How To Create Better Portraits Using Shallow Depth Of Field

Over the years I have seen lots of pictures and sometimes they’re great and sometimes…not so great. Usually I get questions from our subscribers asking how to make their portraits better. Most people make it way too complicated and that’s why I wanted to give you a few tips that can instantly improve your images.

I’m including some examples so you can see exactly how these can make a HUGE difference in your photography.

I’m using this example above because it’s something I just worked on when I created a sample image for our new Digital Background Set. Let me say that these tips will work for studio photography, outdoor photography and Digital Background techniques.

So…let’s get to the lesson.

Tip #1 – Adding Shallow Depth Of Field

This is something that most photographers don’t understand when getting started and how exactly to get this look. There’s a couple of ways¬† you can achieve this look. it can be done in the camera or post editing using Photoshop.

The simple way to create this effect in the camera is to use a low f-stop. Usually using f/5.6 for a mild effect works, but to get that real blurry background you will need f/1.8.  Of course you will need a lens that can go that low to allow you to use that f-stop and they are usually very expensive.

But…There’s Good News!

One of the lenses we use is a Nikon 50mm prime lens with our Nikon D90 and it works perfect. Plus…the lens is under $200, so it’s very affordable. The only down fall with a prime lens is you can not zoom in and out. So…you have to walk in and out to get closer of further away. You are the zoom :-)

The other way to achieve this look is using Photoshop. You can create a duplicate layer and add some blurring to your top layer and then erase your subject, so they are still clear. We actually created some of our New Digital Backgrounds with the shallow depth of field added to the backgrounds.

Tips #2 – Watch For Objects Growing From Head

This is something I see often as well. Sometimes you are nervous or focusing on making sure that your subjects are in the right pose or your camera is set correctly for lighting and you forget to look behind your subjects head. Make sure to remember this and you’ll improve your images and cut down on your editing. It’s not easy removing an object behind someones head. Ask me why I know this :-)

Tip #3 – Add Slight Vignette

This is something simple that can be added in Photoshop or even iPhoto to create a Vignette. This won’t work on every photo, but it can help draw focus on your subject. I usually don’t add this to Hi-Key images. It works great for low-key and outside shots like the examples above. The great thing with adding this in post editing is you can choose to use it or not.

Another example of using Shallow DOF to draw the attention into the subject.

**Bonus Tip

You all know we create Digital Backgrounds and Props to offer more options for your clients. I wanted to share this image that we used as a sample for our New Digital Background Set.

Here’s an example to show how we also took an “OK” shot from our vacation and turned into something totally different using one of our Digital Backgrounds. I was able to add some nice Shallow DOF, Position the subject right where I needed him and added a slight Vignette.

So…at your next portrait session remember these simple tips to help create better shots. You will notice your images being better and so will your clients :-)



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