Aperture and Setting The Mood Of Your Photography

The aperture you use when shooting photos determines the depth of field (area of focus) in your photos. Many newbie photographers get stuck on achieving blurry backgrounds (bokeh) without any consideration for whether the bokeh conveys the appropriate mood of the image.

I’m guilty of it too. When I first started shooting I’d choose the largest (smallest f stop) aperture my lens could handle. A smooth, blurry background is definitely appealing and one of the perks of shooting with a DSLR but it doesn’t work with every image.

Here’s why.

Sometimes the background is an important element of your image. It might be used for framing your central subject or to add depth to the story you’re telling.


I shot the photo above with a small aperture (f 20). The background is pretty clear. Branches, more flowers, and a building can be seen in the distance. It’s an alright picture but the background elements are bit distracting in my opinion. They don’t add anything to the photo.


Of course there is no definitive answer to which aperture one should shoot at however I prefer the photo above which I shot at f 2.0 (large aperture). The flower is isolated from the busy background so the viewer’s eye is drawn to the layer of cold snow on the delicate flower. You might disagree. Perhaps you think the background flowers added to the unusual sight of a layer of snow in a blooming garden.

The key is to think about what image you want to make before shooting. Don’t forget to experiment too. Take the same shot using a variety of apertures and then compare them later once you’ve uploaded them to your computer. Keep in mind that the bokeh you will get while shooting depends on the lens you’re using, your distance relative to your subject matter, and other factors.

The most important thing is to choose the aperture that conveys the meaning of the image you intended to shoot. Unless of course all you care about is an in focus flower then you’re on easy street.


The photo above is a recent favorite. I like how the bokeh frames the red bud on the tree branch. I also have a soft spot for branches that appear to be creeping in to the frame from the far corners.


The photo above is cool too. I like the messy, snowy background. The pop of color on the tree branch looks pretty against the green leafy background. Once again the final decision comes down to what kind of mood I’m trying to illustrate with my image.


How do you determine which aperture to use?

Veronica Armstrong is an Ithaca, New York based writer and photographer who blogs at VeronicaArmstrong.com. She writes for the Advice column.
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