Everyone loves these photos:
You know, where the foreground and background are blurry, but a portion of the photo is in focus. That is called “shallow depth of field (DOF)” because the area that’s in focus is shallow or small.
How to achieve this look is the first question we get from our photography students at the community college where my husband and I teach. Most people assume you need a digital SLR camera (the kind where you can change lenses) to get the effect, and the larger sensors and low f-stops of a DSLR do help, but you can do it with a point-and-shoot camera if you know a few tricks.
Use your AV setting
This is your Aperture Priority setting, which lets you choose the aperture and the camera will choose the ISO and shutter speed to get a good exposure. You might just have an A or it might say AV on your camera. On our camera we can choose this setting from a dial on the top, but other cameras you may have to go into a menu. Check your manual if you’re not sure.
Set your Aperture as wide open as it will go (the lowest number you can get)
We have a chart here to help you remember that low numbers get you shallow DOF and high numbers a deep DOF.
Set your camera on full zoom – but not digital zoom. If you don’t know the difference, look at the little bar that comes up when you zoom. There will be a line or a marker where it crosses into digital zoom. Never use digital zoom; it’s just cropping your pic in the camera, which you can do later. So zoom in as far as you can. Yes, this will mean you have to back up across the room to get everything you want in frame, but it makes a difference.
Press the shutter button down halfway and the camera will focus. You will be able to see what is in focus and what is not. If your camera has a little “focus box” or bulls eye, be sure that’s placed over the portion of the image you want to be in focus. You can always move the camera a little before you take the picture if you want that portion of the scene off to one side or something. By holding the shutter button down halfway you will “lock” the focus at that distance, so if you move the camera it will still focus in the same area.
Take a bunch
Move around a little and take a ton of pics. You can always delete them, but you might learn something by trying a different perspective or angle.
- Get your subject as far from the background as you can, so the background will be more out of focus. Get people to stand far away from the wall, put your cookies on the table in the middle of the room, whatever you need to do.
- Lots of light helps. If you don’t have enough light, your camera will kick up the ISO and you’ll have grainy photos. Turn on the lights, drag over a lamp, or open the curtains!
- Set the camera down. If you have a tripod, use it. That way if the camera chooses a slow shutter speed, you’ll still have a clear shot.
So even if you just have a little point-and-shoot, you can still do shallow DOF photos. As long as you have the ability to control your aperture, either with an AV setting or by doing all manual settings, you can get great photos!