Tips for shooting it shallow 

  • © Sean Cayton / All Rights Reserved
This year I’ve spent a lot of time photographing with a wide open aperture. Prime lenses offer me the chance to photograph my subject matter with an extremely shallow depth of field. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Photographing with a shallow depth of field, offers a couple of advantages to a photographer like me.

For instance, I’m almost always photographing something that is quite busy visually. Many elements in my photographs can be a source of distraction for me as a photographer and for the viewer. I want to provide the couples I'm photographing with crisp, clear and clean photographs. Photographing with a shallow depth of field allows me to do that.

Another benefit of photographing with a shallow depth of field, is the opportunity to photograph at very fast shutter speeds. Wedding photography — like sports — is fast moving and by using a shallow depth of field, I can capture action that sometimes happens so fast I don’t know whether I got the shot until after when I'm editing the photographs. A fast shutter speed is especially nice indoors, since dark interiors create poor lighting conditions and often demand a slower shutter speed to photograph with.

Finally, photographing with a shallow aperture offers a visual feel that is close to three dimensional. When we see something or identify an object visually, our eyes focus in a similar way. We see the object clearly and everything else falls out of focus. We don't consciously realize it but that's what is going on as soon as we wake up in the morning and open our eyes. :) So photographing with a shallow aperture provides the viewer the same feeling of a three dimensional space.

There are tips, of course, to making images with a shallow aperture. It’s not easy!

One of the most demanding aspects of photographing in this way is making sure your focus is tack sharp. To make certain I have an image in focus with the subject matter I want in focus, I take at least three exposures. The wider the lens, the more difficult it is to make sure your images are focused in the right place. I find I end up taking a lot more pictures because of this.

Another tip for maximizing the power of a shallow depth of field is to clearly layer your images foreground-to-background. Composition starts for me with the foreground. I often look for objects in my foreground that helps me to frame the subject matter. It’s a fun and dramatic way to use a shallow depth of field.

Finally, don’t be afraid to fail. Photographing with a shallow depth of field is technically quite difficult and you’re not always going to make it work. Practice makes perfect. The more times you fail, the easier it is to succeed with this quite technical aspect of photography.

Happy shooting!
Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.


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