“F/Stops 102 – A More In-Depth Look

Understanding f-stops is important in order to create stunning photographs like this one.As a beginner photographer, you might have heard of such terms as f-stop or f-number and wondered what they actually mean.

In this article, we will dive into these in detail and talk about how to use them for your photography.Why Aperture is ImportantAs we have previously defined, aperture is basically a hole in your camera’s lens that lets light pass through.

It’s not a particularly complicated topic, but it helps to have a good mental concept of aperture blades in the first place.Yes, aperture blades, which are also known as the diaphragm in optics.Take a look inside your camera lens.

If you shine a light at the proper angle, you’ll see something that looks like this:These blades form a small hole, almost circular in shape — your aperture.

They also can open and close, changing the size of the aperture.That is an important concept!

Often, you’ll hear other photographers talking about large versus small apertures.

They will tell you to “stop down” (close) or “open up” (widen) the aperture blades for a particular photo.As you would expect, there are differences between photos taken with a large aperture versus photos taken with a small aperture.

Aperture size has a direct impact on the brightness of a photograph, with larger apertures letting in more light into the camera compared to smaller ones.

However, that isn’t the only thing that aperture affects.The other more important impact is depth of field – the amount of your photo that appears to be sharp from front to back.

For example, the two illustrations below have different depths of field, depending on the size of aperture:Adjusting your aperture is one of the best tools you have to capture the right images.

You can adjust it by entering your camera’s aperture-priority mode or manual mode, both of which give you free rein to pick whatever aperture you like.

That is why I only ever shoot in aperture-priority or manual modes!Before you try it out for yourself, though, there are a few other things you might want to know.What is F-Stop?The f-stop, which is also known as the f-number, is the ratio of the lens focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil.

In very simple language, f-stop is the number that your camera shows you when you change the size of the lens aperture.You might have seen this in your camera before.

On your camera’s LCD screen or viewfinder, the f-stop looks like this: f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, and so on.

These are just examples of different f-stops, and you might come across much smaller numbers like f/1.2 or much larger ones like f/64.Aperture is labeled in f-numbers.

Actually, this is one of the most important parts about aperture: it’s written as a fraction.You can think of an aperture of f/8 as the fraction 1/8 (one-eighth).

If you ever read an article online that ignores this simple fact, you’ll be very confused.Pop quiz: Which aperture is larger — f/8 or f/22?You already know the answer to this question, because aperture is a fraction.

So, f/8 is the larger aperture.If someone tells you to use a large aperture, they’re recommending an f-stop like f/1.4, f/2, or f/2.8.

If someone tells you to use a small aperture, they’re recommending an f-stop like f/8, f/11, or f/16.See the below diagram that shows different sizes of aperture to understand:As you can see, an f-stop like f/2.8 represents a much larger aperture opening than something like f/16.What Does the “f” Stand For?A lot of photographers ask me an interesting question: What does the “f” stand for in f-stop, or in the name of aperture (like f/8)?Quite simply, the “f” stands for “focal length”.

When you substitute focal length into the fraction, you’re solving for the diameter of the aperture blades in your lens.

(Or, more accurately, the diameter that the blades appear to be when you look through the front of the lens).For example, say that you have an 80-200mm f/2.8 lens fully zoomed out to 80mm.

If your f-stop is set to f/4, the diameter of the aperture blades in your lens will look exactly 20 millimeters across (80mm / 4), whereas at f/16, the diameter will be reduced to mere 5 millimeters (80mm / 16).This is a cool concept.

Physically, at f/4, your aperture blades are open much wider, as shown below:Which F-Stop Values Can You Actually Set?Unfortunately, you can’t just set any f-stop value that you want.

At some point, the aperture blades in your lens won’t be able to close any smaller, or they won’t be able to open any wider.Typically, the “maximum” aperture of a lens, which is also often referred to as “wide-open” aperture, will be something like f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2, f/2.8, f/3.5, f/4, or f/5.6.A lot of photographers really care about the maximum aperture that their lenses offer.

