Improving profile photo – Depth of field

As mentioned in a previous article, your profile photo is very important and one way to make it look good is a shallow depth of field. The “depth of field” changes how sharp the subject (you) are in the photo. A “shallow” depth of field will have a sharp subject and blurry background. This is perfect for portrait photos. A “deep” depth of field will blend the foreground and the background, removing sharpness from a potential subject. Great for landscape photos, but not for our purposes.

Without getting deep into the subject, an easy way to control your depth of field is to adjust the f-stop on your camera. A lower f-number will give us that needed shallow depth of field. A higher f-number, meanwhile, gives a greater depth of field. Examples of f-stop numbers include:

  • f/1.2 <– Shallow depth of field
  • f/1.4
  • f/2.2
  • f/2.8
  • f/5.6
  • f/7.1
  • f/11
  • f/22 <– Deep depth of field

If you have a DLSR or professional camera, then you may control your f-stop manually. If you are using a phone camera then you probably won’t be able to control it. However, you may have a “scene mode” or something similar which will allow you to select “portrait mode”. This mode will let the phone’s camera lower the f-stop to take a better portrait photo.

Again, the rule is to aim for a small f-stop (e.g. f/2.2) for portrait photos to give a shallow depth of field. The photos below demonstrate how the depth of field changes how the subject appears against the background.

Higher f-stop means a better view of the background (f/36.0)


A lower f-stop will blur the background and give focus to the subject (f/5.6)


In a portrait photo, we are aiming for a lower f-stop as seen in the photo below.

She is sharp and in focus, while the background blurs (f/1.6)


Another photo shows us a similarly low f-stop which produces a very shallow depth of field. The woman and the foreground around her are very sharp while the background is blurry and almost difficult to make out. It has a striking effect of making the woman stand out as the center of attention.

Shallow dof means a sharp, interesting focal point. Even the cracked ground around her is sharp.


The next photo shows us a slightly higher f-stop, though still low. The background begins to creep into a focus a bit. The woman, presumed to be the subject, loses a little of the focus.

Woman is visible, but so a bit more of the background. F-stop is still low (f/4.0)


Finally, the following photo has a whopping f/20.0. The background and the woman on the beach have similar levels of sharpness. It becomes hard to tell what the focus is. Although the woman appears to be the focus, the background comes into play. We can see sharpness and definition in the environment around her.

The woman is on the beach although the environment around her is almost equally in focus (f/20.0)


In summary:

  • For your online dating photo, use low f-stop numbers such as f/1.6 or f/2.2. This will make you stand out against the background.
  • If you have a DLSR then you can manually set the f-stop.
  • If you have a phone camera then you will need to set a “scene mode” and set “portrait mode”. This will automatically set your f-stop to a lower number.


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