Shallow Depth of Field to Create Mood

 In Tips + Tricks

When we think of architectural images we tend to like our shots nice and sharp from the foreground to the background. And while this is great and creates beautiful results, it’s sometimes good to go the other direction and use a very shallow depth of field or even lack of focus to create mood in our shots.

First up, on last fall’s Paris workshop we were shooting the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero, I wanted to try something a little different from this location and change things up from the traditional cityscape shot. I decided to handhold at a relatively shallow depth of field, f/5, and manually focus to create bokeh with the city lights and lack of focus on the Eiffel Tower. The result is this dreamy version of the scene.

eiffel tower, paris cityscape

Another way to utilize shallow depth of field is to focus on something either close to you or far away from you in a wider scene. Here, it’s the raindrops on the window shot at f/10 and 24mm, which results in the city going soft in the background, yet still recognizable. Had I focused on the city, the raindrops would have fallen away and you wouldn’t have even known they were on the window. I think by putting the focus on the raindrops it creates another layer and moodiness that wouldn’t result had I reversed the focal point.

chicago, wrigley building

A functional way to utilize shallow depth of field is when you have to shoot through an area you really don’t want to see in your image. For example, at the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in Los Angeles, there’s a chainlink fence on one side of the building. I’m too short to see over the fence and my lens didn’t fit through the holes. So, I shot at a very shallow depth of field, f/3.5 at 50mm. This blurs the fence and the focus remains on the main subject; the robot-like sculptural element on the school’s campus. As an added bonus, it created this shadowing overlay type of effect on the image, which creates some texture and layering.

Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts los angeles

This just another creative tool to keep in mind. Obviously, your choice in how and when to use them, but knowing what you want to convey to the viewer will help direct your decisions. Have fun and don’t forget to share your shots with us either on Instagram – @photographyunfolded or in our Facebook Group – Architecture Photography Unfolded!

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