!
    thanks a million!

  • Frank

    February 6, 2011 05:23 am

    I want to focus on a moving subject with a comlpletely blurred background. I tried using a macro lense, but the close distance needed to maintain a blurry background is not enough to accommodate the size of the subject, and the shots end up looking cropped. Any suggestions?

  • hasan amin

    November 12, 2010 06:28 am

    very helpful , step-by-step lesson in portrait shooting , thank you very much

  • caoi

    October 20, 2010 07:49 pm

    how about my sony a380y?

  • Jessica @ Jessiker Bakes

    October 19, 2010 01:32 pm

    Nice...just also wanted to say your words "Aperture Priority Mode is a great way to control depth of field as it will ensure your images are well exposed." is a little off. Alignment that is. Great article!

  • ayu

    September 7, 2010 10:39 am

    thanks Darren. Your site really informative and practical especially for newbie.

  • Dave Lapham Photography

    August 9, 2010 08:31 am

    50mm 1.4 thats kinda shallow

  • farook

    July 7, 2010 08:00 pm

    If Aperture is actually f/x then does f/5.6 @ 55mm actually give you a more shallow DOF than f/3.5 @ 18mm? (since 55mm/5.6 = 9.82mm and 18mm/3.5 = 5.14mm).

  • Doug

    June 11, 2010 03:51 am

    Shutter speed won't do a lot for your depth of field.

    F22 equals no depth of field in Portrait unless you are doing Macro which will create shallow depth of field even at F22

    The trick is set it for your widest Aperture (F2.8 - F4) and shoot with your 55-250mm set at 100-200mm and get a bit of distance from your subject to fill the frame.

    You can then play around and adjust your shutter speed and exposure compensation to achieve the correct exposure after that.

  • Melanie

    June 10, 2010 01:02 am

    Hi i can't get dept of field correct. Please help! i'm a student. I own a Canon 450 D EOS, Lenses 18-55mm and 55-250. With one could i use to get the depth of field correct. I am clueless. please help it's an assignment that must be in on monday. I don't understand why i can't get this right!
    they want your camera on manual mode, lense on manual focus. What is the correct shutter speed for f22?

  • Farook

    May 18, 2010 08:56 am

    If Aperture is actually f/x then does f/5.6 @ 55mm actually give you a more shallow DOF than f/3.5 @ 18mm? (since 55mm/5.6 = 9.82mm and 18mm/3.5 = 5.14mm).

  • Doug

    May 5, 2010 11:29 pm

    Toni,

    A friend uses an older Minolta 85mm F1.4 prime lens and swears by it.
    There are some 135MM as well I think.

  • Toni

    May 5, 2010 10:17 pm

    Thanks Doug,

    Is there any more versatile lens that I can use to achieve this effect.. problem for me is when I go out, i often don't want to use the tele lens, way to bulky for family activities which is when i try to get some good portrait shots. I will practice with the 300 mm this week.. thanks for the feedback. Toni

  • Doug

    May 4, 2010 11:10 pm

    Toni,

    It's not the camera but rather the lens. The 300mm will work well.
    Just position yourself around 15' back and set your F stop open to say F4

    Give that a try.

  • Toni

    May 3, 2010 09:56 pm

    I am also having trouble obtaining consistent blurry backgrounds for portraits on my sony alpha 350. I am able to get a pretty good blur using the macro (flower) setting when taking close ups of flowers, but am not doing as well with people. Wondering if i need a new lens? I also have a telephoto lens (300mm) but don't usually use it, but wondered if the technique works better with that lens? any feedback from others, especially sony users?

  • Cambridge World

    April 19, 2010 11:43 pm

    Cambridge World Subcategories: Cameras
    is best camera

  • Sonya

    April 17, 2010 09:38 pm

    OH my goodness. One thing you said rang so true and I never realized it. Honestly, it was a light bulb moment for me. I have a shoot today and I am excited now!!

