Monday, June 20, 2016


Size matters with big numbers and small holes

Small apertures (or big f-numbers) have a bad name. We are conditioned to constantly be chasing huge apertures. With a massive aperture like f/1 or f/1.2 we automatically assume quality. The opposite is often true with small apertures where problems like diffraction and loss of detail are always mentioned. However, in most situations it is simply not relevant unless you are pixel peeping. Small apertures will still produce beautiful images that can be printed and blown up large without fear.

1. Big Depth of Field

Small apertures will provide a large depth of field where you can have your whole image in focus. This is essential for landscape photography where you want both foreground and background in focus.

A big depth of field with foreground and background in focus.

It also helps with macro and product photography. When you get in close to your subject, depth of field becomes much smaller so having a small aperture can minimise this effect. Some macro lenses go right down to f/32 to get as much of your small subject in focus as much as possible.

Water Drop Photography

Smaller apertures are also important for taking group portraits. The last thing you want is to have half the people in sharp focus and the rest with blurry eyes. This is a common mistake people make when first shooting with prime lenses with big maximum apertures.

Both girls are in focus despite being a different distance from the camera.

2. Long Exposure

Small apertures mean less light gets into the camera. Longer exposures are therefore needed to get proper exposure, especially in low light. We can use this to our advantage to capture long exposure photography even without the use of an additional filter. This shot of the London Eye was captured without any filters using f/22 and is a 2 minute and 45 second exposure. This is thanks to the small aperture.

A long exposure of the London Eye. Shot without filters at f/22 for 2 mins 45 secs.

3. Star Lights

Shooting at these minuscule apertures enhances the star effect on bright sources of light shining straight at your camera. This can include artificial light like in the shot above, or with the sun in a sunset shot like the one below. There are filters that simulate this effect but thanks to the aperture blades coming so close together, and forcing the light through the small hole onto your sensor, the effect is achieved naturally.

Notice the star effect around the sun.

4. Sharpness

Apertures at around f/5.6 and f/8 are often the the aperture that will maximise the sharpness of your lens. These are still pretty small apertures although you do start to lose sharpness again once you go beyond f/11 or f/16. Again though, you probably need to be pixel peeping to notice a difference. A good fact to know if you’re looking to maximise the quality of your gear, especially in studio portraits and product photography.

5. Improve Your Skills

Thinking about the aperture you are using and controlling your exposure is an important step in taking your photography to the next levels. It will help you towards shooting in manual mode giving you total control over your camera. For me this is important because it frees you to then truly focus on capturing beautiful images.

The above article and photos are all compliments of:  

Adam Karnacz

Photographer, Teacher, Sport and family.


I just wanted to add my own comments on the use of aperture settings.  I hope you realize that understanding the use and control of your aperture changes your picture so much.  But, also realize that by changing the aperture, also means the change of your shutter speed to get the right exposure.  If you are using a small aperture (big number), it will mean a shorter shutter speed.  Please, please please, if you do not own a tripod yet, if you understand this one concept of the proper use of the aperture, then you will also understand that you will need to have a tripod for this concept to work correctly.  Take a look at that shot with the city scape and the ferris wheel.  You could not take a 45 second shot hand holding your camera.  But, notice how sharp that photo is.  A tripod had to be used to create that photo.  So, good luck as you practice your aperture settings.  You can be a star photographer as well.  

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