Friday, January 28, 2011

How to choose an F Stop and Why

How to Choose a Lens Aperture (F Stop)
from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

One of the most important settings on any adjustable camera is the size of the hole (known as the "aperture") through which light passes on its way from the subject, through the lens, to the film. The size setting of this hole, customarily referred to as the "f/stop" in reference to a standard measurement or simply the "aperture", determines depth of field, manages the effect of certain lens imperfections, and can add certain special effects such as spiked "sunstars" around bright highlights. Here's how to choose the best one.


  1. Familiarize yourself with some of the basic concepts and terminology. You'll need to know these in order to make sense of the rest of the article.
    • Aperture or stop. This is the adjustable hole through which light passes on its way from the subject, through the lens, to the film (or digital sensor). Like the pinhole in a pinhole camera, it blocks rays of light except those that would, even without a lens, tend to form an inverted image by passing through that central point to a corresponding point in the opposite direction on the film. With a lens, it also blocks rays of light that would pass through far from the center, where the lens glass may less closely approximate (usually with various easy-to-make spherical surfaces) the shapes that would focus it perfectly (usually much more complex aspherical surfaces), causing aberrations.
      • Because every camera has an aperture, usually adjustable, and if not at least has the edges of the lens as an aperture, the aperture size setting is what is normally called the "aperture".

    • F-stop or simply aperture. This is the ratio of the focal length of the lens to the size of the aperture. This kind of measurement is used because a given focal ratio produces the same image brightness, requiring the same shutter speed for a given ISO setting (film speed or equivalent sensor light amplification) without regard to focal length.
    • Iris diaphragm or simply iris. This is the device most cameras use to form and adjust the aperture. It consists of a series of overlapping thin metal blades that can swing toward the center of a hole in a flat metal ring. It forms a central hole that is perfectly round wide open, when the blades are out of the way, and constricts by pushing the blades toward the center of that hole to form a smaller polygonal hole (which may have curved edges).
      • Most SLR cameras only close down the iris diaphragm, making it visible from the front of the lens, during an exposure or when the depth-of-field-preview function is activated.

    • Stopping down means to use a smaller, or (depending on context) a relatively small aperture (large f/ number).
    • Opening up means to use a larger, or (depending on context), a relatively large aperture (small f/ number).
    • Wide open means to use the largest aperture (smallest f/number).
    • Depth of field is the specific front-to-back area, or (depending on context) the scope of the front-to-back area that appears fairly sharp. A smaller aperture increases depth of field and decreases the extent to which objects outside the depth of field are blurred. The precise extent of depth of field is somewhat subjective because focus drops off gradually from the precise distance of focus, and the noticeability of defocus depends on factors such as subject type, other sources of lack of sharpness, and viewing conditions.
      • A relatively large depth-of-field is called deep; a relatively small depth-of-field is called shallow.

    • Aberrations are imperfections in a lens's ability to focus light sharply. Generally speaking, less-expensive and more-exotic types of lenses (such as superwides) have more severe aberrations.
      • Aperture has no effect on linear distortion (straight lines appearing curved), but it often goes away toward the middle of a zoom lens's focal-length range, and pictures can be composed to avoid drawing attention to it such as by not putting prominent obviously straight lines such as on buildings or horizons close to the frame edges, and it can be corrected in software or by some digital cameras automatically.

    • Diffraction is a basic aspect of the behavior of waves passing through small openings which limits the maximum sharpness of all lenses at smaller apertures.[1] It becomes increasingly apparent past f/11 or so, making a great camera and lens no better than a so-so one (albeit sometimes one exactly suited for a specific need such as great depth of field or a long shutter speed where lower sensitivity or a neutral-density filter is not available).

  2. Understand depth of field. Depth of field is, formally, the range of object distances within which objects are imaged with acceptable sharpness. There is only one distance at which objects will be in perfect focus, but sharpness drops off gradually in front of and behind that distance. For a short distance in each direction, objects will be blurred so little that the film or sensor will be too coarse to detect any blurring; for a somewhat greater distance they will still appear "pretty" sharp in the final picture.[2] The pairs of depth-of-field marks for certain apertures next to the focusing scale on a lens are good for estimating this latter measure.[3].
    • Roughly one-third of the depth of field is behind the focus distance, and two-thirds is behind (if not extending to infinity, since it is a phenomenon relating to the amount by which light rays from an object have to be bent to converge at a focal point and rays coming from far distances tend toward parallel.)
    • Depth of field drops off gradually. Backgrounds and foregrounds will appear slightly soft, if not in focus, with a small aperture, but very blurred or unrecognizable with a wide aperture. Consider whether they are important and should be in focus, relevant for context and should be a little soft, or distracting and should be blurred.
      • If you want great background blur but do not have quite enough depth of field for your subject, focus on the part that will draw the most attention, often the eyes.

