For Pete’s Sake: It’s OK to Stop Down Every Now and Then

If you shoot only with a smartphone, you’ll probably want to jump to the next story. This one is for camera nerds — people who like f/stops.

Still here? OK, I have a question: How often do you set the aperture to anything beyond wide open? Now be honest. This isn’t a political poll; you can tell the truth.

I have noticed among those who take pictures with prime optics attached to interchangeable lens cameras that we (yes, I’m including myself) get stuck on creating shallow depth of field for everything.

We like those creamy textures that make our subjects pop. If we’re lucky, there’s a little bokeh thrown in there as well. I’ve had more than one photographer tell me, “I didn’t spend all that money on a wide aperture lens to shoot at f/8.” Fair enough.

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But sometimes we need a little depth of field, and this is especially true when we get close to our subject. Macro photography is a whole different ball game. This becomes even more true when you are holding the camera instead of using a tripod. (Yes, I have a tripod in the trunk of the car… somewhere in there… I think.)

Plus, things move in the breeze. People teeter back and forth. All of this affects the focus of our pictures.

Then there’s the fact that the world is not perfectly flat. (Yes, it’s a fact.) For those subjects that have a little depth, such as flowers, we have to stop down our aperture to f/5.6 or more to render all of those pretty parts in focus.

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You want those stamens and pistils and petals to look good, don’t you? They will drive you mad if some are sharp and some aren’t. And you can’t achieve that when the aperture is wide open. Rest assured that the background will go soft no matter what because of the increased magnification that you’re using for the subject. So, for closeup photography, you can have it all if you stop down just a bit.

We are such creatures of habit. We have these expensive cameras loaded with buttons and dials that enable us to make every adjustment imaginable. And yet, we find a combination that we like, and we park it.

For many photographers, that favorite resting spot is the wide open aperture setting. As alluring as it is, and believe me I know, it’s OK to stop down every now and then.

We’ll just keep it to ourselves.

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