How To: Shallow Depth of Field Photography

Learning to use your camera in Aperture Priority mode can be daunting at first but with a few easy tips you’ll have it mastered in no time. Aperture priority, or AV mode on most cameras is a setting that allows you to set a specific aperture while the camera automatically selects a shutter speed to match it, it will create an image with the proper exposure as measured by the camera’s light meter. Very different different from manual mode, where you must set both Aperture and Shutter Speed.

Aperture priority is an easy setting to use while trying to take photos with shallow depth of field; meaning a photo that has the main subject in clear focus while the background is completely out of focus. You will typically want to set your aperture as wide as your lens will allow. Typically this is f/2.8 or maybe 5.6, however, some lenses can go as low as 1.4. If you have recently purchased a lens, you will have learned that if a lens can shoot at 1.4 it is usually very expensive. This technique is great for portraits, photographing a single subject that you want to highlight, animal photography and more.

Shooting with Shallow Depth of Field
Items to keep in mind while trying to create shallow depth of field in your photography.

  1. Set your aperture as low as your lens will allow, f/2.8 is a great setting for this.
  2. In AV mode your camera will automatically set your shutter speed for you.
  3. You will still be allowed to adjust your ISO. Only raise your ISO if you feel that you are getting blurry images. The higher you raise your ISO, the more grain you will have in your images.
  4. Make sure to focus on your subject’s eyes. When using a very shallow depth of field it is possible to capture only a portion of the subjects face so make sure their eyes are your priority.
  5. No flash is required. If you are using a camera in AV mode you do not need flash.
  6. Keep steady. It’s important to hold your camera still at all times. Especially when shooting with shallow depth of field in low light situations.

These are some images I took several years ago around the time I finally figured out how to use my digital SLR camera. They are some of my favorite images of all time.


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