Mastering Depth of Field in Photography

Depth of field is a fundamental skill that can seem tricky to decipher in the beginning. But, by learning a few basics—especially the size of the lens opening, known as the f-stop—you can take more control over your compositions. In this short video, Lam Nguyen walks you through the basics of depth of field:

What is Depth of Field?

Depth of field refers to the parts of an image that are in focus and out of focus. When only a tiny sliver of an image is in focus, the photo is said to have shallow depth of field. If everything in the photo is completely sharp, it has a deep depth of field.


Learning the principles of the camera’s aperture is a fundamental part of understanding depth of field.

How Do You Control Depth of Field?

Three basic elements affect depth of field:

  1. f-stop or aperture (the size of the opening in the lens)
  2. distance from the subject
  3. focal length of your lens

Nguyen’s overview is short and sweet. He focuses on illustrating the difference between photographs taken from the same position, with the same lens—50mm—but with different apertures. The result is an easy to see example of the major role aperture plays in composition and framing:

fixed focal length lens

Shallow Depth of Field

medium depth of field


narrow depth of field

Wide Depth of Field

The key to understanding depth of field, and—more importantly—the role of your lens’s f-stop, is to shoot often and change the aperture frequently while photographing the same subject. You’ll see for yourself the difference it makes in your images.

“Depth of field is one of the most important aspects of photography.”

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