How to effectively use your depth of field:

seaport during daytime
Photo by Pok Rie on

Landscape photos are everyone’s favorite. And it seems easy enough to do if you are at the right place at the right time. But, there is one thing a lot of photographers miss when taking landscape photos. And that is controlling the depth of field to your advantage.

Zone scale on a lens

I love to explain how to use this scale. For most photographers who haven’t used this yet, it’s like a light came on and they are so excited to use this concept.

Before we go to far, let’s make sure we understand “depth of field”. And simply put: The depth of field is the acceptable are of focus in front and in back of your focus point. This is what is so great about DSLR photography. You can control that amount of focus, simply by changing your Fstop on your lens, or your aperture setting.

Depth of field scale

Explaining how this works, let’s use this example above. If you focus on the rabbit, and if you want a narrow depth of field, you would use a large aperture setting on your lens (like 1.4,2.8). The bottom part of the example above shows that if I focus on the rabbit, I can extend my “depth of field” a greater distance, simply by using a small aperture setting on my lens (F16, 22). Does this really work? Of course! Here is another example using it on landscape photos. Which way do you like it:

results of aperture setting changes

Looking at this lens above, you will notice that the lens is focused on infinity. That is true. On the scale below the focus ring, you will see numbers that go from F16 down to F1.4. So let’s say we are wanting the area in focus at “infinity, and also want to capture the image in front of me. Once you have your lens set at infinity, notice that the scale has the aperture settings listed behind that. If you look closely, you will see that it shows that you are in focus from infinity to about 25 feet or about 10 meters, if the aperture is set at 1.4. But, using that aperture scale on the lens, if you had your aperture set at 22, then notice that the depth of field will change from infinity to around 8 feet or 2.5 meters. Nice, right?

Depth of field scale used to it’s best ability

Now this might throw you off a bit, but this is exactly why they put this on your lens so you can know exactly how much area of depth of field is in focus.

On the lens above here, it appears that the lens is focused at 5 feet, or 1.5 meters. And if we were going to set our aperture setting at F16, the scale says that your area that will be in focus, is from infinity to 2.5feet or .8meter.

Now you can see what the area of the depth of field can show you, let’s look at this lens closely. Now say you want the flower in front of you in focus, plus the entire landscape in focus. If you use your aperture setting at 16, that means that you are actually in focus from infinity to .8Meters, or 2.5 feet. Notice that the infinity setting is at 16 on the right side of the scale. So, according to the chart, at f16, you set the focus ring at f16 on the right hand side, and it tells you on the left hand side, the minimum focus. So, now that is exciting. You are still perfectly sharp at infinity according to this scale, and you are also sharp at 2.5feet or .8meters. That is how you really can control your depth of field to it’s maximum.

Every lens has this scale on it (well mostly). The new cheaper lenses seem to be missing it on certain brands. Or, the new autofocus lenses, or digital lenses may not have it printed on there. As you pick a lens you may want to make sure you have this scale on your lenses.

An interesting point, and I am not sure why, I was out at night the other day, thinking of taking a photo of the moon, and when I focused on it, it was blurry. But, when I backed it off manually to a shorter focus, I could visibly see the moon get sharper. I am starting to think that manually focusing things will get you better results. Your eye knows better.

And now you can choose how you want your photo to be. Practice this and enjoy the results.

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