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Depth of Field Calculators

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CIC DoF Calculator
DoF Simulator
DoF Master (mobile)

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Hey, how’s it going? I’m Andy Jones, and this is episode 159 of the Photography Side Hustle podcast.

I feel like I’ve been neglecting people who are just starting out and still learning how to use their cameras.

So, this week, I’m going to remedy the situation. I’m going to talk about shooting in Manual mode and Aperture Priority because the most frequent question I hear from new photographers is, “What settings should I use for portraits?”

That question and similar ones, like, “What are the best settings for weddings?” are irrelevant because …
Light Varies
The available light varies from minute to minute, hour to hour, and day to day. Your camera doesn’t see a scene and think, “Oh, it’s a wedding; I should use these settings.” It only knows how much light it needs to create a properly exposed photo and the amount it needs changes as the available light changes.

So, how do you know what the camera knows? Well, the camera has an internal light meter. You can see the light meter in the viewfinder and on the rear LCD screen.

Manual Mode
Your job in Manual Mode is to balance the meter. To do that, you need to align the marker with the center of the meter.

To get a properly exposed photo, you will use three settings: Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO.

Light is measured in Stops, and the light meter has the numbers one to three on each side of the center point. One side is plus (+), and the other is minus (-).

If the marker is on the plus (+) side of the meter, then you have too much light coming in and onto the sensor. If it’s on the minus (-) side, you don’t have enough light coming in.

Because you have three settings, Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO, you can change one or all of them to balance the meter.

Let’s say you are taking a portrait. The settings are Aperture f/2.8, Shutter Speed 1/250, and ISO 200, and the light meter is one-stop overexposed.

So you have one stop more light than you need. To reduce the amount of light and get the marker to the middle of the light meter, you could change the Aperture to f/4, the Shutter Speed to 1/500, or turn the ISO to 100. Each of these changes will reduce the light by one stop.

Lower Aperture and Shutter Speed numbers let more light in. Lower ISO numbers let less light in.

Multiple different settings can be used to balance the light meter in any situation. However, an experienced photographer knows what settings to use to create an effect.

Aperture and Shutter Speed can be used in different ways.

The aperture is used to control the depth of field. Portraits with a blurry out of focus background are taken using the lens wide open. That is the lowest F-number the lens can shoot at, usually f/2.8 or lower.

A fast Shutter Speed freezes action, and a slow Shutter Speed can create blur in a subject’s movements.

Using manual mode can be mind-blowing at first, but you really need to understand it.

The downside of shooting in manual mode is when you are shooting outdoors and the weather is changeable. One minute, it’s cloudy. The next, it’s sunny.

It’s hard to keep up because you have to change your settings whenever a cloud blocks the sun or the sun reappears from behind a cloud.

Shooting an event or any sport outdoors is hard enough without the added pressure of changing your settings every few seconds.

There is a way around that problem, and that is …

Aperture Priority Mode
On Canon cameras, you turn the mode dial to Av (Aperture Value); on all other cameras, it is A.

This allows you to set the Aperture, and the camera will set the Shutter Speed for you. If the shutter speed isn’t fast enough to capture the subject you can turn up the ISO until the shutter speed is fast enough.

To know which Aperture to use, you need to understand how the aperture affects the depth of field.

This is how Wikipedia explains depth of field.

“The depth of field (DOF) is the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects that are in acceptably sharp focus in an image captured with a camera.”

So, if you focus on a subject’s eye, there is a distance in front and behind the focus point that is in focus.

A lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 will give a shallower or smaller depth of field than one with a maximum aperture of f/3.5.

Let’s compare a 50mm 1.8 lens to an 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 kit lens. The kit lens’s maximum aperture is 3.5 at 18mm, but it is 5.6 when zoomed in to 55mm. So, we are looking at the different depths of field that f/1.4 and f/5.6 produce.

So, let’s say you are shooting a portrait and standing 8 feet away from the subject. Your camera is a Nikon APS-C body, like a D3400.

First, we will put the 18-55mm kit lens on. The depth of field, when zoomed in to 55mm, is slightly over 16 inches. If you focused on the subject’s eye, then approximately 8 inches in front of the eye and 8 inches behind it would be in focus.

If you are new to this, you are probably wondering how I figured it out. Well, it’s not witchcraft. There are depth-of-field calculators that you can use. I’ll link all the ones I have found in the show notes and over at You just need to input your camera type (full frame or crop sensor), focal length, aperture, and distance from the focus point.

Anyway, the kit lens at 55mm, 8 feet (96 inches) from the subject, with an aperture of f/5.6, produces a depth-of-field of approximately 16 inches. That’s 8 inches in front of the focus point and 8 inches behind.

The 50mm 1.8 lens, using its maximum aperture of 1.8, produces a depth-of-field of 6 inches at 8 feet (96 inches) from the subject, 3 inches in front, and 3 inches behind the focus point. That is 10 inches less than the kit lens.

Using a shallow depth of field is how you get a blurry, out-of-focus background in your photos.

I went through that to emphasize how important it is to know what aperture to use.

Once you understand the aperture settings and what they produce, you can turn up at an outdoor portrait session and set your camera to Av or A (Aperture Priority mode). Then, when you look at your subject and decide you want the background to be out of focus and creamy, you can set your aperture to f/2.8 or f/3.2, and you’re good to go.

The camera will set the shutter speed for you, and if you need to, you can turn the ISO up to get a faster shutter speed.

It’s a great mode to shoot in and makes your life much easier.

Once you get going using the aperture for the desired depth of field, you won’t need to use a DoF calculator every time. After a while, you will know what you need.

So give Aperture Priority a try. It’s an easier way to shoot and still control your camera.

Okay, I want next week’s episode to be me answering your questions. I’ve got two audio questions lined up already, and I want as many as possible. The more I get, the more Ask Andy episodes I’ll do.

So go to the audio page and record your question for me. I’ll put the link to the page in the show notes and over at

Right, I’ll be back next week with a lens hood full of waffle. Have a great week, bye.