    One of the easiest things you can do is position the subject you’re wanting to photograph as far away from any objects behind them as possible. If they are standing right in front of a wall you’ll probably end up with it in focus no matter what else you do – but if they’re standing 100 meters in front of that same wall it’s going to be a lot more blurry

    I was missing this totally.

  • Carrie

    April 9, 2010 04:22 am

    Chantal, glad you found the site, but please be assured, us women members here are fabulous, intelligent, talented, vibrant, and very relevant...the word 'mere' cannot be used to describe us, as it should not you! Welcome :)

  • Chantal

    April 8, 2010 02:03 pm

    Hi Darren, Thank you thank you thank you!!!! I have finally found a site where I, a mere woman, can understand and learn from. I have been searching for a course to learn my digital camera for ages and never found anything suitable until I stumbled onto your site, so once again, thank you! My aim is to learn for an hour a day and at long last it is becoming clearer!!!!!!At long last I have grasped the concepts of ISO , aperature and shutter sheed. Hoooraaaayyyyyy!

  • Lyndon

    February 28, 2010 06:19 pm

    sorry I meant 1-2 minutes not seconds....

  • Lyndon

    February 28, 2010 06:18 pm

    Jane,

    Im no expert but I believe that due the available light, the shutter speed is being set to 1-2 seconds by the camera cause the apeture you have chosen is a high number.

    Try reducing your aperture, increasing the ISO on the camera (or using a flash?)

  • Mick`

    January 28, 2010 08:32 pm

    i got totally confused with aperture. But I'm, good at it now

  • Jane

    December 22, 2009 10:43 am

    I have tried experiementing with aperture priority as mention by Darren. There is a 2-3 minute pause before the camera takes the picture which getts frustrating.That means my subject has to remain still until the camera snaps the picture( i hope am making sense). I also have to use a tripod otherwise my image goes blurry. What am I doing wrong? Am using a Nikkon D90(aperture 5.6). Somebody please help!!!

  • Durlov

    November 12, 2009 11:17 pm

    Hi Great article and you write quite well. Enjoyed.

    I own a canon 1000D now. Earlier I had a canon AE 1 with 50mm 1.8 lens. My current lens is 18-55mm.. what is the difference between my AE 1 50mm and 1000D 55mm.. the latter is much more tele...

  • Red

    September 27, 2009 11:26 pm

    "using a telephoto lens (anything above 50mm) won’t push the background away–it’ll bring it closer. Telephoto lenses compress the depth of the image; wide angle lenses expand the depth of the image."

    That is the DUMBEST thing i've read in a long time. Wide angles have far greater depth of field, hence fisheyes have pretty much infinate dof. Your statement is utterly false.

  • pp

    September 23, 2009 06:24 pm

    can i create sofy blurry background with my normal dogital camrera canon s3IS?

  • Greg

    August 10, 2009 12:06 am

    Reading through these posts got me thinking about the confusion I had with F-stops and what they did so I've been thinking of yet another analogy for it.....I'll just run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes !

    Your camera is actually a garage and the aperture is the roll-up garage door.

    F-stop tells you how far the door has closed.....

    F/0................................F/1.4................................F/5.6......................................F/8................................F/22
    Fully Open Closed a bit Closed a little bit more Almost shut Just a very small gap !!
    Lots of light going through Not so much light Very little light
    so needs fast shutter speed Needs slow shutter speed and tripod!!

    Now the Depth of Field is how much of the roll-up garage door is visible......

    F/0................................F/1.4................................F/5.6......................................F/8................................F/22
    Small sliver of door Very big sliver of door !!
    Shallow Depth of Field Large Depth of Field

    Hope this helps........also have a peek here....
    http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

    Happy snapping !

