How to Handle a Super-Shallow Depth of Field

by Jim Zuckerman

Black bear mother and cub
Black bear mother and cub
© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
I took this picture during the wildlife babies workshop last June I conducted in Minnesota. I used a 300mm lens, and because the light was low the lens aperture had to be quite large -- f/4 in this case. That meant that depth of field was very shallow, and in turn, that meant that in order to get both mother and cub in sharp focus I had to wait until they were on the same plane.

In other words, when they were the identical distance to the camera, they would be sharp. If the baby were, say, six inches closer to my camera or farther away, and I focused on the mother, the baby would be almost sharp but not quite. That obviously would not be acceptable. I watched them through my camera until I was able to capture this sweet moment -- made sweeter because both animals are sharp.

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Jim Zuckerman teaches for's digital photography school, including these interactive online courses: Self-Discovery in Photography: Where Does Your Passion Lie?, Techniques of Natural Light Photography, and Developing Your Creative Artistic Vision.

In addition, Jim Z contributed to these photography how-to books co-authored by Jim Miotke and Kerry Drager: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light.

Article by Jim Zuckerman. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at