Don't Fall for the Shallow Depth of Field Trap

Depth of field is a fundamental concept that can dramatically impact the quality and storytelling of your images. It's not just about blurring the background; it's about thoughtfully controlling what elements are in focus and how they relate to each other within the frame. 

Coming to you from Jamie Windsor, this informative video explores the nuances of depth of field and offers valuable tips for using it effectively. Windsor emphasizes the importance of understanding how aperture and distance affect depth of field, encouraging you to experiment with your equipment to learn how different settings impact your images. He then looks at the work of renowned photographers like Joel Sternfeld and Chad Hun, highlighting how they utilize depth of field to enhance the narrative of their photographs.

A key takeaway from the video is the importance of not always defaulting to a shallow depth of field. Windsor encourages exploring deep focus, using a wide aperture to bring everything into focus. This technique not only improves compositional skills but also allows for a more holistic storytelling approach, incorporating the entire environment into the narrative. He cites street photographer Alex Webb as a master of deep focus, whose visually rich images demonstrate a profound understanding of the interplay between people and their surroundings.

Windsor analyzes Webb's techniques, focusing on compositional grids like the Golden Triangle, which helps balance elements within the frame. He also points out Webb's use of chiaroscuro, strong color palettes, subframing, repetition, and strategic positioning to create visually striking and engaging photographs. By studying these techniques, you can learn how to create more impactful images, even without relying on a shallow depth of field.

The video encourages you to explore manual focus, as it can enhance your understanding of depth of field and make you more intentional with your focusing choices. Ultimately, Windsor emphasizes that mastering depth of field is about making conscious decisions that support your artistic vision and enhance the storytelling potential of your photographs. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Windsor.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

Log in or register to post comments

For me a wide aperture is wide open, short DOF?

It's easy to get confused because numerical larger f-stops are smaller apertures.

It's not a trap.

It kinda is though.

Definitely it is not! I can stop anytime.

I've often found shooting with a small aperture to get maximum DOF can lead to a certain amount of laziness.

I always thought a shallow depth of field was for cutting out unsightly backgrounds. That way someone looking their best on say their wedding day takes centre stage and the urban messy surroundings are out of focus so as not to distract.
That way it doesn’t matter what the client's budget is, as they don't have to go or pay for somewhere special just for the photographs.
Maybe one day fashions or photoshop will do away with the need to hide unsightly backgrounds for this type of picture.