Pet Photography - Depth of Field - to blur or not to blur the background

March 08, 2019  •  4 Comments

This week's Pet Photography theme is "Depth of Field".  That's a photography term, not necessarily a term that everyone is familiar with.  You know that wonderful soft blur of color that is behind your subject? That's created by choosing the correct 'depth of field'.  Wikipedia defines 'depth of field' as "the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects that are in acceptably sharp focus in an image".

The depth of field is determined several different factors - the focal length, the distance to your subject, and aperture (f-stop).  Let's take a quick look at each of these.  The focal length is determined by the lens on your camera.  The wider the angle (say 12mm) the more depth of field - in the case of 12mm, just about everything will be in focus regardless of your aperture.  The more telephoto the angle (say 200mm) the less depth of field - in the case of 200mm, a small percentage of everything in your viewfinder (or lcd) will be in focus regardless of your aperture. 

ISO 200, 56mm, f/5.6, 1/160s - Fergie with Maxx and Me Pet Rescue

The distance to your subject - the closer you are to your subject, the more blur will occur outside of your focal point.  This is why often it is hard to get the entire flower in focus if you are filling the frame with the flower.  The same holds true if you are filling the frame with your pet's face - you'll have to decide - do I focus on the eye? or the nose? because they won't both be in focus. 

ISO 200, 32mm, f/5.6, 1/160s  - really close! shooting down on a fairly large dog and I'm only 5'5" - Fergie with Maxx and Me Pet Rescue

The last part of this triangle is the aperture (f-stop).  If the background behind your subject is a soft blur, then a shallow (wide open) depth of field was used by the photographer.  If everything is in focus - subject and background - that's usually an indication of a large (stop down) depth of field.  Now, this particular concept often throws new photographers into a confused state.  If I use a depth of field of 2.8, that's a wide open (shallow) depth of field - right?  And if I use a depth of field of 8, that's 'average' and a depth of field of 22, that's called 'stopping down' for a large depth of field - right?  That seems backwards....2.8 is wide open? but 22 is stopped down?

Dog bows headDog bows headQuiet moment while Snow bows her head ISO 100, 36mm f/16, 1/160s - Snow with Maxx and Me Pet Rescue - wide angle on focal length and small depth of field (f/16)

I always like to think of the numbers related to depth of field as a piece of pie (or a fraction).  If I have 1/8 of the pie, then I have more of the pie than if I get 1/22 of the pie right?  So, if the aperture is set to 8, then more light is coming into the camera lens than if the aperture is set to 22.  But, enough of the technical stuff - you can read about this all over the internet and there are many great articles out there that explain this.  In fact, you might have others in this Pet Photography blog circle that will give great information on what depth of field is all about.  What does it really mean when you take a photograph? It all comes down to - what's in focus or not in your photograph.  Historically, the cameras on phones have not been able to do this (or not well), but I see that they are making strides in this area - so soon.....

Let's say you're ready to take some photographs of your dog - some decisions need to be considered as you approach this.  How much of the dog do I want in focus? How sharp (or blurred) do I want the background?  And the last decision is probably how close will you be to your dog?

This week I met several dogs looking for their forever homes.  Chip was the first of four dogs we photographed.

Chip is a high energy, possibly Australian shepherd mix who was absolutely a joy to spend time photographing.   This photograph was taken at f/8, 62mm - with Chip about 10-12 feet from the fence behind him and I am standing a few feet from Chip.  See that wonderful blur behind Chip? That's all about depth of field.

In the next photograph, Chip is much closer to the fence, I am further away from Chip to get his entire body. This photograph taken at f/10, 70mm does not have the same soft blur because the aperture is in the 'average' range (f/8-f/14) and Chip is sitting closer to the fence (4-5 feet) - less distance between dog and fence coupled with an average aperture gives us more details behind the dog.

When taking action photographs, I find it is best to have at least an average depth of field because this helps to ensure that if you are slightly off on the focus spot, hopefully I'll still have a sharp dog.  Also, action photos of animals require a faster shutter speed and often I don't get to close but rather crop in on the final photograph to give more depth of field by not being close to the subject.  This photo was taken at 70mm, f/7.1, 1/2000s and was cropped.

Our second dog, is Perdita - a short legged momma dog who was a little shy during her photography session. Perdita didn't know what to make of all these people in the play yard with her (4 people, 3 new ones with cameras!).  This shy lady gave us some wonderful expressions, but many were all about "Who are these people?" and what exactly is going on.  Her portrait shows a wonderful blur of grass in the background (no blades are sharp, just a sea of blurry green).  Getting in close using your feet,  the camera lens set at 52mm, f/10 (average aperture, but getting close to the subject is another way to create a blurry background).  

This photograph is at f/14 - showing a lot more detail in the grass surrounding Perdita as she poses for her photo.

Our third dog is Prince - Prince is a purebreed Pit Bull - and we won him over with snacks (treats/cookies).  Once Prince knew all the new people had goodies, it was all about - what do you want me to do?  I often see people shoot down on dogs like this image - while not my favorite pose, it's often done since that is how people 'see' their dogs. 56mm, f/5.6, 1/250s - this is a slightly shallower depth of field than some of the other photographs - you can see that Prince's head (eyes) are in focus, yet his nose and body are softer and the ground around him is a gentle blur of grass and leaves.  Since I am pointing the camera down at Prince, the camera to subject distance is pretty close (a couple of feet at best) causing less of the overall subject to be in focus.  Poor Prince was dropped off for boarding and his family never came back for him - that was 2 years ago - he has been looking for a new home for a long time.  In the meantime, the wonderful people at Advantage Pet Center in Largo, Florida have given him a home at their facility - hopefully soon, Prince will find that perfect person to bring him home!

Our last dog, Cindy, is a muscular, playful bull dog mix - all white with pink ears - she was full of energy to share with us.  This photograph shows Cindy running along the steps with beautiful blurred grass behind her created by a combination of focal length and average aperture.  82mm (short telephoto), f/6.7 and to stop the action, 1/1500s shutter speed.  Cindy is available from Advantage Pet Center in Largo, Florida.  Hopefully this beautiful girl will find a home soon!

That's it for this week's depth of field blog - keep in mind these basics when photographing your dog (cat, or pet).

For more pet photographers sharing their take on this theme, head over to visit Colleen of Simply Col Photography - for the love of photography and pound pups and then head around the rest of the blog circle.

If you would like to book a custom pet portrait session, send an email to [email protected] or give us a call/text at 813-610-2671 in the Tampa Bay area (Florida).




Such beautiful dogs and such awesome examples of when and how to affect the depth of field. Prince stole my heart. I hope he finds a forever home soon.
Tracy Allard(non-registered)
Great focus and color balance on all of these Linda, great work and I'm sure the rescue loves having your beautiful images to help these pups find their furever homes (I'm kinda partial to Perdita; I'm a sucker for freckles!).
Nice, sharp images!
Angela Schneider(non-registered)
Chip has the eyes of a little snuggle bug. Great job!
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