Sometimes, they’ll pay hundreds of extra dollars just to buy a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 rather than f/4, or f/1.4 rather than f/1.8.Why is large maximum aperture in a lens so important?

Because a lens with a larger maximum aperture lets more light into the camera.

For example, a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 lets in twice as much light when compared to a lens with a maximum aperture of f/4.0.

This difference could be a big deal when shooting in low-light conditions.Since people care so much about maximum aperture, camera manufacturers decided to include that number in the name of the lens.

The largest aperture it offers is f/1.8.I took this photo at f/1.8 with the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 lens.

With a large aperture (and a tripod) you can practically see in the dark.If you have a 50mm f/1.4 lens, the largest aperture you can use is f/1.4.

Professional constant aperture zoom lenses like a 24-70mm f/2.8 will have f/2.8 as their maximum aperture at every focal length.

Whereas cheaper consumer-grade lenses such as 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 will have their maximum aperture change depending on focal length.

In between is a gradual shift from one to the other.Photographers generally don’t care as much about the smallest or “minimum” aperture that the lens allows, which is why manufacturers don’t put that information in the name of the lens.

A lens’s smallest aperture is typically something like f/16, f/22, or f/32.F-Stop and Depth of FieldAlong with the amount of light a lens aperture allows, it has one other huge effect on your photos – depth of field.I always find that it’s easiest to understand depth of field by looking at photos, such as the comparison below.

In this case, I used a relatively large aperture of f/4 for the photo on the left, and an incredibly small aperture of f/32 for the photo on the right.

The thickness of the glass changes depending upon your aperture.

Also, depth of field falls off gradually rather than dropping sharply, so the window glass analogy is definitely a simplification.This is why portrait photographers love f-stops like f/1.4, f/2, or f/2.8.

If you want a shallow focus effect, set a large aperture like f/1.4.

That’s what I used here in order to capture this cat’s eyes as sharp as possible, while rendering the background extremely out of focus.

(This also works for portraits, or any other subject.)On the flip side, you should be able to see why landscape photographers prefer using f-stops like f/8, f/11, or f/16.

If you want your entire photo sharp out to the horizon, this is what you should use.This might not be as exciting as cat photography, but I still like it!

Each step down lets in half as much light: f/1.4 (very large opening of your aperture blades, lets in a lot of light) f/2.0 (lets in half as much light as f/1.4) f/2.8 (lets in half as much light as f/2.0) f/4.0 (etc.) f/5.6 f/8.0 f/11.0 f/16.0 f/22.0 f/32.0 (very small aperture, lets in almost no light)These are the main aperture “stops,” but most cameras and lenses today let you set some values in between, such as f/1.8 or f/3.5.If you’d prefer to see that information in a chart, here you go:f/1.4f/2.0f/2.8f/4.0f/5.6f/8.0f/11.0f/16.0f/22.0Very large apertureLarge apertureLarge apertureModerate apertureModerate apertureModerate apertureSmall apertureSmall apertureVery small apertureLets in a huge amount of lightHalf as much lightHalf as much lightHalf as much lightHalf as much light (a very “medium” aperture)Half as much lightHalf as much lightHalf as much lightHalf as much light (by which point your photos are very dark)Very thin depth of fieldThin depth of fieldThin depth of fieldModerately thin depth of fieldModerate depth of fieldModerately large depth of fieldLarge depth of fieldLarge depth of fieldVery large depth of fieldUsually, the sharpest f-stop on a lens will occur somewhere in the middle of this range — f/4, f/5.6, or f/8.

However, sharpness isn’t as important as things like depth of field, so don’t be afraid to set other values when you need them.

There’s a reason why your lens has so many possible aperture settings.Other Effects of F-StopThe second page of our aperture article dives into every single effect of aperture in your photos.

It includes things like diffraction, sunstars, lens aberrations, and so on.

However, as important as all that is, it’s not what you really need to know – especially at first.Instead, just know that the two biggest reasons to adjust your aperture are to change brightness (exposure) and depth of field.

