FotoU: Using F-Stop to Create a Better Photograph

When you take a picture, there is always something that you’re focusing on.  Whether it’s a flower or a person or a fruit bowl – you want that ‘thing’ to stand out.  There are usually miscellaneous other elements, typically in the background, that you don’t care about.  The background could have trees, traffic, trampolines, tricksters (that’s all the ‘tr’ words I could think of off the top of my head)…that you don’t want in your photo.  The question is, ‘How do I get rid of the stuff that I don’t want?’  Your options are to spend an hour in Photoshop, freeze everything in time and move to another location, or use a lower F-Stop.

The F-Stop is a measure of how open your shutter is when you take a photo.  It’s like the iris of your eye – except not as pretty (that was for the ladies).

The confusing thing is that, as your F-Stop gets lower, the shutter opens wider.  This ridiculous system of numbers was created by terrorists to damage our morale.  Here’s how the F-Stops relate to the size of the opening:

When the shutter is wide open, your ‘depth of field’ gets very shallow – only the subject is in focus.  Simply, when you have a low F-Stop, the background gets blurry.  Look at this example:

F2.8                                                                                                                                F16

Notice how the distracting background vanishes and the focus is completely on the subject of your photograph.  This is a good thing when you’re trying to make something stand out in your photograph.  Here are examples of some flowers I photographed on vacation (I usually photograph more masculine items like Jeeps and wrenches):

Without having a low F-Stop and a shallow depth of field, these photographs would not have been nearly as eye-catching.  A low F-Stop allowed me to focus on just one thing.  I was able to control what the viewer saw.

To shoot with a low F-Stop, simply change your camera mode to ‘Av.’  Av stands for ‘aperture priority.’  Once you have the mode set to Av, set the F-Stop to the lowest possible number.  In aperture priority mode, the camera will automatically make the necessary adjustments to shutter speed to get the correct light exposure at the F-Stop you’ve selected.

It is especially important, when taking portraits, to get the subject to stand out from the background.  Again, a low F-Stop allows you to create a better portrait. This helps us to focus on what’s important in the image.  This next picture was taken the day before I had open-heart surgery.  I wanted the focus to be the relationship between my daughter and I – not the rocks and flowers.  I think we could all use a blurry background sometimes to help us focus on what matters.  :)

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3 thoughts on “FotoU: Using F-Stop to Create a Better Photograph”

  1. Thank you for this. I hope there are many things like this to come regarding digital photography. Have you ever thought about having photography classes?

  2. Our goal is to do something like this once a week – on Monday’s. Also, we have done a workshop at the studio in the evening. It’s been a free workshop so far. However, for the last workshop, 45 people signed up but very few actually showed up. So, it may be something that we charge a small amount for to ensure that everyone shows up.

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