hits counter

Tackling Depth of Field | Day 7

Onward! Ready to wrap your head around depth of field? I drew you all some pretty pictures. I even gave you a pony tail. I hope the men in this crowd don’t mind it.

DOF graphic created by darcy @ my3boybarian.com.

This is a bird’s eye view of you and your camera. Don’t laugh. I drew those with a mouse. In this graphic, you are shooting 3 subjects with an aperture of f/2. Your depth of field is fairly shallow. As a result, not everyone will be in focus. The bottom subject will be, the top subject will be partially in focus, but the middle subject is too far behind the others to be in focus at an f/2.

Now let’s see what happens if you decrease your aperture to f/5.6:

depth of field graphic showing f/5.6 - created by darcy @ my3boybarians.com

Now we have a greater depth of field because we have a smaller aperture. All 3 subjects are in focus in this example.

Now let’s say your subjects are not the same plane – maybe they’re on a soccer field, staggered and running toward the goal. How can you get all your adorable little players in focus? The answer is to make your aperture smaller, and increase the depth of field.

DOF graphic showing f/11 - created by darcy @ my3boybarians.com

In the following example, we can isolate a single subject to bring the focus to her, and blur out the other subjects’ focus.

isolating a subject using depth of field

The front two subjects will be blurred out of focus, and the 3rd back-most subject will be in focus.

Now that we understand aperture and depth of field in theory – let’s put it to practical use!

Shooting in Aperture Priority

Shooting in aperture priority is very rewarding for new photographers. Many new photogs shoot in aperture priority mode while they are learning and not quite ready for full manual control. It allows a lot of creative control while still letting the camera make many of the decisions for you.

aperture mode dial

If you have a tripod, it will come in handy here. If you don’t, do your best to keep the camera very still and shoot in succession.
Place your camera in aperture priority mode – A or Av (“aperture value”). This experiment will have more drastic results if there is some distance between your subject and the background.

  1. Keep your flash off.
  2. Using a tripod or planting your feet steadily, dial your aperture to the most open it will go. If you have an inexpensive kit lens, this will not be very low – likely only f/4 or f/5.6. If you have a 50mm or 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.8, it will be perfect for this experiment.
  3. Take a photo. Stay in the same place and focused on the same subject.
  4. Notch your aperture 1 stop smaller. This next number will depend on your lens and camera. Note it.
  5. Take another photo. Stop down to the next smallest aperture. Note it.
  6. Repeat these steps until you’ve visited every possible f-stop your lens allows.
  7. Head back to the computer and upload your images so you can see how aperture affects your images.

It’s time to link up! Please link your aperture experiment blog post or Flickr set. Please do not link your entire blog or Flickr stream, or I’ll have to delete the links (such a bummer!). If you need help finding your permalink, please read this post.


  1. salam
    how areyou
    you blog is verry nice think.

  2. Another awesome entry – thank you Darcy.

  3. I am fairly new to photography. I have read my manual – even before day 2 ;), read blogs with tips, tutorials etc., and bought a book specific to my camera to help understand it all. I love your posts. I’m a visual leaner and there is always lots of visual in yours! Today DOF clicked. I get it!! I kind of got it before, but now I DO get it! Thank-you for taking the time to do this. Can’t wait “to get” something new tomorrow 🙂

  4. Wow. Thank you for the diagrams. I always ‘knew’ the difference between the F stops… but never really got ‘why’. Your diagrams explain it perfectly. Thanks!

  5. Once again, Darcy, you’re explanations are the best I’ve read—it’s those drawings that make the difference. I’ll be sending some folks over to read this who are still struggling with DOF and aperture. Finding aperture priority was the best thing for me when I was learning. I shot almost exclusively in AP for a couple of years before I went to manual. Hopefully it will stop raining and I can get my new tripod out to practice.

  6. I love this series! I will be linking you on my blog.
    I’m also going to start a series soon called “rock the camera you’ve got” with tips and tricks for point and shoot users to maximize their camera experience. I had to “make due” with my point and shoot for sooo long before I splurged on my slr, and I really learned how to make the most of it. I hope to get that started in about a week or so (so that people can test it out outdoors, ’cause I’m sure you know it’s sooo much easier to get a p&s to behave outside!)

  7. Darcy, while I use AV mode all the time and understood generally what it did. This is by far the best explanation I have ever read. The visuals made it so clear. I don’t often use a small aperture because I need to have a much faster ISO for these photo’s which can lead to a picture that seems to be of lesser quality (ie: grainy), and even then it seems I get blurry more often than clear.

