5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field

by Audrey Woulard

Shooting with wide apertures can seem difficult at times, especially with moving children.  I regularly shoot with apertures f/1.6 and lower, but I didn’t always shoot that way.  I used to shoot around f/ 2.2 – f/4.0.  I actually started to shoot with the super wide apertures because I dropped my camera when I was out photographing my son Noah.  Yep.  I just bought a brand new camera, and when I dropped it, the aperture ring broke, and it was stuck on f/1.6.  Being the daredevil (or crazy?) person that I am, I was going to use my new camera at my photo session the next day, and not my old camera.  No way.  No how.  Well, I lucked out, and had a great session, and I realized how much I loved very shallow depth of field.

There were quite a few things I learned through out the years that helped me nail focus when photographing kids and families with wide apertures and hopefully these will help some of you!

1. “Anchor” yourself if possible.

If I can lean on walls, a tree, a car, or sit on the ground (and shoot up)…I do it.  Also, try to keep those elbows close to your side.  The more your wiggle those elbows around, the more you risk camera shake.  I like to anchor myself against walls a lot because it helps keep me still.

5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field photo

2. Toggle your focal points.

Single point autofocus (AF) shooting is a great way to ensure sharp images, and I find it is GOLDEN to me when using very wide apertures.  By using this method, your able to hone in on the area you want to focus on, which can give you sharper images.  Regardless if you use back button focusing, or you use your shutter to lock focus (this is what I use), the single point focus is a method I can’t live without.

5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field photo

3. Watch your distance from your subject(s).

I really utilize this when I am photographing groups with f/1.6.  I try to make sure I am not too close as that will cause the depth of field to be too shallow, and a greater chance of blurry images.  Instead, I make sure I am a good distance away (perhaps 10ft?) when photographing groups.  A telephoto prime lens works best in this situation.  My lens of choice is an 85mm 1.4.  Practice a bit with this to find your “sweet spot”.  You definitely don’t want to be too far away!

5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field photo

4. Keep the group on the same plane and have them touching in some way.

This works well with siblings and families.  I like to have them touching in some way.  Either the shoulders, hands, heads, cheeks…something!  When I am choosing what to focus on, I pick an area where two people are touching.  (the red dot represents the focal point)

5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field photo

 

5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field photo

5. With close ups, focus on an eye, but with far away shots, don’t stress yourself.

I’m a firm believer that stressing over the technical during a photo shoot will cause a photographer to make mistakes.  With full body shots of single individuals, I prefer to focus on the eye area (any place on the face).

5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field photo

5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field photo

Hopefully some of these tips will help!  Until next time!

~AW

5 tips to get sharp photos with extremely shallow depth of field photoAudrey Woulard, Illinois
Photographer
website | blog | facebook
Audrey Woulard is a 100% natural light photographer based out of Chicago. She specializes in children’s portraiture and commercial children’s work and shoots in a 2100 sq foot natural light studio in Downtown Chicago as well as on-location. She also hosts workshops for photographers and teaches about photographing children.

Audrey also appears in CM’s “I am a Photographer” video benefiting RAINN (image to the left).

53 Comments

  • Angel says:

    Great article! I love Audrey’s work, and was recently able to take a weekend workshop by her in LA. It was fantastic and I learned so much, and enjoyed her too! I got some great images out of the shooting portion of he workshop too. If you get the chance, I highly recommend her workshop! Thanks CMs for posting this article!

  • John Hester says:

    Very helpful tips! I love the look of very shallow depth of field, but often have trouble making it work without a main area being out of focus. I’ll have to try some of these suggestions and see what happens!

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