Depth of Field (wildlife photography)

December 20, 2020  •  2 Comments

When photographing wildlife we all want that creamy out-of-focus backgrounds that we always see in award-winning images. A pro would say, "that is easy to achieve, just use f4 on your 600mm lens." Besides, pros will add, "that also gives you a faster shutter speed which is just what you need." Many of you will now want to go out and photograph wildlife by using these settings only to find that your 600mm does not have f4. "No problem," you say, "it is time for an upgrade, let me go buy a 600mm that has f4." Let me save you the embarrassment of going to your nearest camera dealer attempting to buy such a lens. These lenses cost between $12,000 and $16,000. Yes, each!

          Although I make money with my photography I don't photograph wildlife enough to justify such an expense. Most of us use much cheaper lenses. My lens of choice is the Sony 200-600mm. It is a fantastic lens but at 600mm it is an f6.3 lens. So what can we do with more budget-friendly lenses (which are f6.3 at 600mm or worse) to get a creamer out-of-focus background? How does depth of field really work? What determines how much of the image is in focus?

There are four factors that determine the depth of field:

  1. The f-stop of the lens. Use the widest aperture that your lens has.

  2. The focal length of the lens. The longer the lens the shorter the depth of field. So shooting at the furthest end of your telephoto zoom lens helps to make your background more blurry.

  3. The distance between your camera and the subject. The closer you are to the animal the more out of focus your background will be. So get as close to your subjects as you can. Use a boat or a blind (hide) to get close.

  4. The distance between your subject and the background. The further your background is from your subject the creamier your background will be. Pick your spot to increase this distance. 

It also helps to get down low. By shooting upward we can often exclude grasses and brush which are lower down. In the case of this image, the Plover was on a little mound. That helps to separate it from what would have been right behind it.

          Remember that smaller f.stops have a bigger depth of field. If you cannot afford large aperture long lenses use these four factors that influence depth of field to your advantage to create that creamy background.


Pierre Steenberg(non-registered)
I am glad that it was useful.
Barbara Djordjevic(non-registered)
This is the clearest explanation I have read. Thanks.
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