Having the right aperture is very important in capturing that perfect shot. Aperture can make or break a photo depending on what you're trying to achieve. Just in case you have no idea what I'm talking about here's a quick refresher on what aperture is:
Aperture refers to how open the hole in your camera lens is. Think of your lens like an eye, the aperture can be thought of as the pupil. As the aperture wheel (the part of the camera that sets the aperture) is turned the aperture (or pupil) gets bigger or smaller. The smaller apertures allow a lot of light to gets into the lens, the larger apertures allow less light into the lens. The larger the opening the smaller the aperture on the scale and vise versa the smaller the opening the larger the aperture. The diagram bulleted points explain this principle further:
*f-stop or f is is the ratio of how open the lens is, it refers to relative aperture to lens size. An f/1.8 means the aperture is completely open, because it's smallest f-stop on this lens (the one pictured) and the hole is largest here.
*When trying to show a range of f-stops we write them like this f1.8:4 that lets you know the smallest is f/1.8 and largest is f/4
*These are just commonly used f-stops there are more in between for example you could take a photo at a f/2.
Aperture not only controls the brightness of a photo but also controls the depth of field (commonly referred to as DOF). The depth of field is what is in focus in a photo. A shallow or small depth of field happens when you have a smaller aperture. On the opposite side of this is a larger depth of field happens when you have a larger aperture. So if you want to take a photo of a person with the background blurry you would use a smaller aperture to get a shallow depth of field.
I know what you're thinking that's a little tricky. I gotcha covered here are a few diagrams to help illustrate what I'm talking about:
Now that we know what aperture is we can get to fun stuff (time to let out squeals of joy) of how to use it in your photography. I shoot in primarily in two categories Portraits and Concert/Festival in these areas it's best to work with a small aperture. There are times when you may want to use larger apertures but the bulk of the work is done on the smaller side. The aperture you use also depends on your style as a photographer. It also changes depending on the lens you use because certain lenses do not have a wide aperture range, for example, Canon's 75-300mm lens only has an f 4:5.6. I'm first going to talk about shooting concerts then I'll talk about shooting portraits:
Concerts and Aperture:
If you're shooting in a small clubs you're probably going to stay between f 1.8:2.8. Why? Because these are what is referred to as low light situations meaning that the amount of available light (light that can be used) is low. Since it is a low light situation shooting here is where a photographer's skills are really put to the test. A lot of the time there may be 2 stage lights that are red. Red lights are the worst for this kind of photography because red light is extremely soft and it discolors the skin but that's another blog post all together. Because of these challenges having your lens wide open really help to get a nice exposure.From a stylistic point of view having a shallow depth of field really makes the artist pop. You want to get all of the face in focus and have the tips of the ear start to blur away to give a nice crisp look. What f-stop you will use can change from venue to venue, it can even change from artist to artist sharing a stage depending on the lighting arrangement they have. A good way to remember what aperture work best: the lower the lighting the smaller the f-stop. After a while you will start to develop a habit of using one or maybe 2 f-stops until then play around with different ones until you find what works.
For shooting in larger venues you would want to use an f 1.8:4. I tend to use a f/1.8 or f/4 and nothing in between. That is just a personal preference you can use whatever best suits your style and the lighting conditions you find yourself in. Even though, there is slightly more lighting here than in a small club it still can be tricky trying to get the best shot(I once shot a show where they turned the lights off for a whole song, think about how many shots you can miss in that situation). Whether it's the lighting guy who seems to know nothing about lighting (this happens when a sound engineer that has no light training is put in charge(they should know both doesn't always work out that way)), or maybe one who refuses change lighting color throughout the set we as photographers have to figure out how to best use what we are given. Try setting your f-stop to f/4.5 and work your way down to f/1.8 as needed.
Festivals are a place where you really get to play around aperture. There is enough light here that your concerns are more about the depth of field and not whether you're getting enough light. Though lots of photographers still like use smaller f-stops f/1.8:4 you don't have to. It may even be counter-intuitive to use f/1.8 because you risk your photos being over exposed. That happens when the camera is getting too much light to compensate you have to raise the shutter speed if you don't want to do that use a higher f-stop. Here there is an enough light you could keep a f/4.5 the whole day and never change it. I've taken some great shots at a f/4.5 or f/5 that accomplished what I wanted. Sometimes there's really cool stuff on stage behind the artist and you want that in focus as well. The point is just because the rule of thumb for concert photography is to use the smallest f-stop possible it doesn't mean you have to. Learn your camera and go experiment with aperture you will be amazed at what you can do by changing this one setting.
Portraits and Aperture:
With portraits, you are not really worrying about how much light you have because you're either using studio lights or your outside using natural light, though there are the occasions you're using the light in a room or natural light coming in through a window, the bulk of it is studio or outdoors. Most portraits are taken at an f-stop no bigger than f/4.5 because of the depth of field. You want the person to the main focus of the photo, using the smaller f-stops help to keep the noise of the background out. Think back to graph earlier in this post with the little man and the changing focus of the background. Ask yourself is the background something you want in focus or will it distract from the subject? Doing that can help you figure out which f-stop is best for your goals. Take a friend or prop outside and play around with the different f-stops. Really learn what different f-stops look like that way when it's time for a shoot you don't have to question whether your depth of field is too shallow or too large for your goal. Don't be afraid to take a risk with your photos, you can learn a lot by experimenting with different f-stops.
As you can see I really like to use f4:4.5 and f/1.8. What are your favorite apertures to use and why?
Ashley is a Virginia based photographer living her dreams of shooting concerts & interesting people. When she's not shooting or writing for the blog you can find her curled up with a good book and a latte (coffee keeps her going).