  • christine

    July 31, 2009 09:46 pm

    You are an awesome teacher!! It is a gift. You have a wonderful way of breaking down the intimidating aspects of a camera into manageable bites for people to consume. Anyone who reads your instructions can understand. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • mrsrobinson

    July 31, 2009 04:18 am

    A lot of detail is helpful when you are trying to learn online, because you can't be there to ask questions as you go along! Good article for newbs!

  • shannon

    July 3, 2009 02:54 am

    What lens would you suggest for a Nikon D60?

  • Rebecca

    May 12, 2009 10:02 am

    I have been trying to figure out my camera for a YEAR now and your simple, extremely helpful instructions are exactly what I needed!!! I almost cried when I finally realized what I needed to do..partially from fumbling around all this time trying one thing after another..but I guess you explained it just how my mind needed to see it. I cant wait to go out and take some more portraits!!

  • Rhonda

    May 4, 2009 04:43 am

    Love this site!!!!

    My husband has a Nikon D90 and I wanted to start having some control over my own photos but didn't want to go DSLR as well so I just recently bought a Canon D990 IS, the only compact point and shoot that has a limited manual mode. Needless to say, when doing side-by-side tests, he gets better "blurriness/shallow depth of field" than I do. After much research, including on this site, I finally understand the factors that affect depth of field and the Nikon is better because of longer focal lens length than mine (and larger sensor size).

    I now know to get closer to my subject, use as low f-stop as possible, and zoom in as much as possible to get a shallower field depth but I'm wondering if there is a better point-and-shoot style camera that will give me shallower depths easier (camera with longer lens focal length). The SD990 IS has a 7.7 - 28.5 mm lens (f2.8 - 5.8).

    Any suggestions without going to too large a camera? Is the SD990 IS considered the best for what I'm wanting?

  • Jenny

    May 3, 2009 09:33 am

    It worked for me. BUT, i cant keep the camera from shaking. Makes me sad.

  • Chetan

    March 28, 2009 01:05 am

    Aperture (f/1.4 ... f/22) is the hole in front of the film / sensor to control the amount of light that comes in. The larger the hole (f/1.4 is the largest in the above range), the more will be the light. Roughly, on a 50 mm f/1.4 lens, the aperture full wide will be 50 / 1.4 = 35 mm or so.
    To get the right amount of light on the film / sensor, we can control the amount of time the shutter is open. Another way is to control the ISO of the film / sensor. The lower ISO numbers (ISO 100, etc.) will need more light (read larger aperture or slower shutter) to capture the picture than their higher counterparts (ISO 1600, etc.).
    The other effect of wide open (large / 1.4, etc.) aperture is the depth of field (DOF). The wider the aperture, the shallower the DOF. The DOF becomes shallower with focal length also. A 28 mm focal length will have a much larger DOC compared to a 300 mm focal length, provided the aperture is the same.
    Clicking any photograph is nothing but a careful choice of these controls. Basically, you decide what is the most important thing for you - if shallow DOF is important, set the aperture as wide as you can, increase the focal length as much as you can, and then play with the shutter speed till you get the exposure (total amount of light) right.
    There are a few other factors affecting DOF, such as distance between the camera and the subject, but I guess I have created enough confusion for a first post ;-)

  • rod fermin

    January 22, 2009 09:43 pm

    strongly suggested by the author are hints everyone can readily try and apply.. either on hobby shoot or commercial photoshoot.. well appreciated, sir!

  • Adrian

    November 1, 2008 01:12 pm

    Hi Maggie,

    The whole aperture/hole/f-stop measurement thing can be confusing. The way I remember, is to recall that it's actually a fraction. So think of f/22 as 1/22. And f/3 is really 1/3. That way it is easier to rationalize, that 1/22nd is a smaller piece of pie than 1/3rd. Which is why f/22 is a smaller hole than f/3.

    Once that piece is clear, the next step is simply to remember that a smaller hole increases DOF, and a bigger hole decreases DOF. The way I remember this, is that for folks who need glasses for distance, if they actually took a piece of cardboard and put a pinhole in it, they could focus farther than usual (though they'd look a little awkward). This is actually the same reason folks will squint if they can't see something in the distance--their body is naturally trying to making a smaller hole for their eyes, so that they can increase their focus over longer distances.

