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How can I get dramatic shallow DOF with a kit lens?

I've just got a new canon 550d with kit lens. Until now I've had a point and shoot camera , and I don't have any experience with manual settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the article given on <digital-photography-school.com/…> might help you a lot in understanding the concepts. The methods suggested are the same as the answers suggested here but it does explain them quite nicely. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26, 2012 at 15:43

4 Answers 4


The aperture of that lens is 3.5 - 5.6. That means that that lens will not give you a very shallow depth of field, but in most cases it will be enough.

If you shoot manually or in aperture priority mode, remember to always have the f-stop (apeture) number as low as possible. Shutter-speed and iso will not effect depth of field.

A tip if you want a shallow depth of field is to take photos quite close up to the subject. If you take a photo far away from the subject you wont get that blurry bokeh we all love.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for such quick answer. I intent to take food pictures because i have my food blog and i love food pictures with sallow dop. I also have need to take pictures of moving objects that is my daughter. What are best setting for that? \$\endgroup\$
    – irenalana
    Oct 26, 2012 at 10:43
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @irenalana Check out these questions on food photography: food-photography. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Oct 26, 2012 at 11:04
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @irenalana hi and welcome to the site. Comments are not suited for questions: if you want to ask something about shooting pics of your daughter (which is a difficult thing to do since kids are rapidly moving subjects :-) ) you should search other questions on this topic, eventually asking a new one if you are still not satisfied. \$\endgroup\$
    – Francesco
    Oct 26, 2012 at 11:54

The 18-55mm kit lens has a max. aperture range of f/3.5-5.6, which is a little small to achieve good blurred backgrounds. As a lot of others have pointed out, a 50mm f/1.8 is a very good option, it has a large aperture that will give a very shallow depth of field and good blurred backgrounds.

If that is not an option, you can still achieve a shallow DOF to some extent with your 18-55mm kit lens, by shooting at the largest possible aperture. Also, you need to go close to your subject and have the background at a (reasonable) distance.

To do this, following these steps:

  • Switch to the Aperture priority mode on the mode dial. On the Canon EOS 550D, this is labelled as Av on the mode dial.
  • Compose the shot - go close to your subject, zoom to the desired level, make sure the background is visible.
  • Rotate the command dial located below the shutter release button to switch to the largest aperture value. Remember that a lower number means a bigger aperture. e.g. at a given focal length, f/3.5 is a bigger aperture than f/5.6.
  • Focus on the subject and take the shot.
  • Review the shot to see if you've got the desired blurred background. If not, try increasing the distance between the subject and the background. Also, you can try increasing the focal length as higher focal lengths should give you shallower DOF.
  • Keep experimenting!

Try this in a garden with a small object (like a toy) as the greenery and foliage would make for a very nice blurred background. Place the object where the background is at a distance and there are no distracting elements in between the subject and the background. Go close to the subject and shoot as given above. Experiment with different focal lengths, aperture values and the background distance. When shooting at higher focal lengths, you may have to shoot lower down the ground at the eye level of the subject to make the background visible.

Hope this helps...


You need to keep your aperture as wide open as possible, but setting it to the lowest number (counter intuitive but it's true). You'll want to do this by shooting in Manual or AV (aperture priority). Depending on the lighting situation you may need to adjust your iso up or down, remember here that a higher ISO means more sensitivity to light.

I see from the other answer and your comment there that you are shooting food. If you are in restaurants the lighting will not always be the best. In this case you'll want to up your ISO to either 400 or 800. I would also recommend, if you can afford it, a lens that will open up wider say to f2.8 or greater. Tamron makes an excellent replacement for the kit lens that is f2.8 no matter the zoom at a reaasonable price. Sigma does as well and is a better lens, but also costs more.


Its really, really hard, as others have said. But if you have a bit of money, the 50mm F1.8 is only about $100 new, and it is fast enough to get the shallow depth of field you want.


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