Are you looking for creative ways to use Aperture Mode to improve your photography? Here are three simple tips for practicing. They’ll give you more control of your camera and help you create more interesting photos. Plus, they are a lot of fun to use.
- Tip #1: Emphasize your subject with a shallow depth of field.
- Tip #2 of Creative Ways to Use Aperture Mode: Draw your viewer into the scene with a deep depth of field.
- Tip #3 of creative ways to use Aperture Mode: Create a more complex composition.
- Now it’s your turn.
Tip #1: Emphasize your subject with a shallow depth of field.
Cameras will generally choose a f/stop that allows for more of the scene to be in focus if you are shooting in Auto Mode. Often, it will be in the f/7-f/8 range. But what if you want to guide your viewer’s eye to one specific part of the scene? The answer is to choose a lower f/stop number.
Creating an atmospheric shot in the fog:
On a trip to Rockport, Maine, I was standing on a dock in the early hours of a foggy summer morning. In the distance, I spotted a red lobster boat and a seagull circling above it. I wanted the viewer to focus on the red boat and the gull, but there were about eight boats in the background. To make that red boat stand out, I switched to Aperture Mode and set a low aperture number of f/4.0 (a wide aperture.) Then, I placed my focus point on the red boat and took the photo.
The low aperture number allowed the camera to focus on the red boat and blur out the background boats. They seemed to blend into the fog.
This creative way to use aperture had an additional benefit, too! With a low aperture number, more light was hitting the sensor, allowing the camera to set a faster shutter speed. That faster speed helped to freeze the gull in the sky.
Creating an interesting composition at the farmers’ market:
Have you taken your camera to the farmers’ market? There are so many colorful possibilities to shoot! But, often, you’ll come away with a photo with no real subject. This calls for a creative way to use aperture. The solution is to set a low aperture number (a wide aperture.) Then, decide what you want your viewer to see in the photo. You’ll place your focus point on that object and then shoot.
In the photo of mini-pumpkins at the Williamsburg Farmers’ Market, your eye will be drawn to the multicolored pumpkin at the bottom right. The rest of the pumpkins and potatoes in the background become increasingly blurry. I’m helping you to decide which mini-pumpkin to buy!
Telling a story with your depth of field:
For this stock photo of a happy young woman celebrating by tossing flowers into the air, I used a low aperture number to make her stand out from the background. This had an additional benefit, too. The blurry area to her right is “negative space.” A buyer can place text there in an ad or article. I can imagine it being used to advertise allergy medicine!
By the way, the happy model is my daughter.
Tip #2 of Creative Ways to Use Aperture Mode: Draw your viewer into the scene with a deep depth of field.
One of the best ways to share a scene with your viewer is to use a high aperture number (narrow aperture.) This will help the entire scene be in focus.
Share your shooting position with your viewer:
As I was standing on the viewing platform at the Mountain Station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, I was tempted to focus on the city of Palm Springs in the valley below. It would have made an impressive photo, almost like a drone shot. But I’d just ridden the Tramway to the Station and wanted to share the experience and view. (Truthfully, I was elated that I did it. I’m not much of a fan of heights! 😉)
I decided to set a high aperture number (narrow aperture) of f/14 to focus on the platform, rocks, trees, and snow in the foreground and the city of Palm Springs in the background. This brought the viewer along for the adventure!
Lead your viewer’s eye through the photo:
On an autumn trip to the Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall of China, I used another creative way to use Aperture Mode. I set my Aperture to f/11 (a narrow aperture) and focused about a third into the scene. Because I was standing at a high vantage point, you can see that the wall follows a meandering path, sometimes changing direction completely.
In the distance, you can even see the small red tram cars that we rode up the mountain. I closed my eyes for the ride… The punchline, of course, came when we learned how we would go back down the mountain: a small plastic toboggan on a narrow metal track. There were men positioned along the winding track to slow people down. As I applied the brakes and slowly descended, they waved at me to speed up!
Add excitement to a sunrise landscape shot:
When we arrived at a vantage point to shoot the sunrise near Gordes, France, we were greeted with a boring, cloudless sky. We had hoped to have puffy white clouds in the sky to reflect the rising sun. I set my camera to a high aperture number (narrow aperture) and tried different compositions.
Nothing could make up for the cloudless sky, but one of the benefits of a high aperture number (narrow aperture) is the starbursts you can create with streetlights. I made sure to include them on both sides of the composition.
A quick comparison of a low versus a high aperture number:
To illustrate the creative difference that your aperture choice can make, I took two photos of my husband, Skip, talking to an interpreter on the Palace Green in Colonial Williamsburg. For the photo on the left, I chose a low aperture number (wide aperture) of f/2.8 to blur the background. For the photo on the right, I chose f/14 (a high or narrow aperture.)
As you move the slider back and forth, you’ll see how much more you can see in the background with the higher number. I prefer the photo on the left. What do you think? I feel like the people in the background of the higher aperture photo are a distraction.
Tip #3 of creative ways to use Aperture Mode: Create a more complex composition.
Some creative ways to use Aperture Mode include layering, bokeh, and leading lines.
Creating depth in your photo with layers:
Once you have mastered using a low aperture number, you’ll want to try shooting your subject through something else, like a fence or plants.
When I spotted these two interpreters in a garden in Colonial Williamsburg, I quickly set my aperture to f/4.0 and crouched down behind some plants. Then, I placed my focus point on the women and took a shot. The out-of-focus plants, trees, wheelbarrow, and basket in the foreground create a frame around the in-focus subjects. The composition and aperture choice help place them in the garden.
Bokeh can add excitement and intrigue to your photo:
Sitting at the bar in the Williamsburg Inn, I was attracted to the bright green and yellow of the fruit layered in the crystal glasses. The problem was the background, which was very busy. So, I set my aperture to f/4.0 and focused on the lime in the front.
The resulting photo has colorful layers in the foreground, the reflected light in the background has become blurred circles, called bokeh, and I think the out-of-focus wine bottle close behind the fruit adds an element of intrigue. What do you think?
Lead your viewer’s eye through the scene with leading lines:
Walking along a street in Washington, DC, at dusk, I spotted the Washington Monument in the distance. I wanted to include the foreground path and the monument in focus to allow the viewer’s eye to follow the path. That would require a higher aperture number, reducing the light hitting the sensor. I compromised with an aperture of f/10 and bumped my ISO to 2500. This allowed a hand-held shutter speed of 1/50th second.
I had taken one shot and looked at it on my LCD screen when some movement caught my eye. A couple holding hands entered the scene and slowly strolled toward the monument. They made the perfect foreground element! If they had been walking faster, they would have been a blur. Sometimes luck plays a role in creative photography!
Now it’s your turn.
You can read more about Aperture Mode in last week’s post here: https://www.carolinemaryan.com/practical-reasons-for-using-aperture-mode/
If you’re not familiar with Aperture Mode, a great place to learn is my Camera Mechanics Workshop which will be available online very soon. https://www.carolinemaryan.com/workshops-camera-how-to-williamsburg-va/
To view my portfolio on Adobe Stock, click here: https://adobe.ly/3AssiKM.