Depth of Field – For Beginners

What is Depth of Field (also known as DOF) and how can I control it? It may seem complicated but really it isn’t. The pictures below will show you step by step how to control your Depth of Field.  

The Depth of Field or DOF is the zone of sharpness in your photo. Or, to put it another way, what’s in focus in the picture.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to Depth of field but it will help you to better understand it and have more control over your photos. Thus making them better.

Below are two images, pretty boring ones you’ll agree! But they really show the difference in Depth Of Field.

Depth of Field

Two photos – Left with a small DOF and Right with a large DOF

Focal point

As the name suggests this is the point you focus on in the picture.  Every image here has the same focal point.

Depth of Field

Focal Point


So with our focal point the same, we now vary the aperture to give more depth of field. The aperture is the hole in the camera that lets the light in. F3.5 is a big hole so lets in more light than F22. The two photos below were taken from the same position about 5 seconds apart.

The only difference is the aperture.

The one on the left is Aperture F3.5 while the one on the right is Aperture F22. The rule is, the larger the number, the more DOF. Small number F3.5 = Small Depth of Field.  Large number F22 = Large Depth of Field.

Depth of Field

Two pictures at different apertures

Linked together, the Depth of Field and the focal point are the keys to understanding DOF. As a rough guide, The Depth of Field area is 1/3 before your focal point and 2/3 after your focal point.

The focal point remains the same but the depth of field, before and after the focal point increases

Shutter Speed

When you change the Aperture, you also change the shutter speed. The aperture, as mentioned before, is the hole in the camera that lets the light in. This means that a bigger hole lets more light in and allows the camera to use a faster shutter speed because it has more light.

Consequently, the camera has a faster shutter speed at F3.5 than it does at F22. Below are the two images from before with the Exposure, or shutter speed information on them.

Depth of Field

As you can see, you would be able to hold your camera still at F3.5 but you would not be able to hold it still enough at F22 as the shutter speed is now 1/8th of a second. Keeping the picture sharp at slow shutter speeds can be tricky, either use a tripod, convenient rock or fence post to rest the camera on to stop camera shake.

Sometimes a small DOF or Large DOF is useful and now you know how to do both!

Small DOF – only a little bit of the picture in focus

Large DOF – a lot of the picture in focus

Below is a selection of the actual gear I use. For the full list of equipment I use to take all these photos check out My Travel Camera Bag  

For the full science bit on colour of light see here

For all my tips and tricks see my Photography Tutorials page.

Photography Tutorials

To see all my gear, check out What’s In My Camera Bag.

Definitive Guide to the Basic Essentials


Click here for all of my Top 10 Photography Tips 

How to Blur water

How to Photograph Seascapes

Composition – Learn the rules of composition, then break them.

Shutter Speed – Slow Shutter Speed Tips and how to avoid Camera Shake.

Use a Polarising Filter – Take away reflections and boost colours.

Fooling your camera’s internal light meter is easy! – Bracket your shots.

Light changes dramatically with the time of day! Know what’s best for your shot.

Know Your Camera –  Know where all the buttons are for when the perfect shot comes.

The Depth of Field – What’s in focus in your picture and what’s not.

Backup and Memory Cards – and spread your trip out over them.

Plan your Photographs – Spend time on Google street view getting to know the area.

Take your time  For less time editing – Walk around the subject and try from different angles.

Click here for my Photography page with all the links on.

Disclaimer: In short, some of the links on this site are affiliate links. These means that if you click on the link and buy the item, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. The money, of course, helps go towards the upkeep of the site – so it’s a win-win for both of us! Any videos used on this site if not my own, are, of course, used within Youtube’s sharing guidelines.



 For more reading on DOF try Wikipedia


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