    Hope that helps!

  • Maggie

    November 1, 2008 03:40 am

    I may have got my previous post the wrong way round (shows you how confused I am, honestly!). My tutor has said the larger the f stop the smaller hole = smaller depth of field. I do not understand!

  • Maggie

    November 1, 2008 03:32 am

    After years of taking mediocre photographs, I have just embarked on a photography course. This website is so helpful. I love it!

    That said, whilst I understand DOF in a practical sense, mentally I am lost on the terminology and I wonder if anyone here can help me.

    You say "For shallow depth of field and nice blurry backgrounds choose a large Aperture (the smaller the number the larger the aperture)." I understand the smaller the number, the large the hole. But if you have an aperture of say f22 or f11 for a landscape image then aren't you going to have a big/wide depth of field, ie everything will be in focus?

  • waysiong

    May 8, 2008 11:00 pm

    Cedric, I have the same kit lens as you are and I can achieve the bokeh effect (blurred background) by either being quite close to the subject with f1.8 or zoomed to the subject as much as possible with f5.6.

    The maximum you can set with ur kit lens when zoomed is f5.6.

  • Adrian

    August 23, 2007 05:10 am

    To Jemma: The only reason the 50mm lens might work better than your 18-55mm lens, is if it has a larger maximum aperture. The lens barrel and the box will both list the maximum aperture: it's labeled as "f/5.6", "f/1.8", or something similar. The lower the number, the larger the aperture. So if the 50mm lens has a lower number than your 18-55mm, it will be better for shallow depth of field. You may want to take your camera to shop, test it out the 50mm lens, and see what results it gives you.

    To Cedric: The maximum aperture you can use is usually limited by the lens itself, not the camera body. And when the lens is zoomed all the way in, the maximum aperture (a.k.a. f/stop) will not be as wide as when zoomed all the way out (however, zooming in is better for achieving shallow depth of field). To experiment, I would try setting your camera to Aperture Priority (usually marked as "Av" on the setting dial), zooming all the way in, finding a subject in your viewfinder that has nothing behind it, make the aperture number as low as it will go (sounds like f/5.6 in this case), focus, snap a picture, and see what happens. This basically puts all the factors in your corner, and should work.

  • Cedric

    August 22, 2007 08:17 am

    I am new to photography and shooting with the D40X. I Bought the 200mm lens but this effect just WILL NOT WORK for me no matter what i do, I have the camera on fully Manual, but it will not let me lower the FSto below 5.6. What am I doing wrong?

  • Jemma

    August 11, 2007 10:11 am

    Hi,

    Just got a nikon d40x, will the 50mm Af lens work with this camera? I have the kit lens 18-55 and I can't seem to blur the background at all =(

  • Adrian

    July 26, 2007 02:08 pm

    To Douglas Porter: The "A-dep" setting on your Canon Rebel XT is short for "automatic depth of field". On this setting, the camera will survey the auto-focusing points, and make sure to select an exposure (aperture + shutter speed) which will keep multiple subjects in focus. E.g., if you have a group of people who are at different distances from the lens, the camera won't select one focus point and keep that person in focus while throwing the other individuals out of focus.

    To Evan: I currently have a Canon S3 and have a difficult time getting shallow depth of field, despite the fact that the camera's aperture can go as low as f/2.7. After reading up on it a bit, I learned that the tiny size of the sensor meant that my effective focal length was very low, thereby increasing my DOF in general. (The 35-432mm zoom range is really 6-72mm in 35mm terms.)

    Depth of field is affected by: 1) distance from the subject (the closer you are the shallower the DOF), 2) focal length (the more you are zoomed in the shallower the DOF), and 3) aperture (the lower the aperture the shallower the DOF). What I wasn't realizing, is that although I could achieve a low aperture, it was being offset by the fact that the focal length was short, and unfortunately there's not much I can do about it.