They have the most obvious impact on your images, and you can always read about the more minor effects later.ConclusionHopefully, you now have a good sense of f-stop and the ways it affects your photos.

To recap: F-stop (aka f-number) is the number that you see on your camera or lens as you adjust the size of your aperture.

Since f-stops are fractions, an aperture of f/2 is much larger than an aperture of f/16.

Just like the pupil in your eye, a large aperture lets in a lot of light.

If it’s dark out, and you don’t have a tripod, you’ll want to use a large aperture, something like f/1.8 or f/3.5.

Your lens has a maximum and minimum aperture that you can set.

For something like the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens, the maximum aperture is f/1.8, and the minimum aperture is f/16.

In addition to the amount of light aperture passes through, it also affects depth of field – how much of the image appears to be in focus.

Large apertures like f/1.8 have a very thin depth of field, which is why portrait photographers like them so much.

Landscape photographers prefer using smaller apertures, like f/8, f/11, or f/16, to capture both the foreground and background of a scene as sharp as possible at the same time.

There are other effects of aperture, too, but exposure and depth of field are generally the most important.That’s it!

If you understand the basic bullet points, you’ve got the basics of f-stop and aperture.Of course, putting everything into practice is another matter.

Even if this entire article makes sense for now, you’ll still need to take hundreds of photos in the field, if not thousands, before these concepts become completely intuitive.Luckily, you have the building blocks.

Aperture and f-stop aren’t complicated topics, but they can seem a bit counterintuitive for photographers who are just starting out.

Hopefully, this article clarified some of the confusion, and you now have a better understanding of the fundamentals of aperture.Below are some examples of photographs captured at different f-stops from f/2.8 to f/16, to give you an idea of how they are used in the field:Taken at a large aperture of f/2.8, which provides a shallow focus effect.Taken at f/8, a relatively medium aperture value.

In this case, since there was no foreground right next to my lens, every part of this image (from front to back) is very sharp.Taken at a small aperture of f/16.

Here, my foreground was so close to the lens that I needed a huge depth of field.

When I picked up my Pentax film camera – required equipment for my first university-level photography course – I had no idea what an f/stop was.

We’re here to help, with all the ins and outs you need to know about camera aperture and f-stops.

F/Stops 101 – A Concise Guide to Understanding Aperture

F/Stops 101 – A Concise Guide to Understanding Aperture

F/stops or f-stops measure how much light enters your camera’s lens, and therefore how bright your exposure will be.

Depth of field and other results are also affected by the f-stop.

How do you use f-stops in photography?

To understand f-stops, you first have to understand aperture.

The aperture is the “hole” that allows light through the lens.

Rotating blades inside the lens open to your desired aperture size when you press the shutter button.

Your camera’s lens functions much like your eye.

When it’s dark, your pupil dilates to let in more light.

When it’s brighter, your pupil contracts to allow less light to reach your retina.

Your camera’s aperture has the exact same function.

You can increase its diameter to increase the amount of light entering the camera, and vice versa.

Each “stop” doubles or halves the amount of light entering the camera.

Most modern cameras also facilitate 1/2 and 1/3 stops.

So, moving 1/3 stop from f/9 to f/8 increases the amount of light by just 1/3.

Remember, smaller numbers indicate a larger aperture, while bigger numbers mean a smaller aperture.

It seems backward, but it is an important fact to memorize when you start using aperture photography.

Do I Need to Change the Aperature on My Camera?

Do I Need to Change the Aperature on My Camera?

Whether you need to adjust your aperture depends on two factors – the type of camera you are using and the type of photo you wish to capture.

Point-and-shoot cameras and automatic settings on DSLR cameras determine the ideal f-stop for you.

In this case, you don’t have to worry about setting the aperture.

You can also change the aperture to achieve different effects, as when shooting long exposures or blurring moving objects (such as running water).

Some, but not all, lenses have an f-stop selection ring.

