Turn good photos into great photos with depth-of-field

by Earl J Posted on October 02, 2009

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Manipulating the depth of field in your photographs can help in turning good photographs into great photographs. The ability to do this is not limited to advanced digital cameras, either.

I’ll share four of my shots with you and explain how I achieved the results by using aperture controls that most advanced cameras have. I will then show you how to change depth of field even the most basic of point and shoot models.

What is depth of field?  It is the means of controlling how much of the image is in focus from front to back. Whether you use an SLR or a point and shoot camera the below techniques apply.

In my first photo, of the Oregon state capitol, there is great depth of field, meaning that everything in the shot is in focus. Most digital photos look that way.

Then in the next photo we see the same capitol building, but slightly out of focus and thus highlighting the flowers and making them stand out from the softer image of the capitol.  I laid on the ground for this shot, opened my lens in aperture control, and focused on the flowers so the building would become out of focus, on purpose.

In the third photo, I focused on flowers again, with a not as wide lens opening, so the background was just a little out of focus.

Llama Douglas (I don’t know how he got named Douglas) illustrates two things.  I put him out in a natural environment and again wanted the background fuzzy so the toy would stand out. Again it was a wide lens opening with the focus on Douglas.

If you own a point and shoot camera here are a couple of tricks you can use to regulate your depth of field.

In your Scene Selection options, there will be a Portrait mode or, in the case of my wife’s Sony, a Soft Snap mode.  Her manual says “Soft Snap allows you to shoot images with a softer atmosphere for portraits, flowers, etc.”  There will probably be similar information about the Portrait mode in your camera.  Thus you focus on the person or the flower and the background will not be as sharp.

There’s another trick to achieving a shorter depth of field.  You can accomplish that by zooming to the optical maximum, then focusing on the subject.  Again the background will not be as sharp because you have shortened your depth of field when zooming to the optical maximum.

I wish you great photos,

Earl Johnson


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  1. Ann Abbott Says:

    Your explanation on depth of field and how it can be achieved came across so simple and clear. Thanks Earl for the photography lesson for today.

    Ann Abbott
    Shutterfly Gallery Guru

  2. Joanna T Says:

    Woo-hoo Earl. LOVE this photo lesson. And I think I can manage this w/ my Canon Powershot. I have always wanted to try to get the blurred background. I thought one had to do that by using Macro.

    Thanks Earl.
    Shutterfly Gallery Guru

  3. Anita Says:

    Thanks so much for posting your techniques. Your information provides lots of great tips for taking photographs.

  4. CheriL1 Says:

    Great article Earl………thanks for the tips!

  5. Tammy M. Says:

    Thanks for the great tips Earl, really easy to understand.
    Shutterfly Gallery Guru

  6. conniee4 Says:

    Love your tips! Easy to follow and wow did you educate me! Thank you!

  7. shannonr Says:

    thanks for the tip, I had no clue what the Portrait mode was suppose to be used for beside….taking portraits. This was a very informative article and i will surely put your words to use, thanks :)

more about Earl J

I'm a long-time film photographer, starting with a darkroom in my parents' fruit-cellar when a teen-ager. I fought the change to digital at first, but no longer. I've become a convert and Shutterfly has been my on-line provider since 2002. Since then I've placed (as I write this) 135 orders for prints, enlargements, calendars for every year and 42 photo books in different sizes. I'm very pleased with the top quality of all Shutterfly products.

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