  • WS

    July 21, 2007 02:37 am

    I had the same problem. I purchased the Nikkor Zoom lens 55-200 mm and that works fine. The lens in the kit doesn't work too well re: shallow of depth of field for headshot type photos. However there is a smaller lens (about $300 or so) that does a great job, but you would have to be good at focusing the camera yourself (especially if you have a Nikon D40 - not sure about the D40X..probably the same.) If you have the Nikon D80 you're in luck. Hope helps, (even tho I see Jacob's post was back in June!)

  • Jacob

    June 4, 2007 10:07 am

    Thanks for the tips...But you just recommended the Canon 50mm for better learning shots. What do you recommend for Nikon 40X etc.. products. I currently have just started SLR photography (Nikon 40x, 18-55mm Kit) and having problem obtaining the blurry background with a good clear focal point.

  • Karlo

    May 26, 2007 05:55 pm

    I've recently purchased a Canon 400D and just started getting more interested improving my photgraphy. This is an excellent website and I have found the tips to be a great help to my understanding of the basics. Everything is very clearly and simply explained and I feel encouraged to go out and try the techniques for myself. Thanks again for such a great website

  • DM

    May 22, 2007 01:10 pm

    The H2 is indeed capable of some very impressive shots, including "blurred" background images. I bought mine several weeks ago and just today figured out how to achieve this effect. Here's an example shot of this effect in action:

    http://img63.imageshack.us/my.php?image=ensignpl4.jpg

    It's possible to further increase the effect as this wasn't the ideal situation for it.

  • Evan

    May 4, 2007 12:37 am

    Dear Friends,

    I want to buy a Sony DSC-H2 or Canon-S3. My primary goat is to get a very shallow depth of field in my photos. Will I be able to get a good Shallow depth of field in H2 or S3.

    Evan

  • RT

    April 23, 2007 04:24 pm

    Hi
    "Locking the focus" is not explained, Which is very relevent for potraits.
    Ref: Kodak Top 10 Tips
    http://www.kodak.com/eknec/PageQuerier.jhtml?pq-path=2/3/38/39/317&pq-locale=en_US

  • Sarz

    April 13, 2007 03:27 pm

    Gr8 Tip...Useful,basic nd pretty simple 2 understand!!

  • Al

    March 4, 2007 03:00 pm

    To prevent camera shaking....hold your elbows in close to your body.

  • shay

    March 1, 2007 10:00 am

    i think this foto is fantastic.the amount of volume and prestivious attitude towars the lense is amazing!

  • Kunal Waghmare

    February 21, 2007 04:45 pm

    Greate tips guys...go on...
    I have a basic digicam, sony cybershot 5 Megapixel, would like to hear anything about portriat photography feature of this cam.

    Cheers
    Kunal

  • Karlos

    January 25, 2007 09:03 pm

    John--> Leaning your elbows on something steady is the best way but if that is not an option then try to get down on one knee and leaning one elbow on the other knee. I've managed to get some decent exposures this way. Bear in mind though that a tripod really makes ALL the difference. As soon as the lighting is bad or if you are zooming in on something in the distance there is no technique that will match a tripod.

  • bob wiseman

    January 20, 2007 08:35 pm

    To John,
    I have a Sony DSCH2 with 12x zoom, I had problems holding the camera steady - not helped by my arthritis. The solution was to use a miniature tripod with the legs folded, which then became a handle for me to both hold and stabilise the camera, it works a treat !

    bob wiseman.

  • Norma

    January 18, 2007 02:15 am

    This site helped me a lot just by reading the answers of others!! Great job I Love it.

  • ...

    December 31, 2006 06:28 pm

    To John.

