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How to isolate elements in your photographs

A new photo tip in the LEARN section – this was February 2012 photo tip!

Find other photo tips in the Photo Blog section, under the “Photography Tips” blog category.


f5.6 - 28mm lens - close to the subject

What is wrong with the picture above?

Nothing bothers you? Well, look at the next one and think if you prefer it…

f1.8 - 28mm lens - close to the subject

Do you feel it now?

Depth of field… that is the answer… If you use a small depth of field, even if you have a wide angle lens that will be capturing a lot of background, you can make your subject stand out, otherwise, the background could be very distracting.

But… how do you make the small depth of field?

Remember that there are three things that affect depth of field:

1. Your aperture.

The bigger the aperture, the less depth of field. So, aperture like 2.8 or 1.8 help a lot to create this effect.

Now, I know that you won’t necessarily have those apertures in your lens. So… let’s look at the other two things.

2. The focal length.

The longer the focal length, the less depth of field. So, wide angle lenses are actually lenses that will give you a lot of depth of field, and therefore telephoto lenses will give you less depth of field.

So, if you want less depth of field and you do not have big apertures, then it will be good to change your wide angle for a telephoto.

3. The focus distance.

The closer you are to your subject (consequently your focus distance is small because you are focusing at something close to you) the less depth of field you get. That is why landscape photographs usually have good depth of field (you are far from your subject) and macro photographs have very little depth of field (your are very close to your subject).


If you want the smallest depth of field with a specific lens – get your camera as close to the subject as it lets you focus and open your aperture the maximum posible.

If you want the smallest depth of field possible – get the telephoto that allows you to focus the closest possible, get that close to your subject, and open your aperture the maximum it opens for that lens.

And mix and match as you go!

Here are more photos with small depth of field taken at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden a few weeks ago.

100mm macro lens at f2.8 - I'm really close, with a telephoto and a big aperture. AH! and the best effects happen when the background is separated from the subject!
Poor thing... it got stuck! Also with the Macro lens, same conditions.
Another photo with the wide angel 28mm at f1.8, but the background is not as far as in the first photographs

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