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Whats depth of eld all about?

Depth of eld is an indispensable creative tool but what exactly is it, and how can you control it?
Use Live View to help you judge focusing and depth of field accurately

epth of eld, or DoF for short, is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in a photo. We say acceptably sharp because only one point will be truly razor-sharp in your pictures, as your lens can only focus at a single distance. However, the sharpness falls off gradually both in front of and behind the point youre focusing on, and the depth of eld is a measure of how far this sharp area extends. Controlling the depth of eld makes a real difference to how your pictures look. The less depth of eld there is, the easier it is to blur backgrounds, which is often desirable for portraits. Increasing the depth of eld

You generally want as much depth of eld as you can get when shooting landscapes

helps you to capture more detail in a subject or scene, and youll generally want as much depth of eld as you can get when shooting landscapes and macro subjects. Your camera doesnt have a depth of eld control as such; rather its governed by a number of factors and camera settings. The distance to the subject (and the distance between subject and background), the focal length of the lens and the size of the cameras sensor all play a part, although its the choice of aperture thats generally seen as having the biggest impact. For those new to photography, the aperture is the hole in the lens that light has to pass through to reach the cameras imaging sensor. Its measured in f-stops, and can be adjusted from a wide aperture

(represented by a low f-stop number like f/2.8 or f/4) to a narrow aperture (with a high number, such as f/22 and f/32). The choice of aperture is key to controlling exposure, as wide apertures let in more light and narrower apertures let in less, and it also has a big bearing on depth of eld, with wide apertures reducing it and narrower ones increasing it.

Distance and focal length


When it comes to selecting an aperture you also need to consider your distance from the subject, as the closer you are the shallower the depth of eld will be when youre focusing close-up and using a wide aperture, the depth of eld may only measure a few millimetres. Imagine, for instance, that youre using a 70mm lens on a 7D to photograph a

How aperture affects depth of eld


Wide apertures reduce the depth of eld and help to separate the focal point from the rest of the picture, whereas narrow apertures bring more of a scene into apparent sharp focus. Although apertures are consistent across lenses (an aperture of f/8 has the same effect whether its used on a 50mm lens or a 500mm lens), lenses dont offer the same range of settings. For instance, expensive fast lenses offer very large maximum apertures for their focal lengths, such as f/2.8 on a professional 300mm lens, compared to f/5.6 on a cheaper equivalent. As well as letting more light in (and enabling the faster shutter speeds that give them their name), faster lenses enable you to capture a shallower depth of eld.

f/2.8

Wide aperture: f/2.8


A wide aperture offers a shallow band of sharpness. Both closeup and distant background details will disappear into blur Such a shallow depth of eld demands accurate focusing: here, the mallard has moved its head, so its no longer sharp

f/16

Narrow aperture: f/16


Choosing a narrow aperture extends the depth of eld, and this can be more forgiving when it comes to focusing errors Narrow apertures can result in slower shutter speeds and blurred pictures caused by camera shake, as seen here

subject one metre away. With a wide aperture of f/2.8, the depth of eld may only be 2cm at this close distance. However, if the lens was refocused on a subject 10 metres away, that same aperture may give a depth of eld of almost 170cm. Consequently, your focusing needs to be bang-on when you use extremely wide apertures at close distances, otherwise important details may look soft. Before you set the optimum aperture and position yourself at the perfect distance

to provide the depth of eld you want for a shot, you need to think about the best focal length to use. The lens doesnt affect the depth of eld per se when it comes to aperture selection, f/5.6 on a 20mm lens offers the same depth of eld as f/5.6 on a 200mm lens but the magnication offered by the focal length does play a part. Longer lenses have a narrower eld of view than wider ones, so they take in less of a scene, effectively making everything appear bigger

in the frame. This includes the background, with any blur becoming magnied too. Sensor size has a similar effect on the depth of eld. The larger the imaging sensor inside the camera is, the easier it is to create shallow depth of eld effects this is one of the reasons many pros reach for full-frame cameras. The smaller APS-C sensor that you nd in the majority of EOS bodies records a smaller area of the image projected by the lens, so everything appears larger in the

STEP BY STEP

How to use hyperfocal focusing


Use this technique to get the maximum depth of eld possible when shooting landscapes

Set the aperture


For maximum sharpness youll need to use relatively narrow apertures. Select Aperture Priority and set an aperture of around f/16 (higher f-stops can lead to soft pictures).

Turn off autofocus


Switch your lens to the manual focus setting: you need to set the lens at a precise distance with hyperfocal focusing, and the lens would refocus if left in AF mode.

Find the distance


Visit www.dofmaster.com (or use its smartphone app) and input your camera and lens info. Youll be given a table of depth of eld measurements and a hyperfocal distance setting.

