Depth of Field

Here’s an interesting question I received this morning:
“Hey Chris, I had a question about something I’ve been struggling with when taking pictures. In short, how do you get good background blur yet maintain good sharpness in a group shot. I know increasing f stops (or closing aperture) will help but I don’t know what range i want to be in to get uniform sharpness through the group and blur the background. What looks good on the LCD screen isn’t always translating when I upload on my computer. Hopefully, this makes sense and any advice you could provide would be greatly greatly appreciated. I’m really enjoying your posts on your blog and FB. I never realized that setting up shots was so complicated. thanks for sharing your knowledge!

And my response:
“Hey J! Great to hear from you. There are lots of variables when it comes to DOF in group photos…how big a group, what focal length you’re using, and how far away you’re shooting from, for example. My general rule of thumb when doing wedding parties and family shots with 2-3 rows of people is f5.6. Rows of 4 or more I move up as high as f8. I’m usually shooting with a moderate wide angle from 10-15 feet away. (Also remember I’m shooting on a full-frame camera, which is important since you get slightly more depth of field at a given aperture when using a camera with an APS-C sized sensor.) One key to getting the most use out of your available DOF is to focus 1/3 of the way into the group. Logic would have you focus 1/2 of the way in. But DOF doesn’t work that way…there is more “in-focus” room behind your point of focus than in front. So put your focus point on someone 1/3 of the way into the group and you’ll be maximizing your available DOF and be able to use a smaller aperture to still get everyone in focus. (And another tip is to position your group as far away from the background as possible.) There will definitely be some variations between your cameras LCD and your monitor…like brightness and color temp. However, DOF should NOT be one of those. If there is a difference, it’s probably just because your camera’s LCD doesn’t have enough detail to properly show exact DOF. Do you have a DOF preview button on your camera? Try using that if you have enough available light to see the image at that dim an aperture. Hope all his helps. Cheers!”
Here’s a group photo I did yesterday for Anchor Commercial’s holiday greeting card they sent out to all their clients. Nothing fancy, but it’s got enough DOF! 😉


  1. by Anonymous on November 18, 2009  7:52 am Reply

    you're the man, no matter what Robbin Knight says about you. :-)
    - Mahmood

  2. by Anonymous on November 18, 2009  7:53 am Reply

    There are a lot of people that can take a good picture; but there are few folks that make their subjects enjoy the process and possibly even feel better about themselves while they do it. Soif theres ever a job I cant do, I send them your way!
    - Matt

  3. by Anonymous on November 18, 2009  9:20 am Reply

    Thank you again for all that you did – the pictures are great!

  4. by Anonymous on November 18, 2009  9:21 am Reply

    You posting tips is actually a really great idea! I bet a lot of people would subscribe to a tip blog or something of that nature! Thanks Chris.
    - Fran

  5. by Anonymous on November 19, 2009  6:21 am Reply

    Still enjoying your blog a lot, especially entries that are tutorials. Keep it up!


  6. by Anonymous on November 26, 2009  8:53 am Reply

    Thanks so much, I looked in manual for my 5D and it does have a DOF preview button. I will definitely have to play with that. Great advice for a good starting point with the aperture. Also the focusing 1/3 in the group. I never would have known that. Once again thanks for the response and see you sunday!
    - Jared

  7. by Anonymous on November 30, 2009  8:33 am Reply

    Beautiful shot... good looking group of people :)
    - Jessica

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