  8. First thought: Why do I and two of my subjects have tails? Second thought: OOOOOHhhhhh. Not tails. Third thought: YOU? are amazing. Seriously, you have a gift of teaching in a way that is informative enough to learn but not so technical that I feel stupid. Well done.

  9. You’re seriously a rockstar. These posts are spectacular.

  10. I have a question. what about still getting the Bokeh when shooting a family? (lets say of 5)? can I do that?

    • Yes, absolutely.

      If you have a family of 5, the trick to bokeh is to put some distance between them and what’s behind them. Remember, DOF and bokeh needs things to be on difference planes. The more distance between those planes, the more blur.

      Because they will not be all on the same plane, you cannot shoot wide open. The tighter you can get them posed, the wider the aperture you can use. I use a (# of subjects x 1.5) rule of thumb, and adjust more open if you can get their eyes on the same plane. So to be safe – you shoot a family of 5 at f/8. You’re very likely going to be safe here. Maybe not a ton of bokeh, but clients don’t buy blurry images. Then, stop down to f/5.6.

      Pose them tightly, get farther back and shoot them with a telephoto with f/4. The depth of field should be great enough to envelop them – but blur that background out. I wouldn’t shoot below an f/4 with a family of 5.

      • THANK YOU so much Darcy, that is really helpful! I am really enjoying your 31 days to a beter photo and am looking forward to the rest of the month! The family of five is my FIRST EVER shoot (a 3 year old, 5 year old, 13 year old and the parents)! ..free of course 🙂 and the colours in Ontario are amazing right now. We are hoping for a few more leaves to fall on the ground before we actually do the shoot 🙂 I feel like I am in a dream. I am pursuing what really makes me happy. I am going to be shooting with the Tamron 28-75 F/2.8. I have only had my Rebel T1i since the spring and have been reading everything I can get my hands on! Your has given me some great insight and understanding to what I have read before. Thank you so much for your help and any other suggestions you wan to send my way…I probably need all the help I can get! So nervous!!!

        Thanks again!!


        • Congrats on your first shoot, Kristen. It’s such a privilege to be trusted with a family’s memories. You’ll be great.

          Since this is your first shoot, keep in mind that it’s a starting point. When you get home there will likely be images you love and images that make you groan. Been there. Done that. 😉

          Good luck!

  11. Wow, this series is amazing!!! After the second day, I’d already decided to go back and take these tutorials in depth during the month of November (since October is seriously time crunched for me) and REALLY soak in the much needed knowledge that you’re so graciously providing and experiment until my kids think I’m crazy. Hmmm…they might already. LOL. My fingers are just itching to get outside (or inside) with my camera!!!

    Thanks for all that you are doing! This is wondeful!

  12. Thanks Darcy for your 31 days. I’m loving every post and learning so much.

  13. oops…I misread the line about “some distance between your subject and the background” as “some distance between you and your subject.” So I shot across the living room into the kitchen at things on the counter–no wonder it didn’t work out right! Let me go try again 🙂

    Question: what do I do if, as I lower my aperture, my flash starts doing different things? If I choose a smaller f/stop number, the areas surrounding my subject are ever so much brighter. (I think. Maybe the other way around?)

    THANKS for this! I just dug my hubby’s camera out of the closet b/c mine doesn’t have an aperture setting. Having fun!

    • Ack – I’m so used to never using my flash it didn’t occur to me that some might. No flash in these experiments. I’ll go add that. For everything I talk about here, we’re going to use natural light.

      Wide apertures (numbers like f/2) will allow more light in your image that smaller apertures (numbers like f/16).

      While the distance between you and your subject will also affect depth of field – in this case, allowing some distance between the subject and the background will allow you to see more dramatic results.

  14. Hello Darcy, I’ve been following along since the beginning and just wanted to say “thank you”. This is a really great series. I don’t have a lot of confidence with my photography so I was eager to follow you during these 31 days to hopefully feel more comfortable and improve my skills. Thank you again! As soon as I send my little one off to preschool I’m going to work on this assignment and blog about it.

  15. Girl, you’re KILLIN it with this series. Anytime someone asks me for camera advice from now on, I’m just sending them here! XOXO!

  16. Well, I tried it, but it didn’t really work. I tried to get fairly close too. Maybe I’ll try again on human subjects. Also my lenses start at 3.5 and the other at 4.5 so maybe that’s the problem? I do notice when I shoot my soccer photos (on the sports setting) it will often blur out one player and keep the other in focus.

    • I’ll talk a little bit more about lenses like that – but generally, affordable lenses are affordable because they are limited with aperture (and quality of glass).

      The more noticeable it is to your eye that your subjects are on different planes – the more the camera will notice too. Since you are limited with aperture, make sure your subject and the next closest thing behind on have some space between them. 🙂

      Keep trying. You’ll get it!

