What is Shallow Depth of Field and Deep Depth of Field?

In this quick video I explain in simple terms:

  • What is Depth of Field?
  • What is Shallow Depth of Field and Deep Depth of Field

First, watch the video:

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What is Depth of Field?

Whenever you turn the focus knob on your lens to focus on something, there’s always some portion before and after it that’s also “acceptably in focus”.

This distance, from the nearest point to the farthest point, is the Depth of Field.

What it does is it gives you a reasonable guess as to what exactly will be in focus and what is bound to be blurry. The best example of it is a human face. If the depth of field is too small, maybe the eyes are in focus, but the ears and nose are out of focus.

On the other hand, if you want to single out one plant or flower from a bunch, having too much in focus will just make the shot “busy” and cluttered.

For a cinematographer, depth of field is even more important for two reasons:

  • A talent might improvise and move around during a shot. If you don’t know the depth of field, you’ll have no control over the final outcome.
  • If you use a small depth of field, it’ll be hard for the focus puller to keep the actor in focus as he/she moves.

What is Shallow Depth of Field and Deep Depth of Field?

When the depth of field is small enough to substantially blur the background and foreground, and only keep a small area in focus, we say the shot has shallow depth of field.

When the depth of field is large enough to keep most of the objects in the shot in reasonable focus, we say the shot is a deep focus shot.

These are just loose terms used generally. The real truth about depth of field is that it’s not so cut and dried, and there are a lot of grey areas, as the video might have illustrated. If you want to know more about depth of field, the following articles might give you a taste of how complex the thing really is:

The good news is, as a cinematographer and photographer, all you need to do is keep things simple. Over a period of time you’ll develop a simple intuition for depth of field, and your ally is the lens aperture.

If you want to know more about aperture, please check out my recent article and video on the subject.

The most important takeaway regarding depth of field is that it is a creative tool:

Use the Aperture to control Depth of Field

I hope you’ve found this useful.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.