Controlling Shallow Depth of Field in Photography: Practical Guide to Making Your Food Photos 3D

depth of field Watching a 3-D movie is a great experience. I am sure you have seen at least one 3-D movie. If not, do it. It is amazing (specially if you see one of those Disney shows in Magic Kindom. It feels like you are part of the experience. In photography, a photo that pops out is engaging and mesmerizing. It makes you feel that you are just there and part of the photograph. So, how do you do bring third dimension in photography? Read on…

Practical Guide to Making Your Food Photos 3D

In a previous post, we gave an introduction to depth of field. In this post, we will look at how depth of field is created.

Depth of Field and 3D

A photograph has two dimensions – height and a width. The third dimension comes when depth is added to a photograph. The “feeling” of depth in any photograph comes when the background in separated from the main subject in the photograph. Look at this photograph, see that raspberry? Look at it for a sec or two.

RaspberryDepth of Field in “Plate of Raspberries and Blueberries” by .craig

Do you see how that first raspberry seems to be separated or distanced from the background? Do you feel there is a depth to this photo? Can you see the third dimension? The raspberry, and to some extent the blueberry, stand out among the rest of the bunch. This is done by a technique called…

Selective Focusing

In general terms, selective focusing is a technique where you focus on the main subject and use shallow depth of field to put rest of the objects in a photograph out of focus. We’ve talked about shallow depth of field in how to make your food photos pop out. I think shallow depth of field is one of the most useful technique to make a jaw dropping impact. As seen in the photo above, the in-focus raspberry is sharp and makes an impact on the viewer because the rest of the objects, raspberries, are out of focus. Let’s look at how to get the depth of field you want. Here are…

3 Ways to Control Depth of Field

These three ways let you create depth of field when you click the button to capture the photograph.  Let’s look at these three ways – aperture, distance between subject & camera and focal length of lens:

1. Aperture

We talked about aperture and we looked at the relation between aperture and f stop and how aperture/opening changes with f number. We mentioned that large f number = small opening. Let’s extend this a little further. Depth of field changes with change in aperture. As the aperture increases and f number decreases, the depth of field decreases too. As we have seen that aperture will be greater at f2.0 than it will be at f8.0, the depth of field will be shallower at f2.0 than it till be at f8.0.

To Make Your Photo Pop-out: If you wish to make your photo pop-out by using shallow depth of field, use smaller f stop. As we talked, the smaller the f-stop, shallower will be the depth of field. This will mean the subject in focus will stand out with most of the objects in the photograph.

Keep in Mind: If you choose to use smaller f stop for creating shallow depth of field, the aperture will be large and more light will get in the camera. And this should be compensated with increase in shutter speed or ISO (to a certain extent) as we discussed in the basics of photography post.

2. Distance

Distance between subject and camera (or lens) also influences depth of field. This is a powerful option when you cannot change the aperture due to some lighting constraint. Depth of field changes rapidly with the distance between subject and camera. The closer the subject is to the camera, shallower is the depth of field. This means, when you are 5 feet from the subject, you will get greater depth of field than if you were 2 feet.

To Make Your Photo Pop out: So, here to get shallow depth of field, you will have to move closer to the subject and the closer you get, the better you subject will pop out.

Keep in Mind: Now, keep in mind that as you get closer or as you change your distance, your composition will change too. You will find that as you step towards the subject you are eliminating some things out of the frame. Stay alert of this fact and before you click, check your frame to make sure you are including everything you need to.

3. Focal Length

When you just can’t move closer to the subject, the next thing you can do is bring subject closer to you – by using a lens with greater focal length. Focal length is the third factor that affects depth of field. The larger the focal length, shallower is the depth of field. So, if you are using a 50mm lens, you can decrease depth of field by using a lens greater than 50mm. A lens like 200mm will have much shallower depth of field than 50mm lens.

To Make Your Photo Pop out: As you may have already understood, to make your photos pop out use a longer lens, longer meaning one with long focal length.

Keep in Mind: As with moving closer, you need to be careful with what is included in the frame and what is not. The longer focal length present another challenge – shake. Since by using longer focal length, you bring the subject closer and magnify the subject, everything else is magnified too. Meaning if you shake the camera even minutely, the resulting shake is magnified too. What happens when you shake the camera? Photograph is blurred. So what will happen if you magnify everything by using a lens with greater focal length? Camera becomes too sensitive and getting sharp picture is challenging. Is this getting too complicated? Well who said, photography was simple 😉 But hey there are ways to get around this. In fact there are several ways. Use tripod and/or use greater shutter speed. I’ll just leave it there, for now.

After this, you may be wondering, out of these three ways to control depth of field which is…

The Best Way to Change Depth of Field

As you may have seen each factor has its strength and its disadvantage. The best way to change depth of field depends a lot on the situation you are in. If you have limited space between subject and camera, there is little you can do about it. The option then is to either change the lens and try a lens with larger focal length or change the aperture. You are the best person to make this decision and only you can decide what is the best way for the changing depth of field.

Depth of Field in Point and Shoot

If you use a point and shoot camera, all this talk of depth of field may seem to you like some worldly riches and treasure that only DSLR users can possess. But believe me when I say, that this seemingly impossible to attain prized possession is available to point and shoot users too. I plan to explain in detail how to create depth of field by point and shoot camera – soon.

Have you used depth of field before?

Have you tried to make your photos pop out? Can you share an example below? What have you found challenging when you tried to create depth of field?

Update: In next few weeks, we plan to share examples of depth of field from our readers. If you have an example that we can include in our next post (with credit and a link back to you), please leave a comment below.

Photo Credits: Anticipating Turkey by theilr

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  • Barbara Martello

    These are some attempts I did last winter. I am new to photography and new to food photography, in particular. I have a lot to learn, but I feel FP is my passion! (I cook and style my own plates)

  • Thewarmtoast

    I have tried using depth in field..not very shallow. But I haven’t used a DSLR so can’t share the technical specifications. Its a picture clicked through a smartphone.