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CONTROLLING DEPTH OF FIELD

by Jim Doty, Jr.
Since there are several combinations of apertures and shutter speeds that will give the same exposure on film, how does a photographer choose which combination to use in a given situation? The answer to this question is what gives photographers creative control over their images. It is the specific combination of aperture and shutter speed that a photographer chooses that determines the depth of field in the image, as well as subject motion, if any. Depth of Field (DOF) is how much of the image from near to far looks sharp. A landscape photo in which everything looks sharp (from the flowers a few inches from the camera lens to the mountains far in the distance) is said to have a lot of DOF. A photo of a field of flowers in which just one flower looks sharp and every thing else is soft and blurry is said to have very little DOF. The wonderful thing about photography is that the photographer gets to choose how much DOF there is, subject to certain limitations. Unfortunately, DOF can't be determined by simply looking through the camera lens. Whenever you look through the viewfinder of a single lens reflex camera, you are looking through the lens, BUT you are looking through the lens at its widest aperture. If you take the picture with the camera set at a smaller aperture, the DOF will be different than what you saw looking through the lens. The exception to this is if you have a DOF Preview button on your camera. A "Depth of Field Preview Button" is one of the most valuable features a camera can have. Some inexpensive cameras have DOF Preview, and some expensive ones do not. The next time you purchase a camera body, you should consider getting one that has DOF Preview. By pushing the DOF Preview button when looking through your camera lens, THE LENS STOPS DOWN TO THE TAKING APERTURE so you can see the final look of your photograph. Because the lens is stopped down, what you see through the viewfinder will look much darker than usual when you are checking DOF. What creates depth of field? A point of light that is properly focused on the film plane becomes a point of light on the film. If the point of light is not focused on the film plane, it will create a small circle on the film plane, called a circle of confusion. Most eyes can't distinguish between a point and a circle smaller than 1/100 inch. As long as the circle of confusion on the film is not enlarged beyond 1/100 inch on the print, it appears in focus. This is what makes DOF 1

If you are 8 feet from the focused subject. The more the circles of confusion are magnified. The 50 mm lens will have more than the 100 mm but less than the 24 mm. DOF is a function of how much those points of light are magnified or enlarged when the circles of confusion on film (or the digital sensor) are enlarged on the final print. use a wider angle lens. use a small lens aperture. or get closer to your subject. and 100mm). if the other points of light form small enough circles of confusion on film. F/8 has more depth of field than f/4. 1) With the same lens at the same focused distance. If you want to increase DOF. you will have more DOF than if you are 4 feet from the focused subject. An image on film is made up of lots of points of light that show up on the film. F/16 has more DOF than f/8. or a combination of all three. you will have more DOF than if you are 2 feet from the subject your lens is focused on. To minimize DOF. use a longer focal length lens. the less depth of field there appears to be in the final print. all set at f/8 and all focused on a subject 10 feet away. Practically speaking. the 24 mm lens will have the most DOF and the 100 mm lens will have the least. you have more depth of field behind the point of focus than in front of the point of focus. DOF INCREASES WITH SMALLER LENS APERTURES. use a wider lens aperture. 3) With the same focused distance and the same aperture. With the exception of closeup or macro photography.possible. That is why the same image may appear to have enough depth of field on an 8x10 enlargement but not on a 16x20 enlargement. Even though the camera lens is only focused on one plane at a certain distance from the lens. SHORTER LENS FOCAL LENGTHS HAVE MORE DOF THAN LONGER LENS FOCAL LENGTHS. If you have three lenses (24mm. 50mm. 2) With the same lens and the same aperture. or get farther away from the focused subject. If you are four feet from the subject your lens is focused on. 2 . or a combination of all three. there are three things photographers can do "in the field" to control DOF. they will appear sharp to the human eye. DOF INCREASES AS THE FOCUSED DISTANCE INCREASES.

A lens is focused at its hyperfocal distance when the infinity focus mark is opposite the f stop in use on the depth of field scale on the lens. Since the lens is set at an aperture of f/8. It gives you the maximum amount of depth of field you can achieve with that lens at that aperture. The distance opposite the same f stop at the other end of the depth of field scale shows the near limit of the depth of field. Everything between 15 feet and infinity will appear sharp in the final photo. This makes finding the hyperfocal distance easier. 3 .HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE One very handy way to achieve a lot of depth of field for landscape photos. With a given lens focal length and a given lens aperture. Just above the aperture ring is the depth of field scale with pairs of numbers representing the f-stops from f/4 to f/22. the HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE IS THE FOCUSED DISTANCE THAT WILL KEEP EVERYTHING LOOKING SHARP FROM HALF THE HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE TO INFINITY. Using depth of field scales on lenses to set the hyperfocal distance Some lenses have depth of field scales marked on the lens barrel.4 to f/22. even if your camera does not have a depth of field preview button. To the left is a 50 mm lens. Opposite the other f/8 mark is 15 feet. Everything in between will appear in focus. is to use the hyperfocal distance for the lens and aperture in use. The bottom row of numbers are the lens apertures in f-stops from f/1. The lens is set at f/8 (the aperture below the orange mark). The distance opposite the focus mark (not the depth of field marks) is the hyperfocal distance for that lens at that aperture. The hyperfocal distance is 30 feet (the focused distance in green above the orange mark). the infinity mark on the distance scale is set opposite the f/8 to the right.