Some cameras, like the manual film Pentax mentioned at the outset, require manual manipulation of the f-stop in order to take clear, properly exposed photos.

Many of these cameras have a built-in sensor to test whether your f-stop and shutter speed combination will result in a good exposure.

On my Pentax, for example, I held the shutter release button halfway and looked for a tiny light in the viewfinder – green meant I was good to go, while red indicated that too little light was entering the camera.

If your manual camera doesn’t have an indicator light, you’ll want to refer to an f-stop-shutter speed chart to ensure ideal settings.

What Aperture Settings Are Best?

What Aperture Settings Are Best?

The following list describes common photography scenarios and recommended f-stops.

f/1.2 to f/2.8 – Low light scenarios and portrait photography.

The shallow depth of field makes the portrait subject stand out against the blurred background.f/4 to f/8 – Works well for most scenarios.

Offers contrast and a greater depth of field, allowing more objects at different distances to be in clear focus.f/11 to f/32 – Best for landscapes and bright-light scenarios.

With a wide depth of field, almost everything in the shot will be in focus.

F-Stop and Aperature Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

F-Stop and Aperature Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Still have burning questions about your camera’s f-stop and how to use it?

The most evident effect of adjusting the f-stop is an increase or decrease in the brightness of the exposure.

A larger aperture also results in a number of artistic effects.

The depth of field is made more shallow, essentially blurring the background.

Bokeh effects – out-of-focus circles of light – are also enhanced.

Another use of aperture is in reducing blur without a tripod.

When you let in more light through the aperture, you can use a faster shutter speed.

Are Aperature and F-Stop the Same Thing?

Are Aperature and F-Stop the Same Thing?

Technically, the aperture is the lens diaphragm’s physical opening.

Different apertures – different sizes of the opening – allow different amounts of light to come through.

The amount of light is represented by the f-stop, which is a ratio of the focal length of the lens and the diameter of the pupil or aperture.

Are F-Stop and Shutter Speed the Same Thing?

Are F-Stop and Shutter Speed the Same Thing?

Both affect how much light reaches the camera’s sensor or film.

The f-stop is the diameter of the camera’s opening, while the shutter speed is related to how long this opening stays open.

Every lens has a “sweet spot” – an aperture value or f-stop that results in the sharpest photo.

Why Are Larger F-Stop Numbers Paired with Smaller Apertures?

Why Are Larger F-Stop Numbers Paired with Smaller Apertures?

Think of each f-stop as a fraction.

It’s the largest aperture any camera can have.

The “f” stands for “focal length,” referring to the focal length of the camera’s lens.

If you substitute the focal length of your lens for the “f” and do a little math, you get the diameter of the camera’s aperture in millimeters.

For example, if you’re using a 55mm lens and you set your aperture to f/4, you’ll get a fraction of 55/4.

Why Are F-Stops Included in Lens Names?

Why Are F-Stops Included in Lens Names?

When a lens name includes an f-stop number, this is the largest or maximum f-stop supported by that lens.

Should I Buy a Low F/Stop Lens?

Should I Buy a Low F/Stop Lens?

Many zoom lenses have a maximum aperture of f/4 or f/2.8.

Some applications, however, require wide apertures and swift shutter speeds.

Prime lenses – those with a fixed focal length – have fewer moving parts, so they can handle wider apertures.

Larger aperture lenses tend to be more expensive, so you should balance your equipment needs against the cost.

F/stops, shutter speed, and ISO are the “exposure triangle” – the three aspects to consider when setting up your shot.

Originally, ISO referred to film sensitivity or its ability to gather light.

The higher the ISO, the better the film worked in low light.

You could stop down the aperture to let more light into your camera.

But then your depth of field becomes shallower, and you can’t get the background, foreground, and middle ground clear in the same shot.

Another option would be slowing your shutter speed to let in more light, but that causes blurriness from hand-shake.

That’s when you adjust your ISO to a higher setting.

You’ll use a flash and a mid-range f/stop.

Changing these settings is a bit like working a puzzle in order to get the shot you want.

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