Picture Mama: Learning about Depth of Field

By Melanie Merkling, professional photographer & mom

I know this is a technical term but I promise not to make it complicated with a bunch of settings and photography lingo. The term “depth of field” basically refers to how in focus the subject of your photo is compared to any area in front of or behind your subject. When taking pictures of kids, my aim is always to have the child in focus, while the background is out of focus, melting together around the child so that the child “pops” from the picture.

While this is best achieved with a higher-end camera and lenses using manual settings, you can create a more appealing depth a field with even the most basic point-and-shoot. How? Get closer to your subject, not by zooming in, but by moving in. The closer you are to the child, flower, or whatever it is you’re focusing on, the sharper that element of the picture will be. The further they are from the background the more out of focus it will be.

Try this little “depth of field” experiment on your own: Photograph your child or anyone else in front of a cluster of flowers (holiday poinsettias, perhaps?). Position the child 5 or more feet in front of the flowers, but shoot the picture from only about 1 to 2 feet in front of your child. This will give you the beauty of the flowers in the background while drawing attention to your child. Good luck, and keep snapping photos! This is the perfect time of year to capture memories in great photographs.

In the examples below, I shot the photos in the exact same location. The only difference is how far away the boy is from the wall and how far away I am from the boy. (Cute, isn’t he?) In the top photo, he is standing about 3 feet from the wall and I’m standing about 3 feet away from him.



In this second photo below, he is standing right against the wall and I’m standing about 6 feet away from him. (That’s why the brick wall is as much a part of the photo as he is.)



In this final photo below, we’ve achieved a good “depth of field” because the boy really pops off the background. He is standing about 8 feet in front of the wall and I’m only about 1 foot in front of him.


Remember, the trick is to position the person (or thing) a good distance from the background and then get really close to your subject when you shoot the picture. Try it at home and see the difference in your own family photos!

For more photography tips from Melanie Merkling, click on the Picture Mama category. Visit Melanie Merkling’s photography website by clicking here.