Shallow Depth of Field for Beginners: A Comprehensive Guide to Using It

Highlight: Shallow depth of field means that only a small portion of your scene is in focus, while the majority of the background is blurred.

The depth of field. It’s a term used frequently in both photography and filmmaking. But what does it mean, and how does it affect your photos and videos?

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Shallow Depth of Field for Beginners: A Comprehensive Guide to Using It

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Depth of field refers to the area of your image that is ‘acceptably sharp’, whether it is still or moving. Alternatively, how much of your image is in focus and how much is blurred.

A shallow depth of field means that the plane of focus, or the sharp space around your focal point, is relatively small, and there is a lot of background blur. A shallower depth of field reduces background blur in your shots.

shallow depth of field

The transition from sharp to blurred is gradual: you won’t see a line across an image that abruptly changes from sharp to out-of-focus. This change, however, occurs more quickly in images with a shallow depth of field.

In a shot with a deeper depth of field, the transition from sharp to blurry takes longer, giving the impression that more of your scene is in focus.

Why do you want to use a shallow depth of field?

Why would you want to use a shallow depth of field if it causes a large portion of the scene to be blurred or out of focus? Isn’t it better to just use a depth of field that keeps everything, or nearly everything, in focus? No, it does not. No, not at all.

There are several reasons why you might want to use a shallow depth of field, the first of which is that you like the way it looks. If you like the effect of your in-focus subject standing out from a blurred background, this technique is a good choice.

However, there are times when a shallow depth of field is required. If the background is distracting or ugly, blurring it out will make for a more appealing shot and will help keep your viewers’ attention on the subject. Their gaze will not be wandering aimlessly in search of a focal point.

Alternatively, you may want to deliberately blur the background while keeping your subject sharp to aid in your storytelling. This ensures that your audience understands who or what the subject of the scene is and where they should focus their attention.

There are also emotional consequences to isolating your subject. You could be implying to the audience that they are lonely or afraid. It could also indicate that your subject is free or lost in their own thoughts.

Using aperture to control depth of field

How do we achieve a shallow depth of field now that we understand why we might want one?

The aperture of your lens is the first and most important factor that determines your depth of field. A shallow depth of field is produced by a large aperture that lets in a lot of light (but has a small “/stop number: “/2.8 is a larger aperture than “/11).

Distance, focal length, and sensor size are all important considerations.

Although aperture is the most obvious and immediate way to control your depth of field, there are other factors to consider.

To begin with, the closer you place your camera to your subject, the shallower the depth of field you will achieve. It becomes more difficult to keep your subject in focus as you fill your frame with more of it.

Similarly, increasing the distance between your subject and the background will contribute to a shallower depth of field and blurring of the background. You can change the depth of field by moving your camera or your subject.

It’s a common misconception that longer focal length lenses have a shallower depth of field. It’s more accurate to say that the longer focal length magnifies your scene, and by bringing it closer to you, the depth of field appears shallower. The image’s blurred areas will be magnified, making them appear even blurrier!

Finally, the larger the sensor in your camera, the closer you must move to your subject in order for it to fill the frame. This, as you’ve probably guessed, means that the depth of field will be shallower.

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Do you need ND filters?


You don’t need a neutral density filter to shoot scenes with a shallow depth of field, but they can be useful in certain situations. If you’re shooting in bright light and want to use a larger aperture to achieve a shallow depth of field, a neutral density filter will keep you from overexposing the shot.

What about the follow-focus approach?

A follow-focus wheel allows you to fine-tune the focus of your lens more precisely than you can with your hands. A follow-focus could be a good investment if you’re working with a very shallow depth of field and need to be precise in selecting your focal points.

Consider using marks

When shooting with a shallow depth of field, it’s very easy for your focal point to shift in the frame and become blurry. By marking your subjects, they will know exactly where they need to be in each scene so you can keep them in focus. Similarly, you can make marks on the wheel of your follow-focus so that your subject is sharp in the frame.

Is it necessary for you to use a monitor?

Gifts For filmmakers At Any skill

You’ll be able to see your scenes more clearly if you connect your camera to a monitor while shooting. This will assist you in nailing your focal points, especially when working with a shallow depth of field.


Aside from the obvious technical limitations associated with using a shallow depth of field, such as over-exposed scenes and not being precise enough with your focal point, it’s easy to overuse this technique.

If this happens, your audience will become quite bored, so remember to use a good mix of shallower and deeper depths of field to move your story along and keep things visually interesting.

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

Shallow Depth of Field for Beginners: A Comprehensive Guide to Using It

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