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Experimenting with Depth of Field in Mobile Photography

June 1, 2017
Experimenting with Depth of Field in Mobile Photography | Enlight

One of the main advantages of a DSLR camera is the ability to adjust aperture, the amount of light that the lens lets through. Small apertures put a majority of the shot in focus, while wide apertures focus on specific parts of the composition. Depth of field, the amount of sharp focus in an image, can be tricky to manipulate with a smartphone camera. The aperture of most smartphones is fixed on a wide depth of field, which is useful for taking photos on-the-fly, yet not nearly as convenient as the settings of a professional camera.

Experimenting with Depth of Field in Mobile Photography | Enlight

What is depth of field used for?

Depth of field is taken into consideration for a variety of reasons in creative photography. Far-off subjects coincide with greater depth, while close-up subjects coincide with shallow depth of field. Wide depth of field is often used in landscape or architecture photography to put the details of the entire vista or building into focus.

Shallow depth of field, on the other hand, can create interesting, blurred backgrounds and is often used in portraiture. Eliminating noise and distractions forces the viewer to focus on a specific subject. Many photographers purposely blur the background, a style called bokeh. You’ve probably seen this with lights: instead of the lights showing as streaky, bokeh makes them circular and colorful. Blurring the background is also helpful if there’s a lot going on in the image, like a messy backdrop or a lot of people walking by.

Experimenting with Depth of Field in Mobile Photography | Enlight

Is there a specific smartphone that’s best for depth of field?

The iPhone 7 Plus has introduced Portrait Mode, which lets you create the perfect shallow depth of field for portraiture – or for focusing on any subject, really. The background will be perfectly soft and blurred thanks to the new Depth Effect feature. Portrait Mode uses the phone’s 2x telephoto lens, which is better than the standard wide angle lens because it doesn’t cause distortion. Portrait Mode also offers pop-up instructions to tell you how to get the best results. After you shoot, two versions of the image will be saved to your Camera Roll for comparison: one with the background blurred and the other without.

Experimenting with Depth of Field in Mobile Photography | Enlight

Which backgrounds are best for blurring?

The type of background you use, combined with how far the subject is from the background, will play a role in how well the blur comes out. Portrait Mode’s Depth Effect, and blurring in general, works best if your subject is farther from the background. You also want to strike a balance between too much and too little detail. A plain white background won’t have enough to blur, but a background that’s overcrowded can pull the viewer’s eye away from the subject. Go for a little bit of detail and color in the background so that the blur is obvious without being distracting.

Experimenting with Depth of Field in Mobile Photography | Enlight

How can I put even more focus on my subject?

In some photos, black and white will work better than color, specifically if the texture of your subject matches one of the textures that you want to blur. Monochromatic coloring can sharpen the points of the photo that you want to stand out. Also, if your subject is lighter or darker in color – if it contrasts with the blurred area of the photo – it will stand out more.

Experimenting with Depth of Field in Mobile Photography | Enlight

Though depth of field in mobile photography isn’t yet on par with that of a DSLR, smartphone developers recognize those shortcoming and strive to improve them. Advances in mobile photography, combined with composition techniques, are making it possible to take professional-level images with your phone.

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Lindsay Pietroluongo
Lindsay Pietroluongo

Lindsay Pietroluongo is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Mobiography magazine. She has a BA in English: Writing from Marist College and lives in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley.

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