Shallow depth of field is a great way to draw focus to your subjects in your portraits. This is most often done with a prime lens with wide open aperture such as f/1.2 or f/1.8. The wide aperture creates what’s called the “Bokeh,” which are the out of focus backgrounds and foregrounds. “Bokeh” is widely used in portraits and I often get asked how to exaggerate it as much as possible. In this video, I’ll be walking through 5 easy tips to maximize your shallow depth of field effect with any lens.

Video: 5 Tips to Maximize the Shallow Depth of Field Effect In Your Portraits

Rather than a prime lens, I’ll be using the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 G2. This is to show that you can still achieve a great shallow depth of field effect with a zoom lens. I paired this lens with a Sony a7III Mirrorless Camera. The key is to always shoot at the widest open aperture.

Our model today is Kiara so be sure to visit her on Instagram. Let’s dive in.

Tip #1: Change Your Angle

Let’s begin by taking our first portrait of Kiara against the bushes. While the image isn’t bad, the scene lacks the shallow depth of field effect because the background itself isn’t very deep.

shallow depth of field effects change angles

To change this, we want to find a scene with a foreground that leads into the subject and a background that goes far back. This sidewalk is perfect as the leading lines draw our eyes right to Kiara. The distance in the background also allows it to fall off into a nice blur.

Tip #2: Backlight Your Subject

I always find that backlighting adds depth to the image. I took the photo at the widest focal length and widest aperture and got this great image.

Tip #3: When Wide, Step Close to Your Subject

When shooting wide angles, you have to be close to your subject to get that shallow depth of field. I then stepped in and got a shot from closer up using the same focal length and aperture.

shallow depth of field effects distance

Here are the two images for comparison. Notice the difference in shallow depth of field effect between the two images.

Tip #4: Exaggerate the Effect by Zooming In and Stepping Back

I took the lens up to 75mm and took an image with the same framing. At this focal length, the background is compressed and the depth is exaggerated.

shallow depth of field effects focal length differences

Here are the images side by side.

Tip #5: Add a Foreground

Adding a foreground is a great way to add to the shallow depth of field effect. Ideally, the foreground will also be backlit. I had Kiara stand in the grass and took the image through the leaves.

Putting It All Together

shallow depth of field effect final images
Edited with VF Presets > Modern

Now it’s time to put it all together. Here are the final images using these techniques to maximize the shallow depth of field effect.


I hope you enjoyed this video/article. Understanding these techniques is a great way to make the most of your portraits, even when you may not have a prime lens. Even with a zoom lens, you can still get great shallow depth of field effects. Be sure to check out SLR Lounge Premium where we have courses on all things photography. In addition, check out Visual Flow for intuitive lighting based presets and retouching tools like we used in this tutorial.

Lastly, this tutorial was edited using LUT’s by Gamut, which you can find here.

Thanks for joining us this week and we’ll see you next time!