Here is a new lesson on “deep depth” in photography.

Depth of soul > Depth of field

But before we start, don’t just shoot photos for composition sake. What is far more important to capture in your photos: depth of soul.

How to photograph deep depth

Downtown LA, 2014 (shot on film Leica, 35mm, at f/8, ISO 400 on Kodak Portra 400, with 1/500th shutter speed)

If you want deep depth in your photos, use a small aperture (f/8-f/16). Don’t just shoot everything wide-open (f/1.4-f/2), which blurs out the background.

I feel what makes an interesting photograph is the foreground, middle-ground, and background.

The foreground is what is closest to you. This is what you feel like you could touch if you extended your arm.

The middle-ground is what is slightly further away.

The background is what is very far away.

What should I focus on?

Prague, 2015 / Shot on film Leica MP + 35mm + Kodak Tri-x 400 pushed to 1600 / Shot at f/8, 1/1000th shutter speed. Focus at 5 meters.

If you want more depth in your photos, a simple technique: focus on what is furthest away.

Then try to get things in the foreground, and intentionally have them out-of-focus.

You can also set your lens’ manual focus to 5 meters to infinity.

Step 1: Start with the bookend

The man’s face filling the right side of the frame is the “bookend”

Once you have these settings setup, try to add elements in the foreground. On the far left or the far right side of the frame. Or both. They call this technique the ‘bookend’ technique. What a ‘bookend’ does is add more energy, depth, and ‘edginess’ to your frame. Essentially you want a figure to extend fully– from the far left or far right side of the frame.

Step 2: Add the middle-ground

Then in the middle-ground, you want to place another subject, but not have them over-lapping with what is in the foreground.

Step 3: Add the background

Person on left and right are both bookends to help you focus on the kid in the center. Shot on a LG smartphone.

In the background, you will also put another subject, which gives your photographs extreme depth. Note how the figure in the background will always be smallest. This is what tells our eyes that there is depth in the photograph.

Example photos of deep depth

Here are some case-studies, from Citizen Kane, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and some of my shots.

What do the colors mean?

To better understand the diagrams, here are the explanations:

  • Red: Foreground (what is closest to you)
  • Green: Mid-ground
  • Blue: Background (what is furthest from you)

Film Noir Examples: Deep Depth

Great examples of depth in film noir, from Citizen Kane:

Eric Kim Photos: Examples of Deep Depth

Some examples from my photos:

Henri Cartier-Bresson Deep Depth

Also note how this great photo is slightly out of focus:

(c) Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos / Valencia, 1932
(c) Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos / Valencia, 1932
(c) Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos / Valencia, 1932

Conclusion: Avoid bokeh

If you want to take your compositions to the next level, integrate ‘deep depth’ into your photographs. Don’t just settle for shooting wide-open and getting ‘bokeh’ in photography.

Shooting deep depth is a lot more challenging in photography, and fun.

To better understand depth in photography, start off by adding subjects to the extreme foreground, then middle ground, then the background. And when you’re shooting, I recommend using an LCD screen or an EVF (electronic viewfinder), while looking at the edges of the frame. Don’t look at the center of the frame or the background when you’re shooting. Or if you’re shooting with a DSLR or any other camera with an optical viewfinder, start off by looking at the extreme left and right side of the frame. Don’t get ‘tunnel-visioned’ by what is in the center of the frame.

Video slideshow of depth

The photos in this article, in a sub-1minute video:

Take your composition to the next level

Improve your compositions:

See all composition articles >

Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography Entrepreneurship

Seize your destiny >

Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Mastering Photography

Master photography >


Never stop asking why?

JOIN ARS: The Anti-Social Media for Photographers

Get real feedback on your photos: ARSBETA.COM