Photography Technique: Shallow Depth of Field

Example of bokeh photography

In photography, Depth of Field (DOF) is essentially the Depth of Focus. It’s the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in the scene that appear acceptably sharp in the image. A shallow DOF tends to focus your attention on the primary subject of the image while effectively hiding from view the less important objects in the foreground or background. Alternatively, a large or deep DOF keeps most or all of the image in focus, allowing the viewer to see all objects in the frame.

Depth of field

Depth of Field / Depth of Focus (credit: Wikipedia)

Shallow vs. Deep DOF; Which to Choose?

Depending on your camera, you may have no choice. Inexpensive cameras typically take all photos with a deep DOF, and the images usually have all the objects in the scene in focus.

Shallow DOF photos are typically used in portrait or artistic photography, while deep DOF photos are typically used in applications such as landscape photography, where the scene requires everything in the frame to be in focus.

To achieve shallow DOF, you need either a lens with a small f-stop, a telephoto zoom, or a macro lens. A small f-stop lens (e.g. f/1.8 vs. f/5.6) has a large aperture, or opening, which focuses light more acutely on the optical sensor, causing objects in the foreground and background to be out of focus. You might be asking, “Why does a larger aperture cause a shallow depth of field? I won’t bore everyone with the details, but if you’re interested here’s a good forum conversation with a drawing that does a good job of explaining the physics.

Equipment I Use

Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T2i ($600 approx.)

Lens: Canon Prime 50mm f1.8 ($150 approx.)

Examples of Shallow DOF: (click on images)

Depth of Field

Eat, Drink, and Be Irish

Wine bottles

Good red wine from Beringer Vineyards, Napa Valley

Photography Technique: Depth of Field

The barrel cave, O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery, Napa Valley

Photography Technique: Depth of Field

Table art



The Boy

Learning to Walk in the Sand


  1. […] Bokeh occurs in the parts of the scene that lie outside the depth of field. Refer to my recent post on depth of field to learn […]


    1. Thanks very much, Chris!


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