The left hand depth of field scale for f/16 is at a distance of a little less than 2. Everything from 2. Everything from 7. This is a 24 mm wide angle lens. The bigger you the print you make. the infinity mark of the distance scale is set opposite the right hand f/16 of the depth of field scale. the scales on your lenses designed for 35mm film cameras WILL work on your digital SLR. DOF and Print Size DOF also depends on how large a print you make from your original slide or negative. This sets the lens at its hyperfocal distance for this f-stop. If you have a "full frame" digital SLR. The aperture is set to f/16 and the lens has been set with the infinity mark opposite the right hand f/16 in the depth of field scale. The hyperfocal distance is about 15 feet. it will help you quickly set your lens at its hyperfocal distance. To set the lens for its hyperfocal distance.5 feet.5 feet to infinity will appear sharp in the final photo. If you have a lens with a good DOF scale. the depth of field scales WILL NOT WORK.This is the same 50 mm lens except the aperture is now set to f/16.5 feet. Read more here and use the digital chart here. The distance opposite the left hand f/16 of the distance scale is about 7. You will need to use a hyperfocal distance chart. the less DOF 4 . NOTE: If you are using these lenses on a digital camera body with a field of view (FOV) crop. The hyperfocal distance is a little less than 5 feet (the green distance mark above the orange index line).5 feet to infinity will appear sharp in the final photo.

from a 50 mm lens set at f8: 5 . set your lens for one or two apertures smaller than the lens scale indicates. f-stop and desired enlargement size. I no longer have access to this article.0125 a 24x36 inch print. More information on this formula can be found in Roger Hicks article in SHUTTERBUG. The DOF scale on many lenses will give you good DOF for enlargements up to 8x12 inches. C = . Use For For For For For For the value given for C for a print of the following sizes:: an 8x12 inch print.0227). BUT turn the aperture ring to f/11 if you want a bigger enlargement. For the mathematically inclined the formula is as follows: HM = ((F*F)/(C*N))/1000 HM*3.0083 Example: For an 11x14 enlargement (C = . lens focal length.0313 an 11x16 inch print.0104 a 30x40 inch print. Unfortunately. The hyperfocal distance is a mathematical calculation based on film format size. C = . C = . (You know from the exposure article at this site that any time you change the lens aperture.0227 a 16x24 inch print.2808 = HF HM = hyperfocal distance in meters HF = hyperfocal distance in feet F = focal length of the lens in mm N = lens aperture C = circle of confusion on film in mm. C = . C = . or use the one I provide at this site. This will give you some extra depth of field.you have since you are making the circles of confusion larger. Hyperfocal formula What if your lens doesn't have a depth of field scale? You can figure out the depth of field mathematically. pages 42-49. you will need to adjust the shutter speed to have the right exposure). set the infinity mark opposite f/8 on your depth of field scale just as if you were going to use f/8. If you want to make bigger enlargements. C = .0156 a 20x30 inch print. If the lens scale says you will have adequate DOF at f/8. design your own depth of field chart. February 1993. Calculating the Hyperfocal Distance.

6 ft 4 5 8 11 15 21 1.16 feet Using the above formulas.5 5 7 10 15 Directions: Focus at the distance indicated in the column under the lens you are using and in the row across from the lens aperture in use.HM = ((50*50)/(0. For practical use in the field. HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE CHART FOR 35mm FILM CAMERAS (AND DIGITAL CAMERAS WITH FULL FRAME SENSORS) FOCUSING DISTANCE IN FEET LENS: 70mm 50mm 35mm 28mm 24mm 20mm f-stop f/32 f/22 f/16 f/11 f/8 f/5. The depth of field will be everything from HALF the hyperfocal (focused) distance to infinity (calculated for an 11x16 inch enlargement from 35 mm film and viewed at a normal distance).5 ft 5 7 11 14 21 28 2. This is simple.766 meters HF = HM*3.6 f/4 22 ft 32 44 64 90 130 190 12 ft 17 22 33 45 65 90 5. EXAMPLE: A 28 mm lens set at f/8 and focused at the hyperfocal distance of 14 feet (from the chart above) will result in an image on film that will have a depth of field from 7 feet to infinity when enlarged on a print up to 11x16 inches. 6 .0227*8))/1000 HM = (2500/0. you can design your own chart to your own standards. Remember that the depth of field is from 1/2 the hyperfocal distance to infinity.5 ft 8 11 16 22 32 44 3.2808 HF = 13.8 ft 2.5 3. determine the distance from the closest object that you want to appear sharp to your camera.766*3.1816)/1000 HM = 13766/1000 = 13.2808 = 45.

