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What’s It All About?

Shooting with the aperture wide open is a really good way of taking soft, naturally lit photos, as the aperture produces a shallow depth of field which allows the maximum amount of light in.

It’s also a great way of drawing the viewers eye to a certain part of the photo; the majority of the image will be out of focus.

The photos in this post were shot on 3 different lenses; a 24-70 f/2.8, a 35mm f/1.4 and a 50mm f/1.8. Even though the maximum aperture varies, they were all shot at their maximum.

The reason for this is because the bokeh of the photo is much better. For those that don’t understand what that means, I suggest reading my article.

For the purpose of this post, think of it as the aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photograph. It relates to how ‘nice’ the background blur looks when out-of-focus.

Although the numbers 1.4 and 2.8 seem close together, 1.4 actually allows 4 times more light into the lens than 2.8.

If you’ve read my post on aperture, you’ll understand what this means but here’s a quick explanation of how it works:

f/1.4 is 2 stops wider than f/2.8: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8… for every f-stop, the lens allows half as much light in, so f/2 allows half as much light as f/1.4 and f/2.8 allows half as much light as f/2.

Because these photos were shot with the aperture wide open, a lot more light can enter, creating much softer photos.

Tips and Photos

The wider the aperture, the wider your bokeh will be. Anything other then wide open will cause the bokeh to be the shape of the aperture rings (usually pentagonal or octagonal).

It’s a great way to produce soft backgrounds like in the photo below, shot at f/2.8.When you’re shooting indoors, there’s a lot less light available; bouncing the flash off a wall and shooting with a wide aperture creates just the right amount of light for a good exposure.
When your aperture is wide open, your depth of field becomes extremely shallow and it’s hard to find a good focal point. You can choose to worry about this or, as I would advise, not worry at all.

In the photo below, shot at f/1.8, the lack of focus actually makes it look better in my opinion. Shallow DoF helps draw the attention to a certain part of the body, leaving the rest blurred.When you have multiple subjects in a scene, a wide aperture will only allow focus on one person, making it a great tool for selective focus in photography.
The photo below was shot with the aperture wide open. This kept the background blurred even though the subject wasn’t far away from it. That gives the photos an eerie feel in my opinion. To emphasise the DoF, place the subject in the scene moving away from you.
Shot at twilight, the wide aperture allowed me capture a lot of natural light in the background that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

The foreground may be out of focus but that doesn’t matter to me. Consider what’s in your foreground and how you can use it to spark some interest in your photo.

Be very careful where you’re focusing. Rather than on her nose, I focused on the light on her cheek underneath her sunglasses because that produced the best overall focus. Natural light is your best friend when shooting with a wide aperture. You can be more adventurous with placement of key features in a photo when using a shallow depth of field, as the eyes will be drawn to whatever you’ve focused on.
A wide aperture is important when shooting into the sun as the lens flare will be the same shape of your aperture – anything other than wide open will cause the bokeh to be the shape of the aperture rings (usually pentagonal or octagonal).Wide apertures are great if you want the viewer to only look at a single part of a photo.

Top Tip! If you focus on the eyes of your subject, the rest of the face will appear in focus too, even at f/1.4.
Wide aperture captures loads of light which allows you to turn up your shutter speed and take photos while you’re walking, of other moving subjects.If there’s movement in your photo, focus on the stillest part of the photo, like the lips in the photo below. Wide apertures are particularly effective if you’re shooting through objects in your foreground as it turns them to a soft blur.
If you’re going to be shooting with a wide aperture, consider what else you can put on that same focal plane and have multiplie points of interest in the photo. Not only was the camera focused on the model’s face but the flowers she was reaching for too.

20 Tips for Shooting With a Shallow Depth of Field

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Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

  • .88mm? Respect!

  • Good post Josh,

    We shoot a lot of people too, and we love to shoot at 2.8 for the very reasons your talking about, but as I’m sure you have came across, when shooting real people, not models, its hard for them to stand still or hold an interesting pose long enough to keep 2.8 sharp within a certain range. So I have moved to f3.5 or even f4 most of the time to be safe. Still ads the same effect for the most part, and now with all the post production tools at our fingertips, I find that making sure those eyes are sharp most of the time is more important than trying to get it just right straight out of camera! Cheers

  • Gemma


  • I think i spend 80% of the time at f4 and hardly ever go above f8 (unless i’m after some stars) and i’ve lenses that go down to f1.4 but find that too soft for me… And like the post above as long as the eyes are sharp i’m happy.

  • I don’t like the Jack Daniel’s photo, because it looks like there’s a big baby doll eye in the background! but other than that, it’s good. The weird background was just throwing me off.

    Great post. I’m hoping to get a 50 mm for Christmas which will really help in my aperture shooting.