Depth of field - large-2

Depth of Field – Photography Jargon Explained

Depth of Field – Photography Jargon Explained

“Depth of field” is a photography term that you will often come across. Sometimes it is abbreviated to DOF. If you are a keen photographer then you will find it everywhere – books, magazines, discussions, etc. So, it is worth understanding what photographers mean by depth of field (DOF). Jargon might seem annoying at first, but it can help you talk about something in a quick, simple way.

The simplest way to think about depth of field is how much of the image is in focus.

This is thought of in a 3D way. We understand the image in terms of depth from front to back.

If everything from front to back (foreground to background) is sharp then we say it has a large depth of field

Depth of field - large-1

If only some of the image is in focus then we might say it has a shallow/narrow/small depth of field.

Depth of field - small-1


So, DOF is a term we use when speaking about images to describe how much of the depth from front to back is in focus. It can also be used while we are making images. We consider how much of our image we want sharp. We decide whether to blur the foreground or background. This is done mainly by controlling the Aperture settings. 

A wide aperture has a small/shallow depth of field.

Depth of field - small-2

A small or narrow aperture produces an image with a large DOF.

Depth of field - large-2

You can still have everything or almost everything sharp in an image and still be working with a small DOF. This is because we are thinking spatially. So, if you were photographing a wall, for example, the distance away from us of the whole wall would be the same (if your camera is level). So, you don’t need a small aperture to get the whole image in focus because the depth of field is narrow/small. Everything is at a similar distance from us. When something is near the camera and something else a long way away then we need a big depth of field to have both in focus in our image. 

So, perhaps it might be better to be more precise with our definition. Drawing on all that we have seen, let’s define it like this: depth of field describes how much of an image in front of and behind the focal point is in focus.

If you are still new to photography then you might like to see more photography jargon explained

© Joe Lenton, Jan 2018

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