Playing with DOF

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What is the correct Depth of Field (DOF)? – That’s a trick question.

An obvious answer may be that a landscape photographer should go for the largest DOF possible… but that’s not always the case. Take a look at the two images below from a recent trip to Wisconsin…

  • Sensiba Nature Preserve, Wisonsin, USA

    Focal Length: 280mm, Aperture: F16

  • Sensiba Nature Preserve, Wisonsin, USA

    Focal Length: 280mm, Aperture: F5.6

One image is taken at F5.6 with a shallow DOF… and the other is taken at F16 with a wider DOF.

In the image with a wider DOF, a larger percentage of the frog is sharp but you can see the distracting details in the background. In the image with a shallow DOF, the background is softer… and so is the frog. The only sharp area is around the frog’s eye. I personally prefer the softer image with its dreamy look. For a documentary or scientific study, the sharper details of the frog from a wider DOF may be more important.

So the correct answer to my initial question?

The correct DOF depends upon what you are trying to accomplish. We select DOF based upon the objective of our photographs. For wide angle shots, we often use DOF to create a dreamy effect. Below is another example.

  • Tom McCall Nature Preserve, Oregon (OR), USA

    Focal Length: 17mm, Aperture: F4

  • Tom McCall Nature Preserve, Oregon (OR), USA

    Focal Length: 17mm, Aperture: F16

I deliberately chose a shallow DOF to keep the foreground flowers in sharp focus and the background blurred out. I love this dreamy look. The second image is a classic landscape shot where everything is sharply in focus; this look did not quite work for me.

Next time YOU are in the field, ask yourself… what am I trying to accomplish? Choose your DOF based on the answer to that question.

Check out the following tutorials on Visual Wilderness:

  • Spot on Exposure Tutorial Cover

    Spot on Exposure Tutorial

  • Photography Histogram Tutorial Cover

    Histogram Exposed Tutorial

  • Exposure Bracketing Tutorial for Landscape Photography Cover

    Bracketing Exposed Tutorials

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams