Depth of field describes how much of the photograph is in focus. In deep depth of field, objects both close to and far away from the lens are clear and in focus. With shallow depth of field, only a small area of the photo is in focus while the rest of the objects are blurred. The f-stops determine the depth of field: lower f-numbers are shallower, while larger f-numbers are deeper.
In general, food photography greatly benefits from shallow depth of field. It puts one portion of your pasta or pie in focus, while the background Parmesan cheese or vanilla ice cream is blurred and less distracting.
Because I heavily favor shallow depth of field, I have very few examples of a deeper depth. However, the pancake photos nicely illustrate the difference: on the top, the numbers on the measuring cup are fairly blurry (shallow), whereas the numbers on the bottom are slightly clearer and easier to read (deep).
*Note: All images go from shallower to deeper depth of field.
And that concludes the Food Photo Composition series! I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments over the past two months, and it’s been rewarding to hear how much you appreciated these tips. But don’t worry—it’s not quite over yet! I’m publishing a short food photography book soon, so stay tuned!