One of the beauties of a well taken photograph is depth of field. It can be shallow depth, with only a select subject in focus, maybe with a bokeh light effect behind it, or a deep depth that from here to eternity is crisp and sharp.

While both are a photographer’s preference, we find that in portrait photography, a shallow depth works well and helps bring all the focus onto the main subject putting the background in a deep blur.

A backdrop stand with blossom branches hanging on the sides and a little girl posing with her mouth wide and arms spread out at Simply Shelayna Family Photography in Oswego County NY.
There is never a dull moment with Chloe. While I am metering the light, and checking my shallow depth of field, she is being a goofball.

So, since the light is precious, and the sun is quickly setting (more on this in another tutorial!), let’s jump in and create a set-up that is so easy that you can recreate it in 5 minutes, and have a gorgeous portrait result to decorate your walls.

When setting up your scene, find an area that has depth behind your subject’s placement. Placing your subject smack up against a tree or wall will cause your depth to stop dead. To have your subject pop we want anywhere from 3 feet to infinity falling out of focus behind it.

When selecting my setting I will place my subject with some space between them and their backdrop. That will help set them apart and not look like they belong inside the background themselves.

Three young girls site quite far off on a blanket with field and trees behind them. In the foreground, a backdrop stand has 3 dogwood flowered branches framing the image at Simply Shelayna Family Photography in Oswego County NY.
This is a pulled out shot of my main idea. The flowered branches hang off of the backdrop stand creating a foreground of shallow depth of field.

Now that we have accomplished shallow depth behind our subject, let’s create some shallow depth in front of our subject while ‘framing’ them in the picture. This can be done as easy as shooting between branches or getting low on the ground and including the terrain such as high grass. Your focus will still stay on your subjects to keep them nice and sharp, which in turn will also through your foreground focus into a shallow depth of field.

For this set up, I hung flowering branches from my backdrop stand using a fishing line. Everything was on hand, so it literally cost me nothing but the few minutes I spent cutting the branches and hanging them on my stand. You’ll notice that my girls are a few feet from the framing branches, but not quite in the tall grass behind them. Both foreground and background are out of focus creating a well pleasing portrait for us to enjoy.

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Share your depth of field success stories in the comments!

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