Friday, April 8, 2016

Photographing Your Quilt...Depth of Field

In this last post today, I’m going to share a “cool trick” with you.

You’ve seen photos that have a nice blurry background and one object in focus, right?  Perhaps you want to know how that’s done.

Well, there are a few factors that play into the “blurry” background look.  One is called aperture, which simply refers to how wide the lens opens when you take a photo.  But, we're not going to get that technical today.  Instead, I'm going to share an easier way for you to get that blurry background.

Before we get into the “how”, let’s dig a little deeper into the “what.”  When we are talking about the blurry background look, we are referring to “depth of field.”  Depth of field tells us how much is in focus from the foreground to the background of our photos.  A photo with a large depth of field will show everything in focus from front to back.  A photo with a shallow depth of field will have only a slice of the photo in focus.  

See in the photo below how only Ariel (post-human Ariel) is in focus.  The rest of the photo is blurry (and in fact gets blurrier as we move further away from the focal point).  This photo has a shallow depth of field.

The next photo has a large depth of field.  We can see that everything from the foreground to the background is in focus. (Including my upside down kid.)  This photo has a large depth of field.

Our depth of field exists on a plane.  This means everything that is an equal distance from our camera as the focal point will be in focus.

Here is the cool trick....the closer you are to your subject, the shallower the depth of field.

In these next two photos, you can see the difference.  In the first, I was really close to my subject.  This resulted in a photo with a very shallow depth of field.  My focal point fell on that flower in the middle.  Notice that the branch and flowers right behind it are blurry.

 (Note here: if you get too close to your subject, your camera won't be able to focus at all and won't take a photo.  If this happens, just move back a bit.)

In the next photo, I moved further away from the subject.  You can see that more of the photo (again, from front to back) is in focus.  My focus was on the same flower, but you can see more of the branches and flowers behind it.

The depth of field extends a certain distance in front of the focal point and a certain distance behind the focal point.  As a result, another way to create that blurry look is to move the subject further away from the background.  You'll see in these next two photos, the background is blurrier in the first.  This is because I moved my subject further away from the background.  As a result, the background was out of the depth of field and blurry.

Why do we care about depth of field and how can we use it?

There are several reasons we want to use depth of field purposefully in our photos.

1.  We minimize distractions.  Remember in my first post, I shared that we want to remove distractions in our photos.  We can get rid of those distractions with a shallow depth of field.  If there's something we don't want people to see in the background, we can make that distraction out of the depth of field and blurry.

2.  It can help us draw the viewer's attention to a certain spot.  This can be especially useful when photographing quilts or sewing projects.  Maybe you want to draw the viewer's attention to a certain fabric in the quilt or to a particular seam.  You can put that spot in your depth of field, making that spot clear and the rest blurry.  One of the benefits of taking your camera off of "auto" mode is being able to select your focal point.  I write more about selecting your focal point here.

3.  It just looks cool!  Often, we find a blurry background pretty, aesthetically pleasing. You can use depth of field to add artistic appeal to your photos!

This wraps up my series on photographing your quilts.  You can find me on my website, Facebook, and Instagram.  I teach a beginner's photography workshop and the next one starts April 18.  Registration ends April 11.  I'm offering $10 to quilters with the code "quilts" at checkout.  Get all the information you need here.

If you have any questions or want to get in touch, feel free to e-mail me at  

And as a last fun little bit of information, as someone interested in both quilting and photography, you are keeping your brain strong!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this series - I really enjoyed it!

  2. I'm always trying to wait for a partly cloudy day to take outside picture, I make sure I don't have too many distracting things on the picture... and then you tell me I can also play with the depth of field... too many things to think about, it would take me an hour to take 2-3 picture ! Thanks for your series.

    1. There really is SO MUCH to think about with each picture...try not to let it overwhelm you!

  3. Thanks for offering this mini series. I have really enjoyed it. Am seriously considering Andrea's class. If not this April, then the next time she offers it. Need to get the camera first!

  4. This is definitely one of the things I want to learn more about. I have been able to achieve it satisfactorily only a handful of times.

  5. Thanks so much for this series. It gives an easy non-technical explanation and I really love the way you've given an easier option for getting the blurry effect in this post.

  6. Thank you so much. I was trying to figure this out recently, what a coincidence. Only problem is in that my mid-range-priced camera (Nikon Coolpix L610)does not have adjustment for aperture (depth of field). So, guess moving subject farther from background will have to do.

    1. It will still work for you to get closer or further from your subject (works with the iphone!). If you are close to your subject, your depth of field will be smaller. If you are further away from your subject, your depth of field will be larger. Try it and let me know if it works!

  7. Nicely written. It is obvious your class will be well worth taking. I'm very interested, but the next class isn't timely for me. Thank you so very much for this series of posts.

  8. Thanks so much! This has been fun, and very helpful!

  9. I have really enjoyed this series on photographing quilts. Thank you so much!

  10. This has been such an interesting series! Thanks so much for taking the time to explain everything so well.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!