The Long-Promised Depth of Field tutorial (Part 1 of ?)

OK, so for months and months now, I’ve kept threatening to do a tutorial on how to use Depth of Field.  People like the way I use it, apparently: I have to admit I’ve pulled off some stuff with it that I really can’t believe I did without using Photoshop.  All the pics in this tutorial were done using in-viewer post-processing.  I didn’t do anything outside of my viewer except for cropping them.


First off, what IS depth of field?  I grabbed this pic as a good example for talking about what it is, and how it works.

Notice how the Kerfluffle (that’s the sheepy thing poking up out of the bathtub) is cleanly in focus, while the rack of shampoo and bath gel and whatnot in the background is a bit blurry?  That’s depth of field: the items that are too far away to be in focus are blurred slightly.  You’ve seen this effect in photographs in the real world, and I found a lovely example of depth of field recently on an article about the new Doctor Who’s outfit and the sociological significance of the Crombie jacket:


This photo uses a really tight depth of field: that is, one where the breadth of focus is only a few centimeters thick – and where the width/height of focus is also narrowly defined.  Notice how the hand and the waistcoat are both a bit fuzzy, even though you can read the date on the label on the Crombie jacket?  ‘Tight’ means that what’s in focus in the image is not a very deep chunk of it at all. In this pic, I’m guessing that items that are 1 meter away from the camera are in focus, but start to blur if they’re any nearer: when you’re about 1.02 meters away from the camera, things start blurring again.  A tight range, right? So, tight.
Soo… anyway, you can see how depth of field happens in the real world.  The depth of field settings in your viewer’s phototools (and also in preferences, if you want to go in that way) allow you to emulate this effect.

Things that are closer to the camera blur, like in this picture:


That pillow on the left-hand side goes from fuzzy to clear as you move away from the camera towards where the model’s laying on the bed: the real focus point is on the little bunnies dancing around, so the model softens up slightly, and what’s behind him is even more out of focus.

Now, I can hear you, Gentle Reader, saying ‘That’s great, I love it! Stop talking about what it is, and show me how the hell to do it!’


Let’s give that a go, then.


So I went into my viewer (I’m using Firestorm, though I know Singularity and the Linden Lab viewer have the same capabilities) and hit control-P to set my graphics quality up to Ultra.  Once that was done, I fussed around a bit with the shadow settings to clean the edges up, and got this photo:


Decent composition, everything looks nice and crisp, and… it needs a little bit of realism, don’t you think?  The crispness of the whole gives it a bit of a cartoonish effect, while a little more realism could be useful…

So I hit Alt-P on my keyboard to go into phototools, and clicked the DoF/Glow tab (circled in blue, below):


and once I got over there, I fussed around with the settings.  Please note: YOU CAN FUSS AROUND WITH THE SETTINGS.  If you set something up that’s screwy and unusable for photography or even for identifying what the hell you’re looking at, you can always fix it.  The ‘D’ (circled below) will yank the depth of field setting right back to the default value (see what they did, there?), which means minimal or even nil effects of depth of field.

The picture above also shows you the depth of field values I applied to take the photo of the bedroom above and turn it into this:

Quick and dirty, sure, but think about it: what you can accomplish with the depth of field tools would take for-flipping-EVER to do in Photoshop.  If I were going to do a Truly Good Photo of the above, I’d do a few things by hand (I’d de-render the shadow under the bed, and then sit down with photoshop to de-rasterize all the shadow edges), but look at all I pulled off just playing around quick and dirty.

I hope this helps you pull off some keen stuff with depth of field too!  I know that the phototools are in the same spot on Singularity (again, that’s alt-P on a non-Mac keyboard, I believe it’s apple-P on the Mac), which suggests to me that it’s probably the same spot in the Linden Lab viewer.

If you’re in edit mode on an object, your viewer’s default is going to be to NOT render Depth of Field.  You can switch that off if you like: I prefer to have the ability to duck out of the graphics-processing-heavy depth of field at the drop of an edit window. However, I’ll cheerfully admit I’ve driven myself half nuts with it, wondering why the #*@& the DoF won’t render for me and having the edit window minimized behind the chat window, soo… just keep it in mind, is my advice. 😉

3 thoughts on “The Long-Promised Depth of Field tutorial (Part 1 of ?)

  1. I should have noted: I used depth of field rather gently in this photo, as opposed to beating you about the head with it. Taking the f-stop on your camera down (check your DoF settings for f-stop) is the quickest way to make the depth of field more extreme!

  2. Thank you so much!!! I am going to try that soon. I have never managed to get a good shot with it but now I will try this. Thank you again.

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