Set the distance


Focus the lens at the distance suggested for the aperture being used. If the image appears blurred, use the cameras depth of eld preview button to show the true picture

Up the ISO to get more DoF


For landscape photography, or any other situation that requires an extended depth of eld to keep everything sharp from the foreground to the background, youll want to use narrow apertures. However, as weve seen this leads to slower shutter speeds; this is no problem if youre shooting with a tripod, but if youre shooting handheld sharpness can be lost through camera shake. The solution here is to increase the ISO to compensate. First, set the aperture, then set an ISO that brings the shutter speed within the safe handheld shooting speed of the lens (aim for 1/focal length, so 1/50 sec for a 50mm lens).

1/160 sec at f/4; ISO200

A wide aperture of f/4 means the e extreme foreground and background detail appears out of focus

Previewing depth of eld


Its difcult to gauge the depth of eld when looking through the viewnder, as the image you see is shown at the lenss widest aperture setting; the aperture youve dialled in isnt actually set until just before the exposure is made. Most EOS D-SLRs have a depth of eld preview button, which youll nd near the lens mount: holding this down sets the lens to the selected aperture, so you can gauge what will be sharp; the downside is that the narrower the aperture, the darker the image in the viewnder. The alternative is to use Live View mode: if you hold down the depth of eld button the bright image on the LCD will enable you to judge the depth of eld accurately, even when using narrow apertures in low-light conditions. The bright view provided by the wideopen aperture of f/2.8 in Live View

Why distance matters


Although wide apertures reduce the depth of eld, the effect depends on how far the subject is from the lens. The farther away the subject is, the greater the depth of eld even when a lens is used at its widest aperture. Take these two examples: both were shot at f/2.8, but at different distances from the subject. The shot of the goose doesnt work because the background still looks comparatively sharp, and the bird blends into it. The dandelion image is more successful: the close focusing and wide aperture combine to produce a shallow depth of eld that separates the ower from its surroundings.

f/2.8: focusing at 20ft

ng at 1ft f/2.8: focusi

Pressing the depth of eld button accurately previews the DoF at the selected aperture of f/11

1/50 sec at f/16; ISO1600

Specialist lenses
The problem with using very narrow apertures to extend the depth of eld is that it can reduce sharpness due to a phenomenon called diffraction. A wider aperture will produce a crisper image but with less DoF, so youll have to decide which is more important, or set an aperture somewhere in the middle. Not so if you use a tilt-shift lens: these pricey chunks of glass enable you to use a wide aperture for maximum sharpness, and then tilt the lens to adjust the plane of focus and maximise the depth of eld.

Its better to choose a narrow It a aperture, then increase the ISO to enable a safe handheld shutter speed

picture than it does using the same focal length on a full-frame camera; its a bit like cropping the shot in Photoshop. Attach a 50mm lens to an APS-C D-SLR like the 700D, for instance, and its effective view will be the same as that of an 80mm lens (50mm x 1.6 crop factor of the smaller sensor). On a full-frame camera such as the 6D, theres no crop factor it captures the full view of the lens. In order to get the same image size as on the 700D, youd need to be closer to the subject, and, as weve seen, the

closer you are to a subject the shallower the depth of eld becomes. Of course, cameras with smaller sensors can be useful if youre looking to maximise the depth of eld in your shots, and a technique called hyperfocal focusing will also help you to maximise front-to-back sharpness in a scene. This involves manually focusing the lens at a distance that will capture sharp detail from half the hyperfocal distance to innity see our step-by-step walkthrough on page 71. Q

5 hints and tips for

Fisheye lenses
Each month we highlight a Canon EOS D-SLR or type of lens and provide handy advice to help you get more from your gear

In association with...

1 Choose your view


Fisheyes generally come in two avours: full-frame or circular. The effect depends on the lens design and the size of the sensor inside the camera, so check the specs to make sure the results will be what youre expecting.

3 Exposure issues
The inclusion of such a wide expanse of scenery can cause severe contrast problems if you have a bright sky and a darker foreground. You may need to shoot several bracketed exposures, and combine the images in post-processing.

5 Try before you buy


Want to have some sheye fun without having to splash out? The amazing Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L USM lens is only 52 for 3 days from LensesForHire.co.uk: also check out their sheye guide at bit.ly/IKNBWq

2 Get close
Because of the incredibly wide view of a sheye lens (up to 180 degrees, corner to corner), youll need to get much closer to a subject than would ordinarily be the case in order to prevent it from looking too small in the picture.

4 Check the edges


Its all too easy for your feet or your shadow, or a set of tripod legs, to appear in the bottom of the picture in sheye shots. Make a quick check of the edges of the frame before you press the shutter button.