Using a Shallow Depth of Field for Portraits

People often use a shallow depth of field in portraiture to separate a subject from the distracting background, allowing the face (more specifically, the eyes) to be in sharp focus while the background is blurred. Instead of doing this, sometimes I enjoy focusing on something closer towards me, putting the subject’s face out of focus instead and drawing the viewers attention to something else. Here are some examples:


Even if what you choose to focus on does not have any meaning or significance, it can still make the photograph much more interesting than if everything were in focus.


Here I blurred the face enough to bring attention to what I want the viewer to focus on, but not so much that the viewer cannot tell who the subject is or what the facial expressions are.


Combine the shallow depth of field with interesting angles and creative framing to spice up the portrait even more.


Using a shallow depth of field can help you communicate something about a person in a unique way. My friend Joseph often fell asleep on the floor of my room during long undergraduate nights. Here I chose to focus on his hand while telling the story in the blurred background.


Here I tried to make the photograph more interesting by combining a shallow depth of field, a unique angle, and a wide-angle lens.

How to Take This Type of Photograph

The main technique for taking this kind of photograph is to focus on something and then recompose the photograph before taking the picture. The two main factors that will affect how blurred the background are relative distance and the aperture.

For relative distance, the closer you move in toward what you’re focused on, the more blurred the things in the background (i.e. the face) will be. Thus, you might need to get in very close to the point you’re focusing on in order to throw the subject’s face out of focus, and doing this might require a wide angle lens.

Also, the larger your aperture is (lower f-number) the more blurred the background will become, so to achieve maximum blur you should use the lowest f-number your lens allows.

If you have any other suggestions, tips, or examples regarding this technique, leave a comment and share!