Travel photography tips: Depth of field

Let me start by saying I’m not a professional photographer. But I do love taking beautiful photos and I did two photography courses a couple of years ago, so I do know a thing or two about photography. I would like to share some travel photography tips with you so you can take awesome photos too when you are travelling.

In this blog, I want to talk about a setting on your camera which can totally transform your travel photo from average to awesome.

It’s the aperture. Let me explain with some photos:

Travel photography tips aperture

Nepal portrait during some sort of parade. Nikon D3100 > 1/200 sec. – f/7,1 – ISO 100 (+ lightroom editing)

I took this portrait in Nepal with my Nikon D3100 camera. You can see that the man is in focus and the background is blurry. It makes the photo much better, because it draws your eye to the man, the main subject of the photo. It’s the same with this photo of this fertility temple:

Aperture travel photography tips

Fertility temple in Pashupatinath, Nepal. Nikon D3100 > 1/15 sec. – f/5,6 – ISO 200

The exposure triangle

Basically, there are three settings on your camera which you have to take in account if you want to take a good quality photo. They are all connected and they are quite easy to understand with this exposure triangle.

  • Aperture, to control the size of the “hole” via which the light travels into the camera body.
  • Shutter speed, with which you can control how long the shutter will be open for.
  • ISO, which is the light sensitivity.

If you change one of these settings, the other ones have to be adjusted as well, to be able to get the right amount of light on the image sensor. If you take your photos on “automatic”, you don’t have to adjust anything at all. Everything is done automatically.

I usually take my photos on the semi-automatic setting, which means I get to choose one of the settings, and the camera adjusts the other settings automatically.

Now back to that blurry background photo

You can achieve this effect by adjusting the aperture. By making aperture size bigger, more light falls onto the image sensor. A smaller aperture size means less light.

The lower the aperture number, the larger the “hole”. The larger the hole, the blurrier the background.

In short:

  • Smaller aperture number (f.e. f/1.8) = bigger size & more light = shallow depth of field = blurry background
  • Larger aperture number (f.e. f/16) = smaller size & less light = deep depth of field = no blurry background

Angkor Wat photography aperture

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Nikon D3100 > 1/500 sec. – f/11 – ISO 200 (and a little editing in Lightroom). As you can see: everything is equally in focus.

Important: The distance from lens to object is also a factor. If you take a landscape photo with a smaller aperture, there won’t be a significant blurry background. If you use the same settings on an item very close to your lens, you will be able to see a blurry background.

When to use a shallow depth of field

In general: if you want to take a photo and really focus on an item or person, and there’s a lot going on in the rest of the picture, you might want to go for a shallow depth of field. This is for example the case in street portraits. A shallow depth of field makes sure you actually look at the person instead of everything around it. It makes the photo easier and nicer to look at. But don’t overdo it: you need the eyes of the person to be in focus, and the shallower the depth of field, the harder it gets to get the focus just right. Especially out in the street, when people are moving.

When not to use shallow depth of field

If you take photos of large groups of people, go for a deep depth of field. You don’t want half of the group to be out of focus.  Also with landscapes & views far away you would opt for a smaller aperture size.

But then again: it’s all in the creativity, so in my opinion there are no set rules in travel photography. So just play around with it.

You can also use it the other way around: the background in focus, with a blurry object in the foreground. Nikon D3100 > 1/125 sec. – f/5,6 – ISO 100

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