Home Camera Settings How to Choose the Right Aperture (f-stop) Camera Setting for Your Photograph

How to Choose the Right Aperture (f-stop) Camera Setting for Your Photograph

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If you’re a beginner photographer you may be wondering how to choose the right aperture setting (f-stop) when taking a photo. When you turn the dial on your camera you see numbers like 5.6, 8, 16, 22 but don’t know what makes them different.

In this tutorial, we’re going to take the mystery out of the aperture setting and teach you how to know which is the right aperture (f-stop) you should choose in any situation.

A Quick Definition of Aperture

Aperture is a hole within a lens, through which light travels into the camera body. The aperture setting (f-stop) determines how large or small that hole is. The size of the aperture has a direct impact on the depth of field, which is the area of the image that appears sharp. For a complete explanation of aperture read our post Understanding Aperture.

Choosing the Right Aperture Setting for Your Photograph

After reading the above paragraph you now know that aperture affects depth of field within your photo. Before you ever touch the shutter button you need to make a decision on how important the depth of field is for a particular shot. Depending on if you need shallow depth of field or large depth of field will determine which are the right aperture range of f-stops for you to choose. If depth of field is not a major concern than another set of f-stops can be chosen.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of when to choose certain apertures on your camera.

Choosing f/1.4 and lower to f/5.6

These f-stops are used when shallow depth-of-field is very important. These are the right aperture choice if your goal is to isolate a subject from its background. These f-stops allow you to keep the main subject in focus while the background becomes blurred. These f-stops are great for portrait shots or close ups of small objects, like flowers, birds, etc.

photo sample of f/1.4 to f/5.6
Notice how in these portrait photos a low f-stop was used to blur the background and reduce distractions from the main subject. Photos by Tambako the Jaguar and Marina & Enrique

Choosing f/8 to f/11

These f-stops are used when depth-of-field within a photo does not matter. You are not going for a particular look and are more focused on capturing an overall nice shot. This is usually the case when shooting a  scene that does not have a lot of depth between the background and main subject (most everything within the scene is equal distance from the camera.) An example of this would be a  man standing against a brick wall or a woman sitting on the hood of a car (The people and background elements are on equal field planes.)

photo sample of f/8 to f/11
Notice how in these photos a medium f-stop was chosen because the subjects are relatively close to the objects in the background (a car and a backdrop). Photo by Refracted Moments and the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Choosing f/16 to f/32 and higher

These f-stops are used when large depth-of-field is very important. These are the right aperture choice if your goal is to capture a scene with a lot of depth and have everything in focus from the foreground to the background. An example would be a landscape photo with flowers in the foreground and a mountain range in the background. Since there is a large distance (many miles) between the foreground and background it’s important to choose an aperture that can render everything in focus.

photo sample of f/16 to f/22
Notice how in these photos a higher f-stop was chosen because there are elements in the foreground and background that are important and a large depth of field is required for a good shot. Photos by palestrina55 and evancparker

We hope you enjoyed this article on how to choose the right aperture (f-stop) for your photograph. If you have any questions or want to share your experiences choosing f-stops please make a comment below.

One Comment

  1. […] How to Choose the Right Aperture (f-stop) for Your Photograph – this brief article discusses the differences that can be realized by using differing f-stops in your photography.  This is a great primer article that shares a few technical details that are accompanied by example photographs, giving the reader a really great oversight on how to use this camera setting properly. […]

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