Achieving Depth of Field


A question that I get asked all the time is “How do you make peoples eyes look so sharp in your head shots?” This can be answered in a few different ways, but everything relates to what’s called depth of field.

Depth of field is a term in photography that distinguishes the in-focus parts of the photo compared to the blurriness of its surroundings, thus moving the focal point to the sharper details. Without being too technical, it can be achieved in one of two ways:

1. On the camera you can set your aperture wide open.

2. You can blur specific parts of the photo in post-production Photoshop.

Most DSLR lenses will give you the ability to open or close the aperture at will. The numeric value of aperture is called an f-stop, or f-stop number. The lower the f-stop number the more light you will allow the lens to take in. The result of having a wide open aperture is that you will also create a very narrow depth of field. This means that a very specific distance in your photo will be in focus and the rest will be appropriately out of focus. I generally make sure that the distance I want in focus is proportional to my subjects eyes. I do this because if the eyes aren’t in focus, the photo and subject won’t look right for the way I like my work to turn out. The other way of achieving this look is to have your f-stop at 5.6 or lower (higher numerical value) making 70% of the photo in focus.

As for post-production techniques, you can create a duplicate layer of your image and then go to the filters section of Photoshop and choose the blur tool. Gaussian blur is my favorite. After blurring the top layer to your liking, you can then create a new layer mask, and then use the brush tool in black to draw over the image and reveal the layer underneath (which will be in focus.)  It takes a little bit of practice but once you get used to it you’ll become a pro in no time. This is one aspect of photography that definitely separates amateurs from professionals. Now we’ve all seen some really bad headshots in the Philadelphia area, but if you want to consider yourself one of the best headshot photographers, these are skills you must master.