April 19, 2023
A signature of our style is our wide-aperture and bright and colorful feel. In this post I want to give you tips on understanding aperture and using it to define your style. In order to help you best understand this, I’ll start by explaining exactly what an aperture is.
The word “aperture” means “opening”. In the photography world, it refers to an opening built into the inside of your lens. This opening is adjustable in size by the widening or constricting of thin blades that form a rough circle. Depending on the lens you’re using, these blades will be either straight or curved and there may be as few as five or as many as nine. All of these details play into the quality and type of effect you will get by adjusting your aperture.
So…what does the aperture do? Well, in our opinion, it affects your image almost more than any other function of your camera. The most fundamental function it serves is to let in light. When it’s more closed up it will let in less light and cause your image exposure to be darker. This is one of many reasons we like to photograph with a wider aperture; we prefer brighter images!
Another way your aperture affects your image is that it will change your depth of field. The depth of field is the range within the scene you’re photographing that is in focus. The wider your aperture is, the shallower (thinner, narrower) your depth of field will be. The “edges” of your depth of field will also be more distinct. To better understand the depth of field, imagine that you are focusing on a flower in field of wildflowers that is 15′ away. With a shallow depth of field (wider aperture) you may be able to capture the flower in focus while everything immediately in front of and behind it will be blurred in contrast. With a smaller aperture you may get the entire field to be in focus.
Interestingly, your depth of field is also affected by the focal length of your lens. A longer telephoto lens will have a shallower depth of field at the same aperture as a wide-angle lens. Higher-quality prime lenses will have a fixed focal length, wider aperture capabilities, and better compression (we’ll cover compression in a minute!). Our all-time favorite lens is the Canon 85mm f1.4 and you can buy it here! –> https://amzn.to/43OZNVG
A parallel to this is that your depth of field changes based on how close your are to your subject as well! The closer you are to your subject, the narrower it will be and vice versa.
The quality of your lens, the width of your aperture, the distance of your subject, the lighting, the scene etc all play a role in a thing called “bokeh”. Bokeh refers to the quality of the blur in the out-of-focus region of your image. The best and smoothes bokeh comes from lenses with high compression, good glass and wide aperture capabilities. We find much of our best bokeh comes from an aperture range of about f2.0-f2.8. We like to intentionally have sprinkles of light in the backdrop that will create beautiful mottling and bokeh circles in the final image. (Again, one of the best lenses on the planet for this is listed above).
Aperture width is measured in “f-stops”. The smallest aperture on a common DSLR lens is f22 and the widest aperture I’ve ever seen is f1.0. (You will notice that the larger f-stop number correlates to the smaller aperture size. This is conveniently confusing to add to the excitement).
In addition to affecting the light and the depth of field in your image, your aperture also affects emotion. The human eye dilates when experiencing strong feelings of love, attraction or enjoyment. This has the same affect as a widening aperture. By narrowing the depth of field you create a more isolated focus on your subject and this adds intimacy and interest. A deeper emotional connection can be conveyed in a photo with a wider aperture than one where everything is in focus. This is why many wedding photographers will use wide aperture shots to capture details like rings and moments like kisses, whispers and eye contact.
Typically, when we are photographing one or two people, we will use an aperture of f2.2-f2.8 and this is pretty “wide open” by industry standard! This is why our portraits have a quality that “pops” the subject off the backdrop. For detail shots we’ll go even wider…sometimes as wide as f1.8!
It’s important to adjust your aperture for photos where you NEED more of the scene in focus. For instance, when photographing a large group of people, you will want to set your aperture to f3.2 at the very widest or else some of your subjects will not be in focus.
I hope this post was helpful to you! For more about what gear we use and why we use it, visit our blog post here titled “What’s In Our Bag?”! https://ashleyandshayne.com/whats-in-our-bag/
Thanks for stopping by!
** links to Amazon listings are affiliate links and support our page