Fixing Blurry Images Caused by Shallow Depth of Field :: Digital Photo Secrets

Fixing Blurry Images Caused by Shallow Depth of Field

by David Peterson 6 comments

Sometimes some of the subjects in your shots are in focus, but other subjects that are a little closer or further away are out of focus.

This is an unwanted side effect of having what's called a 'Shallow Depth Of Field'.

Portrait Scene Mode

When you set your camera to the Portrait Scene mode, it makes some adjustments to the settings to ensure your main subject is in focus, and anything behind the subject is out of focus. This is normally very pleasing because it emphasizes your subject in the photo.

The focus is on the cake in this photo.

However, when you have multiple subjects and they are all at different distances to the camera (like the cake, and the two boys in this photo), you won't often get the effect you desire. Either (as in this shot) the cake is in focus and the boy in the white top is slightly out of focus, or the boy will be in sharp focus and the cake will be blurry.

Basically with Portrait Scene mode set, the camera will focus on one thing. Only those subjects that are exactly the same distance away as what the camera focused on will also be in focus. Anyone who is further away or closer to the camera will be slightly out of focus. The actual range of who is in focus depends on a number of things including how far away from the camera your subjects are, and your aperture setting.

As you can see in this photo, the middle of the cake is in sharp focus, but the tee-shirt of the boy behind is out of focus, as is the front part of the cake.

To spot this, zoom in on your LCD screen after you take the shot. You see some parts of your image blurry that you want to be sharp.

Having Your Cake...

The easiest way to make all your subjects sharp is to move further away from them. This will increase the range of depths that are in focus. Don't zoom in however, as this will negate the benefits of physically moving further away.

Another option is to change the Aperture setting on your camera. Here's what I do:

  1. Set your camera to Portrait Scene mode and take the shot.
  2. Find out the Aperture your camera used to take the first shot. It will be a small number like F5.6.
  3. Change the camera to "Aperture Priority Mode" rather than Portrait Mode. Usually marked as "AV", this is a more advanced mode of your camera that gives you finer control
  4. Set the aperture two settings higher (called one 'stop' higher). If it was F5.6, set it to F7.1.
  5. Take the shot again.
  6. Look at the LCD screen of the shot. You should see more of your subjects in focus. If not all subjects are in clear focus, increase the aperture setting one more and try again.

I should warn you that changing the aperture like this also decreases the shutter speed (as less less light will be getting into the camera, so it compensates). If you are also in a low light environment you should take some steps to steady your camera as well.

If you're interested in finding out more on Depth of Field, I recommend my "Depth of Field Secrets" course. I take you step-by-step through how to use your camera's Depth of Field function to take stunning images!

You can read about other causes of blurry photos, and how to fix them on my blog.

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  1. pete says:

    very clear instructions!

  2. Abey Mdluli says:

    Well so far I'm enjoying myself in these for free photo tips - and I find some of them very useful. So from now onwards there will quite difference in my pictures. If only one can get hold of this book of David Petersen at a reasonable price.

  3. Keith Walker says:

    I don't really understand why lens makers no longer have the depth of field shown on their lenses for each aperture. Look at the vintage cameras from the 1950s and 60s, they all showed the depth of field, of course in those days if you didn't have a rangefinder you would have to use the method known as 'zone focussing'

  4. David Peterson says:

    Hi Jackie,

    Your LCD lies to you! That's why a crisp image in the LCD can turn out to be blurry. See my LCD Lies tip for more information.


  5. jackie says:

    Great article.. I was always told that once a blurry image is captured, its totally hard to fix.

    It would be better to capture it right from the camera.

    Now, about the camera viewfinder and the display screen, why does the image looks good and in focus. Only until i load it in the computer, i see how blurry it is. I really thought I captured the image, but it was not good.

    Any suggestions to fix this issue.
    gear: rebel xt, canon 50mm f/1.4, canon 75-300mm, and 580 ex II lens

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.