Technique: Maximizing Depth of Field


The ƒ-number you choose for a particular shot is an important element when it comes to framing the story of the particular shot you’re looking to achieve. The ƒ-number can be a bit confusing to novice photographers, as the higher ƒ-number means a smaller aperture and a greater depth of field. In turn, a greater depth of field means more detail in the background of your shot.

In this video, I was on location in Antarctica shooting gentoo penguins. Their environment and community is as important to their story as each individual. Shooting at a high ƒ-number to capture this detail helps inform the audience that the story I chose to tell encompasses that environment as an element as important as each individual penguin.

On a related side note, have you ever wondered how to type the fancy “ƒ” on your keyboard to give your photo comments a little bit of flair? It’s simple really:


Hold down the “alt” key, and using the 10-key pad on the right of your keyboard, type “0-1-3-1”. Let go, and you’ve got your fancy “ƒ”!


A little simpler on a mac – just hold down “Option” and type “f”!

4 Responses to “Technique: Maximizing Depth of Field”

  1. Quark says:

    How far into the scene do you set focus?

    • Avatar photo Art Wolfe says:

      Great question. There is no one right answer as where you set your focal point is always going to be subjective to the composition, story, and content of your scene. You should be taking several shots of any given composition to ensure you maximize your chances of getting a great quality photo – so my suggestion would be to take several shots of your subject with the focus at different depths to ensure you get a result you’re happy with. Generally, your scene will inform you where to initially set focus.

  2. G A Carver says:

    Informative tips even little things like how to type “ƒ” make this blog more appealing to follow. Yes, it is nice to know that you are appearing in far flung places to promote a book or lecture, but tips on technique or introspection about how to see a scene even when brief make me feel like your blog is to people and not just an advertisement. Thank you for all the times when you do share that odd bit here and there.

  3. It’s important to remember, however that there’s no ‘free lunch’. Technology has improved dramatically in terms of what’s possible with digital cameras, but we haven’t yet gone beyond the laws of physics. On one hand we have the trifecta of exposure – ƒ/stop, shutter speed and ISO, but while those three all dance together each has other threads. By using a smaller ƒ/stop we increase depth of field, but we do so at the expense of shutter speed and/or ISO, so if there’s a lot of movement in your image you need to accommodate that. At the same time, when we use a smaller aperture, we run into diffraction problems. This is based on the lens and the sensor, and whether or not this is noticeable depends on your output. As you change your aperture you also need to watch out for focus shift (again, lens dependent), so (if possible), be sure to focus at the taking aperture.


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