Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Controlling Depth of Field in your Photographs

Learn what depth of field is and how your camera settings affect it

Some subjects need to be fully in focus to be shown at their best and others need dreamy out of focus backgrounds to create the right setting. The feature that is key in both situations is called depth of field – it gives you both that ‘everything in focus’ look and it also gives you soft out of focus look. Depending on what you are photographing getting the depth of field right is often the difference between a snapshot and great image.

I’ll explain what depth of field is and how to control it with your camera settings.

What is depth of field?

At its simplest, depth of field is the zone of sharp focus in front of, around and behind the subject in your photo when you are focused on that subject. When you have a shallow depth of field, only a small area around the subject will be in focus and quite often only a small part of the subject will be in focus. Everything else in the image will be out of focus with things further away from the subject, either in front of or behind the subject, being more out of focus the further away they are. This image has a shallow depth of field – it’s a great way to shoot flowers:

When the depth of field is deep, nearly everything in the shot is in focus. You control the depth of field in your images by adjusting the camera’s settings for aperture, adjusting the focal length of the lens and the distance you are from the subject. This image has a deep depth of field – that’s important as we want to see everything in this scene from the grass in front of us to the horizon miles and miles away.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Control depth of field with aperture

One way that you can control the depth of field in an image is to change the aperture that you are using. For this, you will need to have your camera set to Aperture Priority or Manual mode. Selecting an aperture that is very large, such as f/1.4 to f/2.8 will give you a shallower depth of field around your subject. The aperture used for this image was a huge f1.4 so only a small portion of it is in focus:


If you shoot with a small aperture, such as f/9 to f/11 or more you will find that more of the image will be in focus, which gives you a deeper depth of field. If everything else stays the same, the difference in the aperture setting you use can result in a very different image. The aperture used here was a small f11:

One benefit of shooting with a large aperture, such as f/1.4 to f/2.8, is that a lot of light is getting into the camera so you can use a fast shutter speed. Conversely, a down side of shooting with a small aperture such as f/9 to f/11 or more is that less light gets into the camera so you will need to use a slower shutter speed  or a higher ISO value. In some cases you will be shooting with such a slow shutter speed that you will need to use a tripod.

Control depth of field with focal length

The focal length of your lens can also have an impact on the depth of field when you use this to make a subject bigger. So, if you are shooting with a 50 mm lens, you will get a much deeper apparent depth of field than you would if you were capturing an image with a 200 mm lens at the same aperture and if, in both situations the subject size is the same. The depth of field is actually not significantly different but it looks different because there is more background in an image when you capture it with a 50mm lens than you will get when you capture it with a 200 mm lens. So a rough rule of thumb is that the more zoomed into the subject that you are, the shallower the depth of field will appear to be. This giraffe was shot at f5.6 which isn’t a particularly large aperture but it was shot at 300mm zoom so the giraffe is quite sharp and the background is nicely out of focus:


If you are shooting landscapes you will get best results when you use a short lens such as a 28 mm lens as the image will appear to have a much deeper depth of field. On the other hand, a zoom lens can be a good lens to use when shooting portraits because the further you’re zoomed in to the subject the less background will be in the image and the shallower depth of field you will appear to have. This image was shot at f11 with a 28mm lens so everything from the lamp post to the building is in focus:

Control depth of field by varying the distance from your subject

The distance between the subject and the camera is another way that you can impact depth of field. So, for example, if you photograph a subject close up, such as in the region of up to 10 feet away, then the depth of field will be much shallower and more of the image behind the subject and a little in front of the subject will be out of focus. On the other hand, if you move the subject further away from you so that the subject is 20 feet away then the depth of field will be much deeper and there will be a lot more of the image in front and behind the subject in focus. This image was shot with a 200mm lens – the singer was relatively close to the camera  and the background was some distance behind him so the musician is in focus and the background nicely out of focus:

Whenever you’re considering depth of field, you should also note that, when the subject is in focus, the amount of the image that is in focus behind the subject will be greater than the amount of the image that is in focus in front of the subject. The ratio is approximately one-third to two-thirds, so the depth of field will extend roughly one-third in front of the subject and two-thirds behind the subject.

Helen Bradley

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Photoshop Landscape Glow Effect

Quickly learn how to create a Landscape glow effect in Photoshop to give your photos a dreamlike quality.


Hello, I’m Helen Bradley. Welcome to this video tutorial. In this tutorial I’m going to show you how to apply a landscape glow effect.

Before we get started with creating this landscape glow effect let’s have a look and see what it is that we’re aiming for. This is the original image that I’m starting with. It’s from sxc.hu which is a stock image site and this is just a little house in the middle of a paddock. And this is the result of applying my landscape glow effect to it. The image has a bit more of a glow to it and a slightly more painterly look. I have another image that I’ve applied it to. Let’s just hide that one for now. Let’s have a look and see what this image looked like before. Again it’s a stock image and this is what it looks like after we’ve applied the effect.

So let’s get started creating this effect. I’m just going to remove these three layers from this image, and let’s see how we would do the effect ourselves. We’re going to start on the background layer of the image. And we’re going to choose Select and then Color Range because this allows us to pick out the darker areas of the image without having to make a selection which is really nice because they would be really hard to identify otherwise. So I’m just clicking to select shadows. And Photoshop has automatically selected all the shadow dark areas of my image so I’m just going to click Ok. And this is the selection it has made.

Now I’m going to put this on a new layer so I’m going to choose Layer, New, Layer via Copy. And that’s going to copy the blacks onto their own layer. So you can see this is what we’ve got. I’m actually going to hide that layer for now. Now I’m going to make two additional copies of the background layer. I’m going to right click it and choose Duplicate Layer and click Ok and then do that again. With the topmost of these duplicate layers I’m going to set its blend mode to Screen and that will lighten the image considerably. And then I’m going to merge this layer into the layer below by choosing Layer, Merge Down.

Now I have a lighter version of the image on top of the original. And I’m going to duplicate this so I have two light versions of the image on top of each other. And I’m going to set the blend mode for this particular top layer to Multiply and that will darken it all again. Now with this darkened layer I want to blur it so I’m going to choose Filter, Blur, and then Gaussian Blur. And I’m going to set my blur to a quite high value, something like sort of 9 or 10 but in that sort of higher value area so I’m going to get this sort of glow look to my image and click Ok.

So there’s my blurred darkened layer, my light layer underneath and my original layer below. And now that I’m ready to do so I’m going to make the top layer this dark tree visible again. And you can see that in actual fact the pixels in that layer are really quite light in comparison now to the rest of the image underneath. And I can even make it lighter by blending this particular tree back in in Screen mode and then just adjust the opacity down to suit. So that’s giving my landscape a very sort of glow look. It’s a lot richer color and a lot more of a glow look to it.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this video tutorial. Thank you for joining me for it. If you liked the tutorial please like it on YouTube and subscribe to my YouTube channel to be advised when new videos are released which is a couple of times a week. You can also visit projectwoman.com for more tips, tricks and tutorials on Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, Illustrator and others.

Helen Bradley

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Winter Photography tips #7 – Work with what you have

Winter scenery typically lacks the bold colors of the other seasons. However, there’s still plenty of good subject matter to photograph. Look for the contrast of bare trees against wintry skies or soft snow hanging from the boughs of prickly conifers.

Contrast in line and texture make a great focal point for your images.

In the city, look for winter fogs and mists that partially hide buildings and in the country, look for elements which break the landscape drawing your eye to them such as a stream running through snow, a fence, hoof prints in icy paddocks or early bulbs.

Helen Bradley