Aperture Isn’t the Only Thing to Consider When Considering Depth of Field

Whether you're shooting groups of people or groups of birds, making sure you nail that depth of field just right to get all your subjects in focus can be challenging.

I know that when I shot my recent Christmas portraits of my kids and family with my new (to me) Canon EF 135 f/2L USM lens my 85mm-trained brain completely did not realize just how different the depth of field characteristics would be with the added reach on the telephoto end. That's why I wish that I had caught wildlife photographer Ray Hennessy's video on just how little aperture affects depth of field in your photos when it comes to extreme (or even not-so-extreme) focal lengths.

While conventional wisdom says that stopping down to smaller apertures would result in greater depth of field, when you're shooting objects at close range with a telephoto, as Hennessy shows, there's very little difference between something like a setting of f/5.6 vs. f/11. In Hennessy's case, he's using model birds with a Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S Lens, and you can see the difference, or lack thereof, when he switches between settings.

So what's a photographer to do when shutter speeds are dropping, ISOs are rising and you're still not getting the depth of field you want? Hennessy offers a variety of helpful tips to get everything you want in focus, and it has nothing to do with aperture or settings and everything to do with positioning and where you, as a photographer, move in relation to your subject. You may not get quite the composition you wanted, but you can always crop to get closer to what you are looking for. You may find that you like the new composition even better.

Check out Hennessy's video above for example shots from various distances and ISOs. There are some clear looks at what each aperture and position does to the photo and it's worth checking out, even if you're not just photographing birds. If you need to brush up on the basic concepts of depth of field and what else factors into getting just the right amount, I made a video about the topic a few years ago right here.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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