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What is depth of field (DOF)?

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Are you looking to improve the quality of your videography or photography? Have you gone back to the basics yet?

Well, if you haven't yet thought through how you use depth of field in your visual content, you're missing out!

Let's go through what depth of field is and why it's so vital to consider it when you're creating visual content.

Lights in living room with Depth of Field

What is depth of field?

Depth of field, sometimes abbreviated as DOF, refers to the distance between the closest and farthest object in a photograph or video frame that can be clearly seen. A photo with a narrow depth of field has very little of the image in focus, while an image with a large depth of field has more of the image in focus. Large depth of fields are sometimes referred to as wide depth of fields, while narrow depth of fields are sometimes referred to as or shallow small depth of fields.

Depth of field can completely transform the look and feel of any image. That's why you need to understand how to manipulate it, no matter what type of content you're creating. It's a foundational skill in visual content creation.

Without understanding the depth of field, you'll have a hard time improving the appearance of your photos and videos.

Why is it important to understand depth of field?

Depth of field is one of the most important foundations to understand in photography and videography. It can completely transform any image you take or any frame you shoot.

If you don't utilize different depths of field, your photography or videography could feel flat and visually uninteresting.

This is especially true if you shoot a lot of sit down interviews or talking heads, since these shots tend to get visually repetitive no matter how interesting the background is. 

Depth of field is also important for people who are interested in landscape photography and videography. Changing to a narrower or wider depth of field can change the emphasis of an image and help bring out a totally different feel or ambiance to a shot.

You also need to consider the relationship between f-stop and depth of field. The f-stop controls the amount of light that can pass through the lens. The f-stop is controlled by the shutter speed.

The f-stop generally is the way we describe and control the aperture of a photo. The amount of light in your photo will directly contribute to how wide or narrow your depth of field is and how your depth of field looks, so you'll need to consider it when you're shooting photos or video.

The lower your f-number or f-stop, the more shallow your depth of field will be. You'll want to stick with a depth of field between 5.5 and 1.4 if you're trying to shoot an image with a shallow depth of field.

When to apply depth of field to photos and videos?

You should always be considering depth of field when you're creating photo and video content.

Some notable images, films, and television shows that you may have seen that utilize depth of field in different ways include:

  • Full Metal Jacket

  • Jim Richardson's photography

  • The Greatest Game Ever Played

  • The Royal Tenenbaums

  • Orson Welles' Citizen Kane

  • All The President's Men

  • The Hulu series The Handmaid's Tale, The Leftovers, and many other currently running prestige dramas

Of course, depth of field is necessary no matter what kind of visual content you're creating. That's why it's important to understand how to utilize it correctly. 

Watching different examples of depth of field in film and television, or looking at examples in photography, is a great way to come up with ways to use depth of field in your own work.

You can experiment with different options based on what you see, and come up with new and exciting ways to break the mold when it comes to using depth of field in film and photography.

Try shooting the same shot with different depths of field, for example. You'll be able to see just how depth of field affects the appearance of a shot, even when you're shooting something simple and unexciting — an empty meadow, for example.

Changing around the depth of field on a static shot is the easiest way to see just how much the depth of field can affect the audience perception of a given image.

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How to use depth of field?

If you're wondering, "how to calculate depth of field?" it's actually quite simple. Mathematically, you double and square the distance to the subject, multiple that by the f stop number and the circle of confusion size, and divide that by the focal size (squared).

That sounds confusing, but you don't actually have to do the math to use the depth of field in your work. 

When you're shooting still images or static shots, it's not very difficult to adjust your depth of field. Moving your camera closer or farther away from your subject will change the depth of field. The closer your subject is to the camera, the shorter the depth of field is.

You can also change the settings on your camera to change the depth of field. Learning how to use the manual focus on your camera, rather than relying on the autofocus options, will allow you to manipulate the depth of field with ease.

You also need to consider the aperture you're using when you're playing with your camera's depth of field.

If you want to create a more artistic effect, consider bokeh. Bokeh is how the blurred-out part of your image or frame appears visually. Bokeh is important because, well, you don't want the blurred-out portion to look weird, do you?

Using different lenses can affect the bokeh of your image and create a different effect to the blur. Some blurs are more buttery or smoother. Bokeh is particularly important when you're taking portrait photos.

That's why experimenting with bokeh along with your depth of field can completely change the vibe of your content and take your work to the next level.

Using different lenses for depth of field 

There are lots of different lenses out there you may want to consider for your videography or photography needs. These include:

  • Prime lenses

  • Fisheye lenses

  • Macro lenses

  • Wide-angle lenses

  • Standard lenses

  • Telephoto lenses

  • Tilt-shift lenses

If you're not sure you want to invest money in lots of different types of lenses, you can also rent lenses in order to try your hand at playing with the depth of field for your depth of field photography. 

How is depth of field used in social media videos?

Social media videos can be improved by considering depth of field. When you're shooting talking heads, for example, you may want to think about only having the interview subject in focus or having more of the background visible, depending on how visually interesting the background is. 

You especially need to consider depth of field when you're creating vertical videos, such as for TikTok or for Instagram. Because these videos are so narrow, you need to ensure that you're highlighting the right images in the frame, so that the audience isn't distracted by anything in the background.

This is additionally important for videos that are formatted in a square. Because of the much smaller frame, it's much easier for the audience to get distracted when there's anything in the background. So, make sure you very carefully consider the depth of field when you're creating videos for any social media platform whatsoever.

This can also be true of some types of YouTube videos. If you're trying to highlight specific things in the background of your shot, for example, you can use the depth of field rather than or in addition to graphics to draw the audience's eye to the specific thing you're trying to highlight. 

Really, no matter you're shooting for social media, there's some way to utilize depth of field to improve the quality of your content.

So what are you waiting for?

Start using depth of field today

Now that you understand what depth of field, you'll be well on your way to improving the quality of your video and photo content.

Need more information about different video production and editing concepts? Read through Clipchamp's glossary of terms for all of the information that you need.

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