Home :: e-system cameras :: e-1 :: E-1 Controlling Depth of Field in Outdoor Portraits e-1   

The photo at left is a composite of two photos that were taken at the same exact location only moments apart. Each one, however, has a significantly different look from the other. An experienced photographer would identify the bottom half of the composite as having a long "depth of field" because both the subject and the background are in sharp focus.

(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • Defining depth of field
  • Controlling your focus point
  • Setting your camera to the Manual exposure mode
  • Adjusting your aperture
  • Adjusting your shutter speed
  • Using a telephoto lens

Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.

Lighting Equipment


    Defining Depth of Field

    As we've seen above, depth of field can vary greatly from photo to photo. Technically, the depth of field is determined by the amount of subject matter that stays in focus both in front of and behind the point of focus. So before you make changes to your depth of field, you first need to be able to focus the lens of your camera.

    Controlling your Focus

    There are three focus modes in the E-1: Single Auto-Focus (S), Continuous Auto-Focus (C) and Manual Focus (MF). While Manual focusing enables you to be very precise with your point of focus, there are times when you need to lock down your focus quickly. Shooting in the either the Single or Continuous Auto-Focus mode allows you to do that.

    Single Auto Focus

    When you press the shutter button down halfway in the S mode, the camera locks the focus on whatever is in the center of the frame and maintains this focal point until either pressure on the shutter is released or until the shutter is pressed the rest of the way down. It is best to take pictures of relatively still subjects in this mode.

    If this concept of "depth of field" isn't immediately clear to you, it may be easier to think in terms of "depth of focus": every element from front to back in this photo is in focus, thereby having a long "depth of focus".

    On the other hand, the top half would be described as having a short depth of field (or depth of focus) because while the subject is in sharp focus, the background is blurry, or "soft".

    Unless you have studied photography, you may not know how to control your depth of field. Once you have read this lesson, however, you will know how to adjust the settings in your E-1 to create the look you want every time.


    To activate the Single Auto-Focus mode, simply turn the Focus switch to S (figure 1).

    Figure 1


    Note: if the background is centered in your frame, your subject may be rendered out of focus. In order to prevent your subject matter from going fuzzy, there is a trick you can use to make sure it stays in focus no matter what happens to be in the center of your frame: simply position your camera so that what you want to be in focus is in the center of the frame, press and hold the shutter button down halfway, compose the shot the way you like, and press the shutter the rest of the way down to release the shutter.

    Controlling Depth of Field

    Once you know how to set your focus within your frame, you can start taking pictures, but keep in mind that if the shooting mode of the camera is set to P ("Program", or automatic), you will not be able to control your depth of field, as the camera will make automatic settings depending on the availability of light. In order to control your depth of field, you need to manually adjust your aperture and shutter speeds.

    Aperture and Shutter Speed

    Once turned on, the Control Panel on the top of the camera will display the current settings for the camera.


    Figure 2

    Among them will be your current shutter speed, which is controlled by turning the Main Dial, and the aperture setting setting, which is controlled by turning the Sub Dial (figure 2).


    The most important thing to remember is that your aperture setting controls your depth of field. The smaller your aperture number, or "f/stop", the shorter your depth of field will be.

    Once the aperture is set, the shutter speed can be configured to accommodate the proper exposure. One of the nice things about digital cameras is that if you take a shot and it's either too light or too dark, you can immediately make adjustments to the shutter speed until you render the proper exposure. Likewise, if you want to maintain a certain shutter speed, you can make adjustments to the aperture to render the proper exposure.

    To demonstrate different depths of field, we took some portrait shots in a shaded area in front of a picket fence at different aperture settings. In the camera, we set the ISO to its lowest setting (100), set the Image Quality to TIFF, and set the White Balance to 5500K to match the color temperature of daylight.


    We then started off with a long depth of field by setting the aperture to f/22 and then took a few shots at different shutter speeds until we arrived at a good exposure (figures 3, 4 & 5).

    Figure 3


    In the result shot, notice how the picket fence in the background is just as focused as the subject. This is because our depth of field (f/22) is deep, allowing everything to stay in focus from front to back. Remember, the higher the aperture number, the deeper the depth of field.

    Next, we wanted to achieve a shorter depth of field by setting the aperture to f/3.5. We adjusted the shutter speed to accommodate a good exposure, focused on the model, and took another shot (figure 6 & 7).



    In the result shot, notice how the picket fence in the background is now somewhat fuzzy. This is because the focus area, or depth of field, is limited to the area around the model. The advantage to a limited depth of field is that the viewer's attention is drawn to whatever is in focus. In this case, it happens to be our model.

    Next, we wanted to demonstrate how to control the position of focus within the frame. Remember the Focusing Trick we mentioned before? This is where you can apply it and see results.


    Figure 8

    With the aperture still set to f/3.5, we swung the camera down to focus on a blade of grass a couple of feet from the camera, pressed and held the shutter halfway down, returned to the original view and pressed the shutter the rest of the way down (figure 8).

    With the model and fence out of focus, our attention is drawn to the blade of grass in the foreground, whereas in previous shots, the grass is barely noticeable.

    Next, we swung the camera to the left to focus on the back fence, pressed and held the shutter halfway down, returned to the original view and pressed the shutter the rest of the way down (figure 9).

    Figure 9


    Again, notice where the eye is drawn now: past the model to the crisp lines of the fence. You can see how determining your point of focus is crucial when shooting with a limited depth of field.

    Next, we decided to substitute our Zoom lens for a Telephoto lens. With a longer focal length than standard or wide-angle lenses, the Telephoto attachment enables you to minimize the amount of background in your shot, and keep the perspective of your subject looking natural. It also allows you to create the crop you want and to focus more on your subject. As with a traditional SLR camera, these interchangeable lenses are easy to switch out.


    Figure 10

    After attaching the lens, we maintained the distance between the camera and the model for comparative purposes. Then we refocused on the model, positioned the camera to render an interesting composition, and took shots at both f/22 and f/3.5 (figures 10, 11 & 12).


    Again, notice the difference between the two settings. Figure 11 (shot at f/22) has everything in focus while Figure 12 (shot at f/3.5) focuses primarily on the subject. And with the tighter crop afforded to us by the Telephoto lens, the attention is drawn even more toward the subject.


    Equipment Used:
    You can click on the blue links below for more info.

    Lighting Equipment

      Recommended Links

      • To learn more about Photoflex equipment, go to www.photoflex.com
      • For more tips and techniques on lighting and cameras, visit www.webphotoschool.com and sign
        up for access to the Member Lessons.

      © Copyright Olympus Digital School .