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Understanding Aperture Part 2 | Day 6

31daysphotoWelcome back to Day 6 of 31 Days to a Better Photo. Are we flexing those brain muscles, yet? Remember, anything worth knowing is worth working at. It’s okay if you read this series wide-eyed and overwhelmed at first. Most people don’t conquer the world of photography in 31 Days. I encourage you to subscribe and come back often.

Yesterday we learned that aperture means opening, and refers to the how wide or narrow the lens opens. We know that wide apertures are represented by low f/#, and small apertures are represented by big f/#. We know aperture is measured in f-stops – with most lenses on the market capable of somewhere as low as f/1.2 and as high as f/22.

f-stop scale: f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32

The scale above is listed in full stops. Your camera may have one- half stops, one-third stops or even one-quarter stops in between those listed. There are also additional stops beyond those listed, but not ones you’ll likely encounter in the prosumer market. This means that many of us can shoot with an f/1.8 or f/2.2 or an f/14 or f/18 and we aren’t limited to full stop numbers on the scale. Play with your camera and lenses – different lenses will allow different max-apertures.

nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens and 85mm f/1.8 lens

The 50mm f/1.4 has a maximum aperture of f/1.4. The 85mm f/1.8 has a maximum aperture of f/1.8.

We also know that aperture and depth of field are BFFs. Let’s tackle that relationship today. Ready? Buckle up!

You know those beautiful images with the blurry background that just melts like butter? Well that buttery, melted, blurry goodness is called bokeh. And the jury is still out on the pronounciation of that one. Most say “BOW-kuh”, “boo-KAY” or “BOW-kay”. Me? I just type it so I don’t endure the scorn of any adamant party. Bokeh is created by shooting wide open – a large aperture and shallow depth of field – blurring out everything in the background.

newborn photography shallow depth of field

The aperture on this photo is f/1.6. Baby Paisley’s face, sweet little piggies and hands are in focus. Everything in front of and behind that plane is out of focus. See the beautiful bokeh of the fabric behind her?

einstein and trouble shallow depth of field

This photo of my boys is shot at f/3.5. Einstein, my oldest son, is tack sharp. Trouble, my baby, is slightly behind him and isn’t as tightly focused. Check out the buttery bokeh behind the boys. I have NO explanation for the tattoo on his forehead. Boys!

Distance also affects depth of field. If you are farther away from your subject shooting at f/1.4, the band of focus is wider than if you were right up next to your subject. Likewise, if you were several miles away, you could shoot an entire mountain range in focus at a f/22. For the purpose of this blog, I won’t tackle the halves and doubles of DOF and distance. But I encourage you to research this when you’re ready.

This is why some photographers are successful with lenses like the Canon L-series f/1.2 and some cannot shoot with it. If you typically shoot close to your subject, the margin of error is great. At 3 feet away shooting at f/1.2, the depth of field is only about 3/4″. However, you could back up another 10 feet – you have about 18″ total depth of field.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap up aperture and depth of field and I have a shooting assignment for you all! Get those cameras ready!

Please visit my girls who are sharing this 31 Days journey with us:

31 Days of Grace :: Chatting at the Sky
31 Days to an Inspired Table :: My First Kitchen
31 Days to a Less Messy Nest :: Nesting Place
31 Days of Living Simply :: Remodeling This Life
31 Days of Autumn Bliss :: The Inspired Room
31 Days to More. . .With Less :: Beauty and Bedlam
31 Days to a Better Photo :: My 3 Boybarians
31 Days to Stress Free Entertaining :: Reluctant Entertainer


  1. darcy, your daily posts are TRULY informative! i think i’ve learned more in the past few days from you than i have learned in weeks of going to my class!! your explanations are clear and i love how you have photos examples to back up what you are discussing!! can’t wait for the shooting assignment!!

  2. “distance also affects depth of field”

    I have heard this said but never explained and now I get it. Thanks!

  3. you are awesome.

    don’t know if this will make sense, hope so, i know how to get the whole bokeh background and all (thanks to the hubs) i’ve just never understood it (i honestly didn’t want to know they whys, just the hows, they whys make my head hurt ha!)

    but this, the way you write it, explain it, just made it all click.

  4. This is such a great series, thank you! I keep coming back to it & know I will until all of the concepts sink in from practice. I also agree with the previous comment regarding DOF and distance, that makes total sense, but I had not heard it before, thanks!
    Keep the great info coming!

  5. Thank you so much for this series. I’ve learned more from your posts than I have from poring over the Digital SLR Photography for Dummies!

  6. This series is awesome! I have always struggled to learn these concepts, but you have a way of explaining them that makes perfect sense to me. I can’t wait to learn more! Thanks!

  7. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to tomorrow. 🙂

  8. Awesome posts! I took a photography course in University and your posts are clearer than some of the texts we used.

    P.S. The tattoo is from the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender… things a 25-year-old shouldn’t know 🙂

    • Mike – I’m so laughing because notice none of the female commenters (like me) had any idea what that tattoo is or what would posses a 10yo to put it on his face.

