Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Take Great Cat Photos with a Shallow Depth of Field

This week’s post for beginner photographers is inspired by the popular 52 Assignments photography book. It is all about depth of field or as author Adam Juniper calls it ‘the shallow end’. So, what is a shallow depth of field and what would you use it for?

Let me explain a bit about it and why, for cat lovers, it’s perfect for capturing a special detail, a close-up, or a portrait with a touch of bokeh behind it. [Revised May 2023].

Shallow End
Jack in the Garden ISO 200 50mm F 3.2 1/640 © Dash Kitten

What is shallow depth of field?

It means that only the cat or object stands out in clear focus with most of the background that is further away is out of focus and soft focus.

Did you know? You can tell an iPhone where to focus by tapping on the screen. If you want the foreground in focus, tap on something close to the camera. Want the background in focus? Tap a background subject. 


Shallow Depth of Field Tips

Shallow depth of field
Tigger (DSLR) ISO 3200 55 mm F 5.6 1/1250 © Dash Kitten

The F-stop in my photograph of kitten Tigger was not quite as low as it could have been but the background is nicely out of focus and 52 Assignments recommends somewhere between F2 and F5.6.

The aperture contracts when you dial in a large f-number, such as f/11 and the aperture expands when you dial in a small f-number, such as f/2.8

Photo Workout

If you use a DSLR camera at the shallow end of the depth of field you will be setting your camera at or near f.2.8. 52 Assignments – Instagram recommends settings of Aperture Priority (A on a Nikon) and then asks you to open the aperture as wide as you can.

Reminder for F Numbers

As beginners we sometimes go cross-eyed remembering that F2.8 is a wide and F22 is a narrow apperture. F2.8 is large and photographers refer to this as ‘wide open’, like your eye.

If you check out the paperweight photo here you can see that I have used an F-stop of F1.8 which is as low as my nifty-fifty 50 mm lens can go. Look carefully at the photo. There is only a narrow strip that looks sharp. The F number was, in this example, too narrow and it is worth starting at f2.8 or f5.6 if you are unsure.

Ornament with shallow depth of field
Paperweight ISO 200 50 mm F 1.8 1/160 © Dash Kitten

Smartphone Depth of Field Tips

The book’s assignment notes that with smartphones the amount of bokeh (background focus) you get depends on the following:

  • The age of your smartphone.
  • The apps you use e.g. Afterfocus (iOS/Android), Big Lens, iPad.
  • Or, if you have the more recent ‘portrait mode’ on your smartphone. Portrait mode on a smartphone, or an app such as Photoshop Camera creates an artificial depth of field that works well on Instagram photos.

TOP TIP: Mobile phone cameras can generate a shallow depth of field straight out of camera if the image being captured is extremely close to the lens. You will need to know how close you can hold your phone before it struggles to focus. To use this with confidence – practice focusing your smartphone.

black and white photo of a cat in profile.
Monochrome Toulouse ISO 200 178 mm F 5.6 1/40 © Dash Kitten

Shallow End Instagram Filters and Tips

You can add these hashtags to your own favourites : #dof #depth #photography #catlovers

To add drama to am image boost your saturation and/or your contrast. This can be done before you add photos Instagram or other social media and it helps to push your subject into the foreground. An alternative is to use a black and white filter as I have done with Toulouse’s portrait. The use of sharpening should be avoided says author Adam Juniper.

This is a challenging area for smartphone users so exploring apps is a great idea.

Tabby cat looking upwards

Photo Resources for Depth of Field

13 thoughts on “Take Great Cat Photos with a Shallow Depth of Field”

  1. Depth of Field can really make a photo pop. Love the monochrome image! Always great tips, Marjorie.

  2. Thanks for this great post, I need to try and keep it straight w/ my digital camera in terms of which F stop to use. I just don’t use it enough to remember everything LOL! I love that photo of Toulouse! And you know, I kind of like the paperweight photo too, at first glance I assumed it was intentional – it’s pretty cool looking!

  3. Ooohhh! You can do this on an iPad! Going to try it out with Henry. Super excited to give it a whirl. I absolutely love the photos of Jack, Tigger, and Toulouse. Great tips!

  4. Love this, even tho I hardly ever use my real camera anymore. Can still achieve this fairly well with the I-Phone 13,
    and of course, in photoshop can “select subject” and then blur the background. But it is always a better photo (not to mention challenging if you can accomplish the effect without using photoshop!! I need to take that advice about NOT using the sharpening tool, which I do way too often …

  5. Those are all such nice photos, we never understood the F stop thing until now, thanks. Thanks for joining our Thankful Thursday Blog Hop.

  6. Sometimes I can achieve those results and sometimes not…LOL! The other day when I was taking pics of our flowers…well, I trashed a bunch, and the best ones went into my blog.You saw them.
    When I zoom in from ‘afar’. then I get grainier pics, but the background is more ‘bokeh. When I stand closer with the macro setting, well, who knows what will happen. If the green focus frame doesn’t come up, then the pic will not have good focus anywhere.
    I can do better with the iPad, but its much harder to hold steady. I have not found anything what can hold it still when I have it in camera mode. There are plenty such things for phones…And of course the camera takes better pics, in general. I did not use the iPad at all for those flower pics.


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