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Photography lesson: Depth of field

Fat Mum Slim /

So you may have noticed that each month we’ve been doing a little stretching and growing with the photo a day challenge. We’ve played with perspective, learnt about rule of thirds and dabbled with a little negative space. This month we’re going to explore depth of field.

I’m going to let Wikipedia confuse you with their explanation first, and then I’ll break it down a little to how I understand it:

Depth of field (DOF) is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.

Maybe if we have photographers among us they can explain it better, but basically it means that in a photograph an object will be lovely and sharp {this is the depth of field} and the rest will have a lovely blur around it because it’s not in focus. Now depth of field can go into lots and lots of details, but we’re just doing the very basics here. Let me show you a few examples of depth of field {so your brain doesn’t explode!}:

medium_2907198746See how the focus of the photo sits on the little baby’s hand and the adult’s finger {those bits are quite lovely and sharp}, and the rest is quite blurry?

photo credit: conorwithonen


And again here, the focus is on the leaf, and the rest of the photo is out of focus?

photo credit: helen sotiriadis

So, is your brain OK? Do you get it now?

Now I need to share HOW you can get that blur. I’m going to take the easy way and explain it to iPhone {and smart phone} users. We’ve got it easy, we get to cheat to achieve depth of field. Woot!

Depth of field on your iPhone


Getting depth of field can be done with ease in Instagram. All you have to do it snap a photo in Instagram {or select one from your library}, go to the edit page {pictured} and select the blur tool. You can choose either a circle or a line. Personally I like the circle. You’ll want to place the circle or line over the part of the photo that you want to be in focus. You can stretch it with your fingers to make it bigger, if needed.

You can see in my example here, I’ve made the bird with it’s wings open to be the sharper part of my photo, and the other parts are blurred.

TIP: While you can stretch to make the focus bigger, it really is great to keep it close to the size it comes with – otherwise you lose the effect if you don’t get the ratio of focus/blur right. Experiment and play around.

Also, if I only had one bird in this photo, this effect wouldn’t work well. You want to have parts of the photo that will look blurry. The blue sky is out of focus here, but you can’t really notice, can you?

One of my favourite Apps, Camera+, has a filter called Depth of Field. It doesn’t let you choose where to put the focus, but it’s an easy one to use if you like easy.


This is a photo I took while in a helicopter over Sydney last year. I’ve put the focus on the Opera House, so that your eyes go straight to that… and then everything else is a little bit blurry. The added bonus is that it kinda makes it look like a miniature world, but lets not confuse ourselves by getting too excited about that. Let’s concentrate on what’s in focus and what’s not.

Now if you have a fancy DSLR, you probably know how to get Depth of Field. I’d love to explain it to you, but I’m sure I’ll probably just confuse the bejeezus out of you. Basically you want to open up the aperture for maximum blur, choose the right focal point for your subject matter and shoot! My friend Rowe is the master at breaking it down and telling you how to get it, and we’ll be doing that when we run our online blogging/photography ecourse soon.

If you have a point and shoot camera, then it will depend on the capabilities of your camera on whether you can get a depth of field. You can also cheat by using and playing around with their spotlight and focal soften features.

I hope that helps! Once you play around with it, you’re sure to love it. I do. x