      The 25yo MAN knows the answer. Now, that’s funny stuff.

      Thanks for clearing that up!

      • Haha glad to be of service. I guess there’s not much separating a 10-year-old boy and a 25-year-old BOY.

        • Actually, while reading the post, I was wondering when you were going to explain why your child had an airbender tattoo on his forehead. (I’m a 25 yo female 😀 ) But I suppose the easy answer to that is who wouldn’t want to be an airbender?

          In relation to the blog post though, this is really informative and very clearly explained! I’m enjoying reading these blog posts (though a couple years late for sure) and doing the ‘experiments’ that go with them! It makes me so excited to take pictures! Thank you very much for sharing!

  9. I thought I got it then i didn’t but I did just take some really cute pics of my girls at the lowest f/1.18 on our 50mm and I’m loving the bokeh (and I thought it was bo-kuh)

    This one for some reason is more complicated so I’ll just have to keep experimenting with it. Looking fwd to tomorrow’s wrap up

  10. I somehow lost or thought I saved but didn’t your website and panicked! I wanted to mention you in my blog post today but didn’t ‘re-find’ you until just now. I grabbed your button this time, though. Whew!

  11. My camera doesn’t go that low or high 🙁 It’s just a basic… beginner? camera… I hate it 🙁

  12. Darcy this is a wonderful informative series – Thank You!

  13. This is a piece of the puzzle that I was just trying to put together. You made it clear for me now. Thanks! I’ve heard people mention that ‘sweet spot’ in regards to aperture but I haven’t found it yet. I like 2.8 but tend to get one eye in focus and the other not! I’ve been trying to learn to use my 50mm 1.4. I have better luck with my zoom. Can’t wait for the assignments. Hoping to stretch my knowledge.

  14. Even being familiar with most of this so far, there are still bits & pieces that I’m learning. I find it very interesting how people seem to have varying opinions of what bokeh is. I don’t really care, I just like how it looks. LOL!!! Am enjoying the series, Darcy, thanks for doing it. 😀

  15. Thank you for these posts! They’re so helpful, and it’s nice to know terms for what I am trying to do with my camera!

    And the Avatar tattoo?? Totally boy. 🙂

  16. Bokeh Land is my addiction! I don’t seem to get off my camera from the Aperture button. I know this is bad! But that’s why I’m here to see if I can expand my horizon, lol. It’s also very tricky for me when I’m shooting at the widest aperture with my lens which is a 35mm f/1.8, because I get a lot of overexposed photos at this f stop. Is there anyway I can avoid this? I want to be able to get tack sharp images, but at the same time have a well exposed photo with a beautiful DOF.

    • There’s more about this in days to come – but if you’re getting a lot of overexposed images, you need to shoot at a lower ISO and fast. Pull down your ISO as low as you can and shoot fast. Make sure you’re metering on the subject and not shadows or your camera will misled you. 🙂

      • Well I’m so happy there’s more about this in days to come. Thanks a bunch! I am not too familiar with the metering-I know is there, but it scares me to be honest with you. I don’t know why. I have to learn this asap, maybe this is the reason why I’m getting too many overexposed images. I am looking forward to the rest of the lessons.

        Thanks Darcy!


      • This is good info for me too. I live in Phoenix (aka 360 sunny days/year) and shooting outside my pics are always overexposed even if I turn the white balance to sunny. Have to try bringing down the ISO a bit next time.

  17. Hello & thanks so much for this informative series! I’m wondering if you have any insight on shooting several kids together (I’ll be shooting a group of 10 cousins soon) – and I would like each kid to be in focus, but still obtain some bokeh as well. How do you focus when there are several people in a shot?


  18. So I’m just catching up and now have read Day 7; guess I should have waited a bit before asking my question! LOL

  19. Super helpful post! Thanks for writing this. I just have one question. When you say standing back another 10 feet would give you 18 inches of DOF…are you saying 18 inches on the actual photo print? or actual physical space of your subjects? Was just a little confused by this. Thanks!

    • DOF is depth of field. It refers to the amount of the photo that is in focus. So backing way up increases the depth of field, or the amount within the photo that is in focus. The closer you are, the same aperture creates a smaller or narrower depth of field.

      It cannot affect the print size or anything like that. I think if you Googled “depth of field” it would help explain the concept.

      Good luck! 🙂

  20. Finely!!!!
    I’m actually getting it!
    I have a Canon DSLR for a week and I’m actually started to use the M mode.
    Thank you so much for this!

  21. Hi, I just started learning how to use dslr. So, what’s the solution if we want to hv focus on both of your boys in the pic but hving blurred background? Thanks.


  1. […] point is captured with the aperture wide open and a shallow depth of field. Huh? I’ll let Darcy explain it. I’m just thrilled to capture […]

  2. […] Day 6: Understanding Aperture, Part 2 […]