Jay P. Morgan: Depth of Field as a Creative Tool

In this video lesson, I wanted to demonstrate how depth of field can be used as a creative tool. I brought a crew out to Vasquez Rocks and used a simple two-light setup to shoot my beautiful model, Gabrielle Tuite. Here, you'll see how different focal lengths can give you different depth of field options. You'll see what lens choice will give you a shallow depth and what lens choice will give you a more scenic deep depth of field. 


Vasquez is the perfect place to look at depth of field. It's one of the most photographed places in Southern California. It has a long history of film making. It has been in Star Trek's “Captain Kirk and the Lizard fight", Austin Powers, Bonanza, John Carter, and many, many more. It has a very strong rock point that is graphic and the reason I wanted to shoot here.

Depth of Field
The wider the lens you use, the more depth of field you will have at the same aperture setting. Simply put, wider lenses give you more depth of field and longer lenses give you a shallower depth of field.

To achieve a shallow depth of field, you need a longer lens with a smaller aperture number. The smaller aperture number gives you a larger aperture opening and less areas of sharp focus. A 200mm lens at f/2.8 is going to give you a very shallow depth of field, whereas a 50mm lens at f/2.8 still has a lot of depth of field.

On the Canon 5D Mark II, a 50mm lens at f/2.8 twenty feet from the subject will give you 8.57 feet of acceptable focus. A 200mm lens at f/2.8 twenty feet from the subject will give you 0.5 feet of acceptable focus. Even if you back away from the subject with a 200mm lens to 40 feet, the area of acceptable focus is only 2.04 feet. That is why it's easier to throw the background out of focus with longer lenses.
For this shoot, I decided to use the sun as a rim light coming from camera left as my first light. I set my exposure so that the highlight on the side of Gabrielle's body was bright, but not overexposed: 70mm lens, f/11, 1/125th of a second, ISO 160.
Next, we added a Photoflex Large LiteDome on camera right to open up her face. I wanted a large, diffused light source that would be soft and natural-looking.
Focal Length and Depth of Field Options
Now let's look as some images with varying focal lengths and aperture settings. When you're just starting out, it's good to experiment with the various combinations to find the look you're after. Some love a shallow depth of field, others prefer everything in the frame to be tack sharp.
Here's another with the same lens and aperture setting: 70mm lens, f/11, 1/125th of a second, ISO 160.

Here's 150mm at f/2.8


Here's 170mm at f/8:


And finally, 200mm at f/2.8


This type of experimentation with lenses and aperture settings can be a lot of fun. So get out there and figure out what works for you!


To learn more about the Photoflex products used in this photo-shoot, click on the links below:

Photoflex Large LiteDome
Photoflex LitePanel Kit

To see more of Jay P. Morgan's work, visit his Pro Showcase page.





Leave a Comment

Activate Popup

Let's Keep in Touch

Be the first to know about new lighting lessons, contests, events and promotions by signing up for the Photoflex monthly newsletter