When light is abundantly available, we have the advantage of being able to choose completely freely its aperture, of having any latitude between the maximum aperture (f / 2.8 for example, sometimes more) and the minimum aperture (f / 22, see f / 32). So why limit yourself to these two extremes?
Indeed, by looking a little at the EXIF data of the photos of beginners (in particular for Dimanche Critique Photo), I realize that it is often the extremes that are used, and not the intermediate apertures. And I understand it well, because I have also been there 😉
And there was light
You’re just starting out, and you’re trying to figure out how photography works. You search a little, and you come across this blog. Hop,”where to start”. You learn about the concept of aperture, and its influence on depth of field. You do a few tests, and there: magic ! You got it all. Now you can play with depth of field like a pro.
With a little luck, you even fall for a small, very bright fixed focal length such as 50mm f / 1.8, and the joys of very shallow depths of field are yours.
It’s pretty, so you’re still shooting at f / 1.8, all the time. Okay, not all the time. When you do a landscape, you understand that you need a great depth of field, and therefore a small opening. So you turn the dial of your camera frantically, just to get to the minimum aperture, f / 22 or even f / 32. That way you are sure to have the whole image sharp, you never know. In addition there is sun, so even closed everything the shutter speed remains correct.
Yes, but double but.
To summarize, at the maximum aperture, your optics do not always deliver its best sharpness, while at the minimum aperture (and even a little before), the phenomenon of diffraction causes a deterioration in the quality of the image.
Most of the time, to get a completely sharp image (a depth of field from a very close point to infinity), you don’t need to close all the way. For landscapes, f / 16 is often more than sufficient (or even f / 8 if your foreground is relatively far away). And to check you can use the depth of field test button (which I talk about in the articles I linked above).
This is not optimal. I will not dwell too much on this point, because you already know if you have been reading the blog for some time: there is an optimal opening of your parfocal lens.
It obviously depends on the other parameters influencing the depth of field, such as the focal length for example, and on this subject I invite you to reread the article on the hyperfocal, in which I give a link to a depth of field calculator.
Having said that, technique is good, and you have to keep it in mind, but that’s not exactly THE reason I’m writing this article. Because artistically, always using extremes is a bit caricature.
It’s not always optimal either. I got the idea for this article while I was quietly sitting on the edge of Jait Sagar, a very beautiful lake in Bundi (Rajasthan), on the edge of which Rudyard Kypling once settled (you know, the Book of Jungle ? 😉).
More seriously, I was sitting in a sort of small garden, and taking some pictures of the beautiful landscape that spread out before my eyes. I’m not much of a landscape photographer, but I know it quickly gets boring to me if there isn’t something to add interest to it, like a human presence for example. The landscape remains the subject, but humans add something to it.
Chance, 2 Indians arrive and land a few meters from me, giving me a dream subject to enrich the scene. I don’t want to change my position so that they don’t catch me photographing them and keep them natural, and I need a viewing angle that stays wide, to encompass the landscape. That’s good, my ultra wide-angle (a Tokina 11-16mm f / 2.8 to avoid questions) is mounted on my camera 😉
So the question arises: do I want the scene entirely in focus, or do I really want to focus on the subject and blur the background ? My idea at the moment is that I can use a great depth of field, because my composition has to be sharp enough that the eye gets to the subject on its own. Indeed, using a shallow depth of field to highlight a subject is sometimes a little “easy” I find.
I therefore decide to close, and without taking the time to calculate the necessary aperture, I choose f / 11 at first glance (experience helps to understand this kind of thing instinctively, but a posteriori I could have opened more without worry). Which indeed seems sufficient. You will notice that I did not close fully, because it was not worth it: my subject was at about 4m, I was at a very small focal length (11mm), in short the depth of field was already great.
Because of this, if I had wanted a blurry background, the focal length would have been too low and the focus distance too long to achieve it anyway. Even with a closer subject, I would have had a slightly blurry but recognizable background.
But what if I want to frame my subject tighter (hop I switch to Tamron 17-50mm f / 2.8), using the landscape as a backdrop. That is to say that the human really becomes the main subject, and that the landscape takes a back seat (as always, the intention is very important!).
In this case, I will zoom in (increase my focal length) and / or get closer to the subject, which will decrease my depth of field. It wasn’t my intention here, but I still took 2 or 3 pictures to show you.
If I want to get a background just slightly blurred, open at f / 2.8 will probably be a bit”too much”. We will hardly distinguish the landscape, which was not the idea. On the other hand, by closing a little but not too much, you can obtain a recognizable background. I chose f / 5.6 here. Check more here on dzofilm.com.
This is not the effect that I wanted here, so I will not choose this image, but it is to insist on the fact that the intermediate openings exist, and are not there for nothing: they are sometimes the solution for convey what you want with the image. A slightly blurry background is revealed afterwards, and can allow the viewer to be a little surprised, which always adds interest to an image necessarily. But be careful that it is a real choice, and not an accident 😉
And it’s not just about the opening
The idea came to me with the aperture, but on second thought it can apply to other settings such as shutter speed or ISO sensitivity, but also to the focal length for example: I recommend that you do not do not move at all and just zoom in / out to frame, I also advise against going in the opposite extreme and using an 18-55mm as if it were a fixed dual focal length of 18mm and 55mm.