    There are techniques, but none have really helped me, now I'm not a professional by any means. I have a small camera, so its operable with one hand, i find i can steady the shot holding the wrist. However this can still be somewhat awkward. Also leaning on something (if there is the option to) this can help greatly and as long as your comfortable, this method is almost guaranteed to work, but there is not always something to lean on something because of where the shot takes place. You should try holding your wrist and see how it helps first, if you find that you can steady yourself enough to take clear pictures, then it may seem pointless to try other methods that may be difficult etc.

    Hope this helps.

  • TotalAmature

    December 28, 2006 08:49 pm

    Been looking @ at number of photo sites lately. Yours is def' the best. Cheers.

  • john

    December 27, 2006 01:35 pm

    Great tips, many thanks.

    sorry if this is a bit off topic but does anyone know of any good tips on how to hold a camera steadily to avoid any camera shake when not using a tripod.

    thanks again.

  • mBu

    December 19, 2006 11:51 am

    simple explanation yet very basic and useful. nice way to explain these things.. :)

  • Douglas Porter

    December 18, 2006 03:47 am

    My Canon Digital Rebel XT also has a setting called A-dep. Can someone explaing that, I think it has something to do with what we're talking about.

  • Kalani Aylett

    December 16, 2006 04:04 am

    Great articles. I'm still rethinking the leaf taped to the window idea and am eager to try it. I started photography with the Nikon Nikormatic and then the F2 almost 40 years ago, but these type of tips knock my socks off..Thanks

  • Mike

    December 16, 2006 02:21 am

    I have and love the Canon 50mm f/1.8. Everyone suggests it to me all of the time.

  • raymond o'callaghan

    December 15, 2006 10:14 pm

    I relly like your letter's they are very usrfull indeed

    thank you. I look forward to reading them every week.

  • krish

    December 15, 2006 05:06 pm

    i meant by zoom lens, a lens with focal length over 100 mm.
    thanks,
    krish

  • krish

    December 15, 2006 05:05 pm

    designosaur, but have we not been taught that a zoom lens makes the background blurred when used with a large aperture and the camera to subject distance is kept as short as possible? pls enlighten me?
    thanks,
    krish

  • George Fragos

    December 15, 2006 12:55 pm

    It may be true that a telephoto lens will compress the apparent distance between images. This effect isn't as apparent if the focused image is close and the background far away because the limited depth of field/focus will make the background softer. My 12x zoom handles this nicely for tightly cropped head shots. You may have trouble trying to achieve this effect with the 3x zooms found on the most basic of digital cameras.

  • David Langdon

    December 15, 2006 12:24 pm

    Good post... I'll second the recommendation for the Canon 50mm. It's amazing what an improvement it is over the kit lens. I took two sets of pictures in the same room with both the kit lens and the 50mm, and all the pictures with the 50mm had much better exposure, were sharper, and generally had the subject more in focus than the background.

  • S.

    December 15, 2006 11:59 am

    Very simply explained, easily understood. Thank you so much :-)

  • Eamon Behan

    December 15, 2006 11:30 am

    Very useful tips simply explained in relation to SDOF. All tips are welcome ; this one is very good

  • photonoob

    December 15, 2006 10:23 am

    Some of us appreciate the detail. I'm learning from the ground up, and the more detail the better; it helps me learn not only what to do, but *why* - and knowing the 'why' makes it easier to understand, and thus easier to remember when I'm out in the field and don't have a computer handy to reread the blog ;)

  • designosaur

    December 13, 2006 01:47 pm

    Great entry, but seems like a lot of info for a very simple concept. :-)

    Depth of field is controlled by 2 things: aperture (F stop) and focal length. Shallow DoF (blurry backgrounds) = low F stop, long focal length (telephoto). Deep DoF = high F stop, short focal length (wide angle).

    Also, using a telephoto lens (anything above 50mm) won't push the background away--it'll bring it closer. Telephoto lenses compress the depth of the image; wide angle lenses expand the depth of the image.

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