Depth of field: What do I need to know?

Guide to depth of field designed for those new to self-shooting, covering focus, focussing distance, focal length, aperture and sensor.

What is depth of field?

The depth of field in an image is the distance between the parts that appear in focus.

When there's a big distance between the things that look crisp and sharp, it's known as a wide or deep depth of field. When there's a short distance the depth of field is shallow or narrow.

The ability to use depth of field creatively is one of the most useful tools in a photographer's skill set. This guide is for beginners in self-shooting, especially those who intend to do further stills and video training with the BBC Academy.

How is depth of field used in storytelling?

  • Gardeners' World

    A shallow depth of field has been used to draw attention to the subject, garden designer Mark Lane. The background (Geffrye Museum Garden) is blurred to create a pleasing artistic effect.

    Gardeners' World
  • BBC News 24

    A deeper depth of field is used in this portrait of Jane Hill in the London BBC newsroom. The field isn't so deep that the newsroom's pin-sharp, distracting from the subject. But it's clear enough to show where Jane works, which is part of the story.

    BBC News 24
  • Junior Doctors

    A wide shot with a deeper depth of field showing the context in which junior doctors are operating. Here the background is pin-sharp, as well as the subject in the foreground.

    Junior Doctors
  • Coast Lives

    In this documentary shot, a deep depth of field is necessary to clearly show what's happening as a ‘coasteering’ man jumps into the sea on the coast of Northern Ireland.

    Coast Lives
  • Earth's Natural Wonders

    A deep depth of field is used to keep the background in fairly good focus as well as the subject in the foreground. This is because the background is rather lovely – too good to miss. It contributes to the story.

    Earth's Natural Wonders

What do the terms mean?

What do the terms mean?

What do the terms mean?

Out of focus

Subject

Depth of field

Focus distance

Out of focus

Lens

Lens

What factors affect depth of field?

How do I create a narrow depth of field?

Producer and director Sam Bailey demonstrates how to use space, zoom and aperture (or iris) to create a shallow, or narrow, depth of field.

What's next?