It works. look under the 24 mm lens column until you find a hyperfocal distance of 8 feet. Look at the smallest subject in your photograph that you want to be resolved. If the closest object is 4 feet away. DEPTH OF FIELD WITH INFINITY FOCUS One approach to depth of field is to focus on infinity and set a small enough lens aperture so everything important in your photograph will be resolved. .5 feet away. Focus your lens at 9 feet. 9 feet is in between the two distances given of 7 feet for f/16 and 11 feet for f/11. . focus the lens on infinity. the hyperfocal distance will be 8 feet. then come back here . For example lets say you are taking a photograph with a 50 mm lens. Looking on the chart under 28 mm. What is the hyperfocal distance and what aperture will you use? Look at the chart to figure it out.5 feet to infinity will appear sharp in your final photo. the hyperfocal distance is going to be 9 feet. Example. the diameter of the lens aperture will be 6. you can set that lens aperture. Since the closest object you want to appear sharp is 4. On the chart above.5 feet to infinity to appear sharp.Just focus on the closest object and check the distance scale on your lens. Everything in front of and behind the hyperfocal distance will appear blurry. That's OK. Double that distance to get the hyperfocal distance and focus the lens accordingly. Everything from 4. only things at the hyperfocal distance will look sharp (unless you have depth of field preview on your camera). You are using a zoom lens set to 28 mm in focal length. One final example. Set your lens aperture half way between f/11 and f/16. and everything bigger than the diameter of your lens aperture will be resolved. . There is nothing in the photograph smaller than 1/4 of an inch (about 6 mm) that needs to be resolved on film. . set your 24 mm lens at f/11 and everything from 4 feet (1/2 the hyperfocal distance) to infinity will appear sharp in an enlargement up to 11x16 inches in size. You want to use a 24 mm wide angle lens. Look to the left to find the aperture of f/11. Focus at 8 feet. trust the chart. Then use the chart to determine the aperture you need for the lens you want to use. Remember that when you look through the lens.25 mm (50 mm 7 . You want some flowers 4 feet away to be sharp in the final photo. If you set the lens at f/8. You want everything from 4. If you can set a lens aperture whose diameter in millimeters is as small as the smallest subject to be resolved in your photo.

we have the following: F = S/O Near depth is D . This fraction will tell us how far on either side of our focused distance our chosen subject size will be resolved. and then some examples. The ratio of subject size to lens aperture is 3 mm to 9 mm or 1/3. F that you can use to determine depth of field.focal length divided by f/8) and focus on infinity. You will need to focus at a different point than infinity. Multiply F by the focused distance. Put as two formulas. Our focused distance is 12 feet. Our 3 mm subject will be resolved at a distance of 12 feet plus or minus 1/3 of 12 feet. The diameter of the lens opening will be 9 mm (100 mm divided by f/11). O is the diameter of the lens Opening. The ratio of subject size to lens opening is the key fraction we will be working with. S is the smallest Subject size we want to show up in our photo. everything 6. Multiply the focused distance by this fraction to determine how far on either side of the focused point our subject will be resolved. Let us say you want to focus on some narrows reeds that are 12 feet away. Go out and try it! DOF AND NON-INFINITY FOCUS What if the smallest subject to be resolved in your photograph is smaller than the diameter of the lens aperture? A different approach is required. the less sharply everything will be resolved. The ratio of the subject size to lens opening is a fraction. The father away from the point of focus. The questions are "How far away from the point of focus?" and "What size subjects will be resolved?" First the basic principle.(D)(F) Far depth is D + (D)(F) F is our desired Fraction. The reeds are about 3 mm thick. D is the focused Distance. This should make more sense with a few examples. Whatever you focus on will be sharply resolved on film (if you do everything else right!!).25 mm and larger will be resolved on film. even if the subject is much smaller than the diameter of your lens aperture. You want to use a 100 mm lens at f/11. Our depth of field 8 . and it will tell you how far in front and behind the focused distance that your subject will appear sharp.

You are using an 80 mm lens at f/4. We choose an aperture of f/16 instead.2 to 10 + 2). You want to focus at 10 feet. The depth of field for 5 mm subjects will be 10 feet plus or minus 1/5 of 10 feet. The fraction of subject size to lens opening is 1/5 (4/20). Our subject to lens opening fraction will be 1/2 (3 mm / 6 mm). One more example. anything 5 mm or larger will be resolved on film from 8 feet to 12 feet (from 10 . Now the distance at which our subject will be resolved is 12 feet plus or minus 1/2 of 12 feet. Our practical depth of field for 3 mm subjects at f/16 will be from 6 feet to 18 feet (from 12 .for subjects 3 mm or larger will be from 8 feet to 16 feet (from 12 4 to 12 + 4). You will need to adjust aperture and focusing distance to make sure everything you want to appear in focus actually ends up in focus. The lens opening will be 20 mm (80/4). 9 . and 3 mm wide subject). 12 foot focus distance. The diameter of our lens opening will now be about 6 mm (100/16 and rounding off a little).6 to 12 + 6). The smallest subject you need resolved is 4 mm in diameter. Suppose we take the same situation (100 mm lens. In this example.