Master depth of field in outdoor portraits
The amount of an image that appears sharp from the front to the back is key to its look and feel.
Using a shallow depth of field, where only a small part of a portrait is in focus, concentrates most of the viewer’s attention on the sharp areas, while deliberately keeping more of the scene sharp makes the subject’s surroundings more visible.
As there are three things that determine the depth of field in your shots – aperture, focal length and your distance from the subject – it can take practice to get the effect you want. Here’s how these key factors affect your shots…
One of the easiest ways to control the depth of field is to change the aperture that you use. For shallow depth of field, choose a wide aperture (small f-number) such as f/2.8 or f/4.
To capture more of the scene in sharp focus, use a smaller aperture (larger f-number), such as f/11 or f/16.
Prime lenses offering wide apertures (such as a 50mm f/1.8) produce a really shallow depth of field, which makes them the perfect lens for portraits.
If the other settings stay the same, a longer focal length lens will blur the background more than a shorter one. Try selecting a focal length of around 55-70mm in order to throw backgrounds out of focus.
The final thing governing the depth of field of your shots is how far you are standing from the subject. The further you are from your subject, the more of the shot will be in focus from front to back, while the closer you are the less of it will be sharp.
This means you’ll find it easier to get shallow depth of field by getting as close as you can.
How far you are from the subject will be governed by the focal length of the lens you are using, and how much of the subject you want to include.
It’s much easier to get shallow depth of field effects when shooting head-and-shoulder (or close-up) images than it is if you’re taking full-length portraits.
But remember that it’s also easier to get shallow depth of field with a longer focal length lens, and you’ll also produce unflattering distortion if you get too close to the subject.
Best Focus Modes For Outdoor Portraits
With most portraits it’s essential that at least one of the eyes is sharp, and when using shallow depth of field it’s critical that you focus accurately on this area.
As long as the subject is static, you can use either manual or automatic focus modes to good effect. Using autofocus you should select single or one-shot mode, so that you can lock the setting by half-pressing the shutter release to focus on the eyes.
For moving subjects, you should set the camera to servo or continuous autofocus. Then the camera can track the subject, although when combined with a shallow depth of field it can be difficult to get pin-sharp focus on a moving subject.
For the best results, select the focus point you want to use, so that it corresponds to where the subject’s eyes are in the frame. This will save you time compared to using the central focusing point and reframing your shot.
PAGE 1: Outdoor portrait photography overview
PAGE 2: Master the basics of outdoor portrait photography
PAGE 3: How to make the most of natural light
PAGE 4: Master depth of field in outdoor portraits
PAGE 5: The best lenses for outdoor portrait photography
PAGE 6: Using telephoto lenses for outdoor portraits
PAGE 7: Using wideangle lenses for outdoor portraits
PAGE 8: Essential flash techniques for outdoor portrait photography
PAGE 9: How to set up and use your flash outside
PAGE 10: Easy flash techniques and ways to fire your flashgun