Aperture, Depth of Field & Shutter Speed (4 Days to Sharper Photos)

shutter speed depth of field

Aperture, Depth of Field & Shutter Speed

Day 2 of “4 Days to Sharper Photos”

After reading the previous post in this series, hopefully you have spent some time learning a little more about your camera and how it focuses.  And hopefully you’ve realized that manual focus is NOT the key to sharper photos.  

In this post, I will explain 3 concepts: aperture, depth of field & shutter speed and how they can help you get sharper photos!

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1. Aperture

Aperture is the setting on your camera that controls how much of your photo is in focus.  It is expressed in numbers like f/1.4 or f/22.  Aperture is like the iris of your eye – the wider open it is the more light can come in and the smaller it is the less light can come in.

  • When the aperture is wide open (for example f/1.4) only a small area (whatever you focus on) between the photographer and the background will be in focus.
  • When the aperture is small or closed down (for example f/22) EVERYTHING between between the photographer and the background will be in focus.

Photographers often choose open apertures when photographing individual portraits so that their subject will be in focus and the background out of focus.

As additional individuals are added to the photo, more of the photo will need to be in focus so it is recommended that you close down your aperture some to allow more of your photo to be in focus. 

In a family portrait where there might be several planes of focus, a photographer might choose an aperture of 3.5 or 5.6 to ensure all individuals are in focus.

shutter speed and depth of field

2. Depth of Field

Depth of Field is quite simply the amount of your photo between you and the furthest you can see that is in focus.  Sometimes people think that their photo isn’t sharp a because it isn’t properly focused when in reality SOMETHING is in proper focus.

Having a shallow depth of field means that a small portion of your photo is in focus while other things in your photo are out of focus.

  • Shallow depth of field is great because it helps force your viewer to focus on what is in focus and ignore what isn’t.
  • Shallow depth of field ISN’T great is when you have focused on the wrong thing or kept your depth of field so shallow that only part of what you want in focus is actually in focus.

Depth of field is determined by the aperture you choose and how close you are to your subject. An open aperture of f/1.4 will allow for very little between you and the furthest you can see to be in focus.  As your aperture numbers get bigger (f/16 or f/22), more of your scene will come into focus.  

So when shooting, make sure that you have chosen an aperture that will allow what you want to be the subject of your photo to be in focus.

Depth of field is also determined by how close you are to your subject.  The further away you are from your subject, the more depth of field you will have compared to the using the same aperture when you are very close to your subject.

If you want more elements in your scene to be in focus then raise your aperture number OR move further from your subject – or maybe do both!

understanding focus in photography

Bonus Video: Understanding Depth of Field on A Live Shoot

Amy Phipps brought us out on a live shoot with her to share tips on depth of field: 

Understanding Depth of Field on A Live Shoot

3. Shutter Speed

Another factor that contributes to blurry photos is having your shutter speed set too low for the type of subject you are shooting.

Shutter speed is the part of the exposure triangle that will help you freeze motion.  If you are photographing a moving subject or a subject that moves erratically then you need to have a fast shutter speed that will capture them without blur.  Shutter speeds of 1/500th of a second or faster will help to freeze most action that you will photograph through your viewfinder.

A fast shutter speed doesn’t mean that you don’t need to pay attention to the other factors affecting sharp photos, it will just help to freeze action that you are trying to capture.  You still need to nail your focus and have an aperture set to accommodate the action taking place.

Having a faster shutter speed will also help if you have a difficult time holding your camera still.

What Factors Affect Depth of Field

how to get sharp photos cheat sheet

Previous Posts in Our “4 Days to Sharper Photos Series”:

Day 1. Getting Sharper Photos In Camera (4 Days to Sharper Photos)

Day 3. Find Good Light & Use a Good Lens (4 Days to Sharper Photos)

Day 4. Sharpening in Lightroom (4 Days to Sharper