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In Depth - The Basics on Depth of Field

Depth of field is one of the most important aspects of photography. It is essential to understand and incorporate depth of field to have interesting and thought provoking images. Generally depth of field is understood as the distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appears acceptably sharp within the image. The terminology of "acceptably sharp" is a loose one, it is cause for great discussion between photographers because each of us is different in our eye and preference as an artist. Our cameras can only focus sharply at one specific point in the field of composition, however the transition from what is in focus or out of focus is a very gradual one.

The Canadian rock band RUSH released a song on their 1981 album Moving Pictures titled "The Camera Eye." Photographers know that their camera indeed has an eye, and each of these eyes has a pupil which we call the aperture. Like the human pupil, the aperture is the opening in any lens that allows light to pass through to the camera's sensor. Almost universally aperture is the first thing photographers consider when it comes to depth of field. Additionally when aperture is considered another photographic term goes hand in had with it, the f-stop. The “f” in f-stop stands for the focal length of the lens. While focal length itself refers to the field of view of a lens, f-stop is about how much light you allow to hit the sensor via the aperture opening. Aperture and f-stop work in harmony to make sure your depth of field is what you were hoping it would be. Referencing the aperture scale above the higher your f-stop (f/16, f/11) is going to provide you with less light to the sensor and thus a greater depth of field. Conversely the lower your f-stop (f/4, f/2.8) is going to allow more light to reach your camera's sensor and provide less depth of field.

Another consideration in the area of depth of field is the camera-subject distance. The distance between the camera and the subject is an important part in the understanding of depth of field in photography. The shorter the distance the camera is from the subject the shallower depth of field will be in the image. I photographed the image to the left at the Magnolia Grove Buddhist Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi in early 2022. My main focus was the Buddhist monks that were walking in procession . Though the foreground of the rocks and flowers are still relatively sharp, they are are less focused than my main subjects. The blurred foreground is a wonderful technique to gentle guide the viewer's eye to the main subject of the photographs, as stated in this case were the monks. I used a larger aperture (f/5.6) on this photograph to achieve the end result.

Many of today's DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras, for instance my CANON 5D

Mark IV, have a depth of field preview button. If you press this button while you look through the viewfinder, the camera will stop down the lens, and you will see how the actual image will appear. However, my own personal opinion is if you are a beginner, don't stress too much, or at all, over depth of field. Photography is first and foremost a fun and exciting undertaking that can bring joy and creativity to our journey on this beautiful planet. As you get more comfortable with your camera and desire to learn more, depth of field can take on a more important emphasis. Is it good to know and practice utilizing? Yes, but not at the expense of the fun and enjoyment.

Grab a Camera and Tell a Story,


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