Ever wonder how some images have those beautiful, blurry backgrounds? Or struggle with getting your subjects in focus? All of this is controlled by one component of the manual mode triangle: aperture.
This part of manual mode is the main reason why we are able to achieve a consistent style in our images. When we set our camera settings, most often, the first thing that we make sure we set is aperture. Then, we make adjustments on the ISO and shutter speed. Aperture, or f-stop, controls a few things in the final image:
- The amount of light coming into the lens.
- The depth of field.
- The BOKEH (Give us all the heart eyes!!!).
The aperture of your lens differs based on the lens. As you invest in higher quality lenses, the aperture goes down to 1.8, 1.4, or even 1.2 depending on the brand. The lower the number, the more open the lens is. We often say that we shoot “wide open” and this means that we have our f-stop open almost as low as it will go, typically between 1.8 and 2.2.
Let’s analyze these photos for a minute. What immediately stands out to you? Take a minute to find a few differences.
The lower your aperture, the smaller your depth of field. This means that the more open your lens, the less room you will have to focus. An important thing to note is that cameras focus in planes. This means that everything that is the same distance from your focal point will be in focus. The part of the image in front of you will be blurry, and the same goes for everything in the background.
The image on the left was taken at a lower aperture so there is a smaller depth of field that is in focus. There is only about 1 foot of the image that is in focus, whereas the image on the right was taken at a much higher aperture, so even the trees in the background are sharp.
Our favorite part about aperture is the beautiful bokeh that it creates. In case you don’t know what bokeh is, it is the creaminess and blurriness in the back of our images. The more bokeh in an image, the more our clients pop off the image.
In these sample images, you’ll also notice that the left image looks much “creamier” than the right. This comes with lower apertures and really helps with achieving smooth, dreamy skin tones. One thing to note is that the farther you are away from your background, the more bokeh there will be at lower apertures.
Now, shooting wide open is not for everyone and nor do we do this all the time. Shooting at lower apertures lets more light into the camera, and it really comes in handy for low light situations. We love using our prime lenses during dark ceremonies and receptions because we’re still able to achieve a bright, true to live style using the lower apertures.
However, there are a few parts during the day that we don’t use low apertures, simply because we want everyone to be in focus. Typically, we are shooting these parts of the day at 2.8-5.6, depending on how many planes in the image need to be in focus.
- Family formals with multiple rows of people.
- Table shots at the reception.
- Bridal party (this is usually around 2.5-2.8, simply because we are able to keep most people in one row. If we had multiple rows of bridal party, then we’d bump up the aperture.
If you found this information helpful and have been struggling with quickly and confidently setting your camera settings in manual mode, we HIGHLY recommend that you check out our Manual Mode Guide in the shop! It covers all of this and more.