Deep Depth of Field: Focusing on the Big Picture

deep depth of fieldTo the uninitiated, the art of photography may seem like a very simple undertaking when compared to other visual media – painters take months, sometimes years, to capture a scene just right on the canvas, and filmmakers similarly agonize for extended periods of time to perfect their vision, but photographers just point and shoot, right? Well, yes and no – the actual capturing of a photo may take just a fraction of a second, but there’s plenty of thought and effort put into the composition of a photo, and the photographer has many tricks up her sleeve when attempting to turn real life into art.

One of these tricks of the photography world is called depth of field, and our discussion today focuses on a specific type: deep depth of field. If you’re not an expert on photography, depth of field is the area in front of and behind the focal point of the camera, and depending on the tools the photographer uses, he can make those areas either in focus or out of focus. We’ll explain more about this concept, as well as exactly what kinds of tools are used to achieve deep depth of field. If you think you’d like to dabble in the photographic arts, this course on the fundamentals of photography will introduce to the basic principles.

Shallow Depth of Field Vs. Deep Depth of Field

The best way to dive into the concept of deep depth of field is to put it into context with its opposite: shallow depth of field. As we mentioned before, depth of field is a very basic technical photography term that refers to the range of distance that appears sharp in a photograph. A camera can only focus its lens on one point, but it captures the areas both in front of and behind this focal point, and depending on the photographer’s preference, she can choose to keep these outer areas in focus (deep depth of field), or unfocused, with the subject being isolated and the center of attention (shallow depth of focus).

This is just another weapon in a photographer’s arsenal, and besides being necessary to show their versatility and technical acumen, deep depth of field just makes sense for some subjects. This technique is most often associated with landscape and architectural photography, as well as in cityscapes. The idea of using deep depth of field for these types of “big” photos is to include all the details of the subject, and has even been referred to as “storytelling depth of focus” as a result of its ability to capture multiple visual storylines and characters. To learn more about photographing natural wonders, this course on landscape photography will take your skills to the next level.

How to Achieve Deep Depth of Field

Now on to the technical side of things. This is information the more seasoned photographers out there already know quite well, but for those that are just getting interested in the more serious aspects of photography may be curious about this. There are four factors that affect depth of field.

  1. Aperture: The camera’s aperture is not only the biggest factor in achieving deep depth of field, but it is also the easiest to control and work with. Deep depth of field is achieved with a smaller lens aperture, with most cameras having the minimum aperture size necessary of f/16, and going up to f/22 in size.
  2. Subject’s Distance: The closer the subject is to the camera, the more out of focus the background is. Conversely, the farther away from the camera the subject is, the more in focus both the foreground and background will be, regardless of aperture size. The closeness of the subject also affects the plane of focus – for example, in closeup photography, such as macro photography and jewelry photography, the plane of focus is small, meaning it takes mere centimeters for the focus to drop out. However, when the subjects are far away, such as in a wedding, the plane of focus becomes larger, with even a wider aperture resulting in a deep depth of focus. If capturing nuptials is your professional goal, this course on wedding photography and this article on 6 ways to improve your wedding pictures are good places to start learning.
  3. Focal Length: This refers to the length of the camera’s lens, with a shorter focal length resulting in a greater depth of field. This short focal length is ideal when interior architecture is the subject, where you would be able to capture all of the detail, and a longer lens being appropriate in isolating the subject, and pushing the other details off to the side. Short lenses around 14mm are good for achieving deep depth of field.
  4. Sensor Size: The final factor in getting deep depth of field, the sensor size is the only one of these four factors that the photographer cannot change, as it is a part of the body of the camera. If she isn’t satisfied with the size of the sensor, another camera must be used. The smaller the sensor, the larger the depth of field, and vice versa.

Now some of the aspiring amateur photographers out there have some technical knowledge about a very basic, yet crucial bit of know-how that can be utilized to make photos really come to life. There are many different instruments that photographers use, and they can seem confusing and daunting to those out there that would like to take the plunge and start photographing, but each one has its specific purpose, and each has its place in making every photograph special. If you’ve already started taking pictures and would like to be able to tweak your pics just a bit (or a lot), this course on Photoshop for photographers can help take your digital photos from great to incredible.