      • Thanks Darcy. I’m always drooling over spendier lenses and maybe someday I’ll get a few. I’m also drooling over new cameras (C:

        I did just post what I took and there was a difference when I looked closer, just not as much as with lenses that have more range in aperture.

        I can’t wait for your post on lenses. I’ve been looking at different cameras and lenses and it’s so hard to know what to choose.

  17. Hallelujah! Finally someone to help me decipher my Digital photography for Dummies! I am such a dummie that even that book has me boggled!

    I have this amazing Cannon SLR camera and just don’t know what to do with it so I take photos with my point and shoot instead.

    I am LOVING this series. Stumbled across it via twitter!

    Thanks! You are my godsend!

    Barbara 🙂

  18. I LOVE your pix and explanations. I’ve never seen anyone or any book explain this the way you did – well done, Darcy! Will get some shots tomorrow to link up.

  19. Thanks for the diagrams, it really made all the difference in me “getting” it! I’m going to try this experiment tomorrow and link up!

  20. Darcy, I am loving this. I only have a point and shoot, but it is still helping me. Perhaps someday when my camera grows up, I will have a clue, thanks to you.

  21. Darcy, I love the graphic, so well explained!

  22. i’m not linking up but still love this challenge. I’m taking another class and don’t want to crowd my blog or head with extra assignments 😉 I love your drawings and call the darker one 😉 LOL

  23. Still going back and staring and that yummy baby! Great work on Aperture. Looking forward to what comes next – I’ve gotten a bit behind

  24. I just finally got around to trying this and it makes so much more sense now. I could really see the difference in the pics. Thanks!

  25. Darcy – these are great!

    I really hope you get the e-book finished soon. I will offer it on my blogs. Great job!!!!

    You are an awesome teacher and explain things many don’t get very easily!


  26. Thanks for this fabulous series! As you can tell, I’m a little behind, but I love what I’ve read so far.

  27. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! We recently purchased a bit-more-than-a-point-and-shoot camera so that I could begin to learn more about photography without a major investment. Aperture is something that I’ve really struggled with understanding, and I realized when reading this post that I didn’t even grasp what depth of field is! The pictures were sooo helpful.

    We left on vacation a few days into the series, and I am just now starting to work my way through it on my reader, but I have already learned an amazing amount. Thanks so much!

  28. Wow, wow wow!! This made it so completely clear! Where were you a few years ago when I first started struggling with this!? haha! Thanks so much!

  29. Thank you for all of this!!! I have a lot of light bulbs going off 🙂 In Day 6 you mentioned how the distance between the camera and the subject also makes a difference in DOF. I have the 50mm/1.8 lens and was hating it, now I know I was standing too close to get the sharp images at 2.8. I looked up a DOF calculator that said to shoot the 50mm @2.8 I need to stand 16 feet away to get 18 inches of subject in focus. I’d like to use it for portraits, but not if I need to stand in another room to do it. That seems a bit far to me? Thoughts??? http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html Thank you!!!

    • Do you truly need 18″ of DOF? That’s a fairly wide DOF. It’s great if you have several people in it. But many portraits probably only have a DOF of 4 – 6″ **if** there’s only one subject.

      Instead of backing up 16 feet, why not bump your aperture to f/3.6 ? The envelope of DOF gets bigger, and you can still stand closer. I use the DOF calculator on my iPhone –

      for my Nikon 50mm at an f/3.6 standing 4 feet away you have from 3.87ft and 4.14 ft in focus for 0.27 ft of focus. That’s a hair under 4 inches. So if you focused on their eye – everything from their noses to the ears would be in focus. 🙂

      You should be able to stand as close as you want – withought crossing over to macro distance – and still get sharp images, it’s just that the band will be very narrow.

      at 50mm f/1.8 – standing 3 feet away: things from 2,96ft and 3.04ft will be in focus: so 0.07 ft. That’s 0.84 inches – less than an inch of depth of field. So that area will be very sharp… but if the eye is not in that band, you won’t have it in focus.

  30. in the 3rd picture it says choose a small aperture like f/11, in the 4th picture it says choose a small aperture like f/2.2. Is one of them supposed to say choose a large aperture?

    • Yup. “choose a large aperture like f/2″ or ” choose an aperture represented by a low number like f/2″ makes more sense. 🙂


  1. […] Tackling Depth of Field […]

  2. […] Keeping the same EV means that your image exposure will remain the same, but you can control your depth of field. If you need a refresher on DOF go to My3+oybarians for the best explanation of DOF that I’ve ever seen! […]