Depth of what?

One of those “looks” that is just hard to achieve with a point and shoot camera is depth of field. That “look” we are referring to is what you see in most professional portraits, where the person is in focus and everything else is blurry. That’s not magic or an expensive camera, that’s depth of field. Depth of field is the “depth” of focus in an image. Here, let’s just look at some examples, both taken from the exact same spot on a tripod:

Real shallow (f1.8):

f1.8

Not so shallow (f8):

f8

The first photo was taken at f1.8 and the depth of field is very shallow, with only a few centimeters in focus. The second photo was taken at f8 and much of the scene is in focus (and cluttered!).

How to control depth of field with Aperture Priority.

Depth of field comes in handy to control clutter in a photo. If we just wanted a picture of a flower, the first photo is a lot more appealing since the shallow depth of field blurs out the rest of the photo. So as you can see, one of the factors that controls depth of field is the aperture. The larger the aperture (smaller the f#), the shallower the depth of field.

The easiest way to control the aperture is to use one of my favorite shooting modes, aperture priority. Aperture priority allows you to select your aperture and the camera will decide on the right shutter speed to produce the right exposure. To set your camera to aperture mode, rotate the shooting mode dial to “A“. Now use the scroll dial (usually right in front of the shutter button) to select your smallest f number and shoot like normal.

So the next time you want to take a portrait, use the smallest aperture you can to remove the clutter and “focus” on your subject. Don’t forget to set your metering to spot metering or center-weighted metering if you have a bright background…

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