A Short Course Book
Using Your Digital Camera
A Guide To Great Photographs

Depth Of Field

A small aperture gave enough depth of field to keep both foreground and background figures sharp.
As you've seen, a lens can only bring objects at a single distance from the camera into sharp focus. But if you look at photographs, you can see a considerable area of the scene from near to far that appears sharp. Even though theoretically only one narrow plane is critically sharp, other parts of the scene in front of and behind the most sharply focused plane appear acceptably sharp. This area in which everything looks sharp is called depth of field. Objects within the depth of field become less and less sharp the farther they are from the plane of critical focus. Eventually they become so out of focus that they no longer appear sharp at all.

Often it doesn't matter so much exactly what you are focused on. What does matter is whether or not all of the objects you want to be sharp are within the depth of field so they appear sharp. If you want a large part of the scene to be sharp, you can increase the depth of field. You can decrease it if you want less of the scene sharp. In some scenes, you can significantly increase or decrease the depth of field simply by shifting the point on which you are focused or by changing the aperture setting.

The near and far limits of depth of field are shown here as two planes (B and C), parallel to the plane of critical focus (A). Actually, they are usually not visible as exactly defined boundaries. Nor can you usually find the plane of critical focus by looking at a picture. Instead, sharp areas imperceptibly merge into unsharp ones. Notice that in the diagram the depth of field is not evenly divided. At normal shooting distances, about one-third of the depth of field is in front of the plane of critical focus (toward the camera), and two-thirds is behind it (away from the camera). When the camera is focused very close to an object, the depth of field becomes more evenly divided.

To control depth of field, switch to aperture priority mode and select a small aperture for great depth of field or a large aperture for shallow depth of field.

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