photo focus on background

How to Add Depth of Focus to Your Photos

Adding depth of focus to your photos: 16MP smartphone cameras have leveled the playing field. Combine your digital camera with today’s tips on how to add depth of focus to your photos and you’ll be creating professional quality images in no time.

So what exactly is depth of focus? It’s how much of the photo you choose to have in focus.

Most of the time you’ll want the whole photo in focus, but not always.

Sometimes you’ll want the background blurred or softened in order to bring more attention to your subject. This gives you the ability the focus the viewer’s attention where you’d like it to be.

How Depth of Focus Works

Focus depth is changed by adjusting the aperture settings on your digital camera.

The aperture is a hole inside the camera lens that works like the iris in your eye. Adjusting the aperture lets in more or less light.

The larger the aperture, the shallower the depth of focus. This means a smaller portion of the image will be in focus. Conversely, the smaller the aperture the deeper the depth of focus, meaning a large part of the image will be in focus.

Changing Aperture on Your Camera:

adjust aperature camera

Aperture is measured in f-stops. The numbers are a bit tricky because a low aperture setting means a larger aperture and vice versa.

Think of it this way – low aperture number equals low focus depth.

To adjust aperture, your camera must have aperture priority or a manual mode. All SLR and DSLR cameras have priority and manual modes. So do micro four thirds cameras and some advanced point and shoot cameras.

Point and shoot cameras typically have a smaller aperture sensor which means you can’t achieve extremely shallow focus, even with manual control.

DSLR and most point and shoot cameras have a portrait mode, which lowers the aperture setting. This allows you to change the depth of focus to some degree.

Many DSLR cameras also have an ‘A’ setting for Aperture Priority Mode. This allows you to control the aperture while the camera handles all other settings.

Other ways to change the aperture on your DSLR camera are to use a zoom-less, or buy a new lens entirely.

Now you know the basics of changing your camera’s aperture. But how do you know how much depth of focus should be in your photos?

depth of focus camera

How to Choose the Right Aperture:

Let’s start with a portrait.

If you’re not using portrait mode, you’ll want a shallow depth of field so the focus in on your subject’s face.

The great thing about a shallow depth is it’s useful any time you’d like to separate on object from its background.

At other times, you’ll want a deep focus. This works especially well for landscape photos and product shots. Anytime you need to see the foreground and background equally well, a larger f number is best.

That’s it for the basics of depth of focus. Now it’s time to learn how you can create these same types of effects with your smartphone.

Depth of Focus in Smartphone Photos

Smartphones don’t allow you manual control over aperture while taking a photo. However, there are ways to edit photos you’ve already taken to simulate the effects of both shallow and deep focus depths.

This is done through the use of different iOS or Android applications.

Remember, the best way to decide the app for you is to try several and keep the one that provides the best combination of ease of us and results.

Let’s take a moment and review a few of the more popular apps.

Big Lens (iOS or Android)

($0.99) This app was designed with focus depth editing in mind. It’s powerful yet easy to use.

Big Lens uses a masking brush where you can apply blur effects to parts of your photo. Apply the blur then use other settings to control how much blur you’d like.

The one difference with Big Lens is you use the “brush” to cover what you’d like to have in focus. The rest of the photo gets the blur effect.

Filterstorm Neue (iOS)

Filterstorm Neue is a full-featured editing app with an excellent depth of field tool.

The blur capability offers a great range of effect than Big Lens. It’s also more difficult to learn and requires slightly more finesse.

Unlike Big Lens, you’ll use the brush to paint the area you’d like blurred.

If you have an iPhone 7 Plus and have taken the iOS 10.1 update, you now have the new Portrait Mode photo format which does a great job creating desirable depth effects.

Portrait Mode (iPhone 7 Plus w/ iOS 10.1 update):

depth of focus

(portrait mode on left) Photo credit:

First of all, the reason you can only get Portrait Mode on iPhone 7 Plus is because of the twin-lens rear camera. This is a new feature for the iPhone 7 Plus.

The twin-lens camera allows you to put the subject in focus and blur the background.

Access Portrait Mode from the rotating swipe menu at the bottom of the Camera app’s interface. One cool thing is the app will offer tips on lighting, position and composition.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of Portrait Mode.

  1. Make sure the subject is close. No further away than 8 feet is ideal.
  2. Make sure the background is quite a bit further away. The larger the gap, the greater the depth of focus effect will appear.
  3. Lighting is big. Early morning sunlight does rather well. Indoor artificial light, not so much. Professional Jeremy Cowart suggests putting the sun behind your subject as a back light.
  4. Look out for small items in your shot. A recent test showed they may confuse the depth effect.
  5. Find a space that isn’t too busy or distracting.

*More: iPhone Portrait mode –

Portrait Mode – Other Cool Stuff:

depth focus potrait mode

Two versions of each photo taken are saved. One has the effect applied, the other doesn’t. The photo with the effect is labeled in the top left corner.

To save the Portrait Mode image and discard the other, open Settings (when in Portrait Mode) and scroll down to the sixth screen of options. Tap Photos and Camera. Scroll down more and find the Portrait Mode section.

Tap the green slider, where you see Keep Normal Photo, until it becomes white.

Are you addicted to taking photos, especially from your smartphone? Share your photographing experience with us in the comments section below. Also, check out our latest coupons for photo printing sites like Shutterfly and Walgreens Photo!

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