Shooting Shallow – Exploring Depth of Field

Taking photos with an extremely shallow depth of field can be challenging, yet exceptionally creative and rewarding. Capturing a photo where the subject is pin sharp set against a smooth, rich, bokeh background can offer a real sense of satisfaction.

Creating a shallow depth of field can mean shooting at very large apertures where the slightest of movement can through the subject out of focus. Here are a few tips on how to overcome this challenge and improve your shallow depth of field photography.

Play With Distance
You can really enhance your images by putting a large distance between your subject and the background; yet at the same time, putting a small distance between the camera and the subject. This relationship between these two distances can be a great way of maximizing the soft background behind the subject.

David Cleland, FlixelPix, Shooting Shallow, depth of field

Take a Firm Grip of Your Camera
Always use both hands and hold the camera tight to your body to reduce the risk of shake. Hold your breath as you take the shot. It might sound dramatic, but even breathing can cause enough movement to knock a subject out of focus when shooting larger than f/2.8.

David Cleland, FlixelPix, Shooting Shallow, depth of field

Shoot More Than You Need
To ensure your subject is perfectly in focus, it is worth shooting more shots that you think you need. It can be very difficult to evaluate an image until is viewed on a computer screen, so those extra few shots may be your best work.

David Cleland, FlixelPix, Shooting Shallow, depth of field

Search for Light
You can create the most interesting backdrops by finding the best light sources. City lights, Christmas trees, car lights, etc. are all great ways of creating bokeh balls. The image below features one of my favorite games—shot 15-20 feet in front of Christmas tree lights, I achieved that great, interesting bokeh effect.

David Cleland, FlixelPix, Shooting Shallow, depth of field

Max Aperture Isn’t Always Best
It is easy to assume that to create the best shallow depth of field images, you have to shoot everything at the largest aperture your lens offers. This isn’t always the case and often the challenge of shooting at f/1.4 can mean not enough of the image is in focus. Experiment at f/4 and slowly make your way to the larger apertures—it is a tremendous learning experience.

David Cleland, FlixelPix, Shooting Shallow, depth of field

The One Lens Challenge
Invest in an f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens and use it exclusively for one month. Too much choice can be a bad thing when shooting shallow. Stick to a single lens for 30 days—it’s a great way to learn how a lens performs and how to get the best out of it in every situation.

To learn more about achieving a shallow depth of field, explore the FlixelPix eBook, Shooting Shallow – Understanding Depth of Field.

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