How To Use Aperture to Create Moody and Emotional Photos

I didn't understand aperture for the longest time. But when it finally clicked, I realized how damn simple it actually is! I've had many people message me on Instagram with questions about aperture, so I created this short and simple video to explain aperture and how you can use it to create emotion in your photos. Check it out below!

I've also created a short text guide which includes all of the images I used in the presentation below :) 

What is aperture?

The aperture is the hole in the center of your lens. You can change the size of this hole, affecting the amount of light entering your lens, and also affecting focus. You can open your aperture (lower number) or close down into a small hole (high number). Lenses are labeled by their minimum aperture, so a 85mm f/1.4 lens has a maximum (widest) aperture of f/1.4. Here is a graphic that represents it well :) 

Why is it significant?

Aperture has everything to do with the focus of your image, and using different apertures gives you a much different look in your images. When shooting wide open (low aperture number), you can create a shallow depth of field and isolate your subject by blurring their surroundings. When stopping down and shooting at higher aperture numbers (smaller hole), you can get more focus throughout your entire image, achieving a deep depth of field. 

Which aperture is best?

It all depends on the situation, and your style. I like to shoot my portraits at wide apertures (f/1.4, 1.8, 2, 2.8), because I like to blur their background and keep the focus on them. If I miss a bit of focus on the side of their head, I am okay with that. I think shooting at wide apertures gives me an artistic touch that is very characteristic of my photographic style. However, most high end-fashion photographers shooting in-studio will shoot at f/8 in order to achieve complete focus across the entire model. Landscapes with sharp focus in the foreground and the background are also shot at high apertures in order to achieve maximum focus. 

What is bokeh, and why is it good or bad?

Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur created in the out-of-focus parts of a photo, and is produced by a lens. It can be very pleasing to eye, and allows you to render the out of focus areas in in your image in a very beautiful. Bokeh often takes the shape of balls, reflecting the circular shape of your aperture. Lenses with a wider aperture (lower number) do a better job at creating bokeh in your photos.

So, what about you? Do you like sharp focus across your entire image, or do you like more out of focus areas? What is your style?

Images Used in the Video

35mm f/2.5. A great example of where an aperture such as f/4 or f/5.6 would better suit the image. With a slightly higher aperture, we could achieve more focus in the table.

35mm f/2.5. A great example of where an aperture such as f/4 or f/5.6 would better suit the image. With a slightly higher aperture, we could achieve more focus in the table.

35mm f/1.4. Notice the focus separation between our model, and her background.

35mm f/1.4. Notice the focus separation between our model, and her background.

35mm f/1.4. With the very wide aperture of 1.4, we capture this little guys face in focus while his entire body is out of focus. This is because we are so close to him.

35mm f/1.4. With the very wide aperture of 1.4, we capture this little guys face in focus while his entire body is out of focus. This is because we are so close to him.

85mm f/1.4. This lens is a bokeh king! Look at how shooting at 1.4 renders the background into a beautiful blur of greenery.

85mm f/1.4. This lens is a bokeh king! Look at how shooting at 1.4 renders the background into a beautiful blur of greenery.

85mm f/1.4

85mm f/1.4

85mm f/1.4

85mm f/1.4

85mm f/1.4. Standing back allows you to capture good focus if you have multiple subjects at a similar depth in your image. If you get up close, you will start to see more out of focus areas. In this case, we can see how nice and out of focus the background is, while the leaves and the coffee are in focus.

85mm f/1.4. Standing back allows you to capture good focus if you have multiple subjects at a similar depth in your image. If you get up close, you will start to see more out of focus areas. In this case, we can see how nice and out of focus the background is, while the leaves and the coffee are in focus.

85mm f/1.4. This shot gives us a great example of bokeh balls - the small blurry balls you see in the background of the image. 

85mm f/1.4. This shot gives us a great example of bokeh balls - the small blurry balls you see in the background of the image. 

85mm f/1.4. Another example of poor use of aperture. An aperture of f/4 or f/5.6 would much betters suit this image. If I would have backed up a bit, f/1.4 would have worked fine. But because I was so close to my model, 1.4 wasn't enough to achieve uniform focus.

85mm f/1.4. Another example of poor use of aperture. An aperture of f/4 or f/5.6 would much betters suit this image. If I would have backed up a bit, f/1.4 would have worked fine. But because I was so close to my model, 1.4 wasn't enough to achieve uniform focus.