    • Depth of field generally appears to depend on, in addition to aperture, focal length (longer focal length gives less), format size (smaller film or sensor size gives more, assuming the same angle of view, i.e., equivalent focal length), and distance (there is much less at close focus distances).So, if you want shallow depth of field, you can buy a super-fast lens (expensive), or zoom in (free) and set even a cheap smaller-aperture lens wide open.
    • The artistic purpose of depth of field is to deliberately have the entire picture sharp or to "crop depth" by diffusing distracting foreground and/or background.
    • A more practical purpose of depth of field is to set a small aperture and pre-focus the lens to the "hyperfocal distance" (the closest at which the depth of field extends to infinity from a given distance; see a table or the depth of field marks on the lens for the aperture chosen) or to an estimated distance, to be ready to take a picture quickly with a manual-focus camera or a subject moving too fast or unpredictably for autofocus (in which case you'll need a high shutter speed too).
    • Remember that you normally won't see any of this through your viewfinder (or on your screen as you're composing. Modern cameras meter with the lens at its widest aperture, and only stop down the lens to its selected aperture at the moment of exposure. The depth-of-field preview function usually allows only a dim and imprecise view. (Disregard any odd patterns in the focusing screen view; they will not appear in the final picture.) What's more, viewfinders on modern digital SLRs and other autofocus cameras don't even show the true wide-open depth of field with a lens faster than f/2.8 or so (it's shallower than it looks; rely on autofocus, not subject to this limitation, when possible). A better option on digital cameras is to simply take the picture, then play it back and zoom in on your LCD to see if the background is adequately sharp (or blurred) enough.

  3. Understand the interaction of aperture and instantaneous lighting (flash). A flash burst is normally so short that the flash component of an exposure is affected only by aperture. (Most 35mm and digital SLRs have a maximum "flash-sync" flash-compatible shutter speed; above that only a fraction of the frame would be exposed due to the way in which their "focal-plane" shutter works. Special high-speed-sync flash modes use a rapid burst of weak flashes, each exposing a fraction of the frame; they greatly reduce flash range and so are rarely helpful.) A wide aperture increases maximum flash range. It also increases effective fill-flash range by increasing the proportionate exposure from a flash and reducing the time during which ambient light is allowed in. A small aperture may be needed to prevent overexposure in close-ups due to a minimum output below which a flash cannot be reduced (indirect flash, which is inherently less efficient, can help in this situation). Many cameras can adjust the balance of flash and ambient lighting with "flash exposure compensation". A digital camera is best for complex flash setups because the results of instantaneous bursts of light are inherently non-intuitive, even though some studio flashes have "modeling lights" and some fancy portable flashes have modeling-light-like preview modes.
  4. Test your lenses for optimal sharpness. All lenses are different and are better shot at different apertures for optimal performance. Get out and shoot something with lots of fine texture at different apertures and compare the shots to figure out how your lens behaves at various apertures. The object should be all essentially at "infinity" (30 feet or more with wide-angles to hundreds of feet with tele-lenses; a distant stand of trees is generally good) to avoid confusing defocus with aberrations. Here's some hints as to what to look for:
    • Nearly all lenses have lower contrast and are less sharp at their widest aperture, especially towards the corners of your image. This is especially true on point-and-shoot and cheaper lenses. Consequently, if you're going to have detail in the corners of your pictures that you want to keep sharp, then you'll want to use a smaller aperture. For flat subjects, f/8 is typically the sharpest aperture. For objects at varying distances a smaller aperture may be better for more depth of field.
    • Most lenses will have some noticeable amount of light fall-off wide open.good thing for many photographs, especially portraits; it draws attention towards the centre of the photograph, which is why many people add falloff in post. But it's still good to know what you're getting. Falloff is usually invisible after about f/8.
      Light fall-off is where the edges of the picture are slightly darker than the centre of the picture. This can be a
    • Zoom lenses can vary depending on how far in or out they are zoomed. Test for the above things at a few different zoom settings.
    • Diffraction makes almost every lens's images softer at f/16 and smaller apertures, and conspicuously softer at f/22 and smaller.
    • All of this is just something to think about for optimum clarity of a picture that already has as good a composition--including depth of field – as possible, and which will not be much more grossly marred by insufficient shutter speed causing camera-shake or subject blur or noise from excessive "sensitivity" (amplification).
    • Don't waste film investigating this – check your lenses on a digital camera, check reviews, and in a pinch assume expensive or prime (non-zoom) lenses are best at f/8, cheap simple ones such as kit lenses are best at f/11, and cheap exotic ones such as superwides or lenses with wide or tele adapters are best at f/16. (With an adapter lens on a point and shoot, stop down as much as possible, perhaps by using the camera's aperture-priority mode – look in its menus.)

  5. Understand aperture-related special effects.
    • Bokeh, a Japanese word often used to refer to the appearance of out-of-focus areas, especially highlights because those appear as bright blobs. Much has been written about the details of those out-of-focus blobs, which are sometimes brighter in the middle and sometimes a little brighter at the edges, like donuts, or some combination of the two, but at least one author rarely notices it except in bokeh articles. Most importantly, out-of-focus blurs are:
      • Much larger and more diffuse at wider apertures.
      • Soft-edged at the widest aperture, due to the perfectly round hole (the edge of a lens, rather than an iris blade).
      • The shape of the diaphragm opening, when not at the widest aperture. This is most noticeable at wide apertures because they are large. This might be considered unattractive with a lens whose opening does not closely approximate a circle, such as a cheap lens with a five- or six-bladed diaphragm.
      • Sometimes half-moons rather than circular toward the sides of images at very wide apertures, probably due to one of the lens elements not being as huge as it would have to be to fully illuminate all parts of the image at that aperture, or weirdly extended due to "coma" at very wide apertures (which is pretty much only an issue when taking pictures of lights at night).
      • Prominently donut-like with mirror-type tele lenses, due to a central obstruction.

    • Diffraction spikes forming sunstars. Very bright highlights, such as light bulbs at night or small specular reflections of sunlight, will be surrounded by "diffraction spikes" making "sunstars" at small apertures (they are formed by increased diffraction at the points of the polygonal hole formed by the iris). These will either have the same number of points as your lens has aperture blades (if you have an even number of them), due to overlapping of opposite-sides' spikes, or twice as many (if you have an odd number of aperture blades). They are fainter and less noticeable with lenses with many, many aperture blades (generally odd lenses such as old Leicas).

  6. Get out and shoot. Most importantly (in terms of aperture at least), Control your depth of field. It's as simple as this: a smaller aperture means more depth of field, a larger aperture means less. A larger aperture also means more background blur. Here's some examples:
    • Use a small aperture to force more depth of field.
    • Remember that depth of field becomes shallower the closer you get.If you're doing macro photography, for example, you might want to stop down far more than you would for a landscape. Insect photographers often go way down to f/16 or smaller, and have to nuke their subjects with lots of artificial lighting.
    • Use a large aperture to force a shallow depth of field. This is great for portraits (much better than the silly automatic portrait scene modes), for example; use the largest aperture you have, lock your focus on the eyes, recompose and you'll find the background is thrown out of focus and is, consequently, made less distracting.Remember that opening the aperture like this will cause faster shutter speeds to be chosen. In bright daylight, make sure you aren't causing your camera to max out its fastest shutter speed (typically 1/4000 on digital SLRs). Keep your ISO low to avoid this.

  7. Shoot for special effects. If you're photographing lights at night, have adequate camera support, and want sunstars, use a small aperture. If you want large, perfectly rounded bokeh spots (albeit with some incomplete circles), use a wide-open aperture.
  8. Shoot for fill-flash. Use a relatively large aperture and fast shutter speed if necessary to mix flash with daylight so the flash isn't overwhelmed.
  9. Shoot for optimum technical image quality. If depth of field is not of primary importance (which would generally be the case when pretty much everything in the picture is relatively far from the lens and will be in focus anyway), the shutter speed will be high enough to avoid blur from camera shake and the ISO setting will be low enough to avoid severe noise or other quality loss (which would generally be the case in daytime), you don't need any aperture-related gimmicks, and any flash is powerful enough to balance with ambient light adequately, set the aperture that gives the best detail with the particular lens being used.
  10. Once you've chosen the lens aperture, try making the most of it with aperture-priority mode.


  • If careful aperture selection will be very important to your picture and you have an automated camera, aperture-priority mode or program-shift (scrolling through the combinations of apertures and shutter speeds automatically determined to give proper exposure) are convenient ways to set it.
  • Sometimes you have to compromise your choice of aperture to allow an adequate shutter speed or acceptable film speed or "sensitivity" (amplification) setting, or just let your camera choose something for you to get the shot. Do it.
  • There's plenty of wisdom embodied in the old saying: f/8 and don't be late. f/8 typically gives sufficient depth of field for most still subjects and it's where 35mm and digital SLR lenses are typically at their sharpest (or close to it). Don't be afraid to use it – or program mode (a good mode to leave your camera on for whatever might pop up) – for interesting subjects that won't necessarily stand still for you to adjust your camera.
  • Softness from diffraction and, to a lesser extent, defocus (which can create odd patterns rather than softness alone) can sometimes be mitigated by processing such as the "unsharp mask" function in the GIMP and Photoshop. This will strengthen soft edges though it cannot create fine detail that was not captured, and creates harsh erroneous detail if overused.


  • Make "sunstars" with bright points of light not so bright as the sun.
    • Don't point a tele-lens, especially a very fast or long tele-lens, at the sun attempting to make "sunstars" or for any other reason. You may damage your eye, or the camera.
    • Don't point a cloth-shutter non-SLR camera, such as a Leica, toward the sun except perhaps briefly to take a picture handheld, and even then only with a small aperture set. You may burn a hole in the shutter, which would require a somewhat expensive repair.

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Choose a Lens Aperture (F Stop). All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

February's Classes

We have some exciting classes in February.

Feb. 5th - To blog or not to blog.

Feb. 15 or 16th - A Photoshop Elements (Photoshop) class on the dodge and burn tool.

Feb. 19th - A Creative Photography class with John Holtman.

To see our latest newsletter, click here.

To Blog or not to Blog? Hmmmm

I took an online class the other day called, "9 Businesses doing Blogging right and what you need to know". Presented By Michael Stelzner, Rick Calvert & Dave Cynkin.

Why Blog?

Well according to: Michael Stelzner, Rick Calvert & Dave Cynkin
  • 51% of internet users read a blog at least monthly and over 60% by 2014 (Technorati)
  • Companies that have a business blog attract 55% more website visitors than non-blogging companies (HubSpot)
  • More than 43% of U.S. companies will marketvia a blog by 2012, up from 34% in 2010 (eMarketer)
Blogging should not only be about what your business is, but stories within your business - like behind the scenes, employee stories, etc, stories about your industry, or maybe something totally unrelated but it is important to you.

Mix up your content, invite others to speak, let your employees/coworkers add a voice to the blog, customers, suppliers, complimentary industries, well you get the picture. Collaborate with others.

What you may be trying to accomplish with this blog:

To become "the source" for people interested in what you do, the authority in your area of expertise, to create value while introducing readers to your products/services, build up your brand, to educate, discuss topics that are important to your area, to have fun - but most importantly to stay in contact.

Things that are important in a blog:
  • The theme, The look/design, The name, The presentation, The idea.
  • The Value it provides to the readers.
  • Trust. Stay true to who you are.
  • Keep your blog from turning into a sales message. Keep the sales/promotions subtle. Address the interests and needs of your audience, even if it has nothing to do with your product line.
  • Invite others of expertise to write on your blog.
  • Have a personal connection. Know your audience and relate to them on their level, talk about what interest them, use their language.
  • Educate, Inform and keep in touch.
  • Add a variety of content - videos, photos, links to others and more.
  • User friendly. Make sure it is easy to share your site, your blogs. Make sure that it is easy to subscribe to.
  • Make sure that there is information/history about you, or the business on the site somewhere.
  • CONTACT INFORMATION. This is so important but people tend to forget it.
  • Allow interaction. Let others have the ability to converse on your blog (post comments).

What if you are not a business? Why blog? Why not? Maybe you have a passion, a hobby, you are an authority on something and you just want to share it. One of the largest and growing areas in blogging is 'stay at home moms'. Blogging has created an outlet for them, a way to share what they do, what they know, their frustrations, their triumphs and more. And for some moms a pretty lucrative income. So blogging is not just for businesses.

So should your blog? Come to our class on blogging and find out if you even want to. Uh Oh, did I just do a faux pas and violate one of the rules by selling on my blog? Oh well, it is something I am passionate about and I feel is important to my customers. After all I am in the industry of educating others.....

Click here to find out more information about our upcoming class on blogging, February 5th.

Keep on learning.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

First Attempt at a Contest

I decided to test the waters and see how much people were paying attention on the social media sites by having a contest. Apparently seven of them was paying attention.. Overall I didn't think that was too bad.

The contest was simple - tell us why you think you should learn Photoshop Elements.

The rules - even simpler - there was no rules.

Even the judging was simple. I sent it to 3 people and asked them to pick their favorite and the runner up. I tried getting people involved on Facebook by posting the submissions on there and asking people to choose one by pressing the like button, but that did not quite work the way I hoped it would. In fact it didn't work at all. Not one single 'like'.

So how did the test go? I would say it was like a 'dip-your-toe-in-the-water-and-check-the- temperature, type of test.' Hopefully the next one I can get them to wade in a little further, maybe put in all five toes:)

The winner? Here is a copy of what she submitted: I tried to learn this software in another life, but failed miserably. I did so well with your Lightroom class, that I know I will learn from this class. Winning this would allow me to make the drive to Anacortes for another great class. I would be happy to grovel, if it would help. Thanks for your consideration

Thanks to all who did participate. And thanks to our 3 judges.