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In order to manipulate depth of field, you have to first understand aperture. You should be able to learn how to manipulate the aperture settings on your compact digital camera, or on a DSLR camera. Settings on individual cameras differ so become familiar with the controls of your camera.
Depth of field means you determine how much of your photo falls in focus allowing you to control the elements in your image that are in focus. Knowing how to control a few settings on your camera can help you achieve this.
Aperture, on the other hand is a way to control depth of field. Aperture settings are called f-stops. Aperture controls the amount of light, which passes through the lens to the image sensor by enlarging or shrinking the size of the hole in which the light passes through. You can allow the aperture to let in more light or "stopped down" to let in less light. Follow this concept when you decide on a dramatic approach with less light: set it at a small aperture like f/16. Do the opposite for more light like f/1.4. Remember that the aperture settings are counter intuitive. The larger the number is, the smaller the aperture size (or hole) is and conversely, the smaller the "F" number is, the larger the aperture size.
There are a couple of ways for you to practice aperture settings. Try your hand at portrait and landscape images. Shallow depth of field is prescribed especially when it comes to portraits. Because most photos we take are of people, this is a good opportunity for you to explore portraits. Shallow "depth of field" is effective in portrait shots because it isolates the subject from its environment. It can effectively blur the surroundings, but this is good because you're lending focus and sharpness to your subject. What does short "depth of field" do to a photo? It leads the viewer's eye immediately to the subject because it is well focused. So you are intentionally making the subject sharp, and the background is soft and out of focus. This is accomplished by picking an aperture that is large, or a smaller F number.
Long "depth of field" on the other hand allows you to capture both the foreground and background in focus. And this works well when taking shots of landscapes. This is helpful if your foreground has some details you want to capture while still maintaining a "sense of place". And like most good photographs, having good composition is important and sense of place is vital especially in outdoor photography. This can be accomplished by picking an aperture that is small, or a larger F number.
Think of it this way, the viewer's eyes will first focus on the subject that has more or greater detail. It's the natural habit of both the eyes and brain. It is now your challenge as the photographer to determine which perspective you would want to focus and draw attention to.
Here's a tip for portrait shots though, focus on the eyes as these could render important emotions and expressions. This could drown out the background so it no longer competes for the viewer's attention. In addition, blurry elements in your entire composition contribute to your story and add mystery.
For compact cameras with no manual control for aperture, zoom in all the way for shallow "depth of field" (portraits) and zoom out for wide "depth of field" (landscapes). If you're using a DSLR, use manual controls and set your low f-stop for shallow "depth of field". For wide "depth of field" set it to high f-stop and or use wide lenses.
Go ahead and try to put these principles into practice and see what creative images you can come up with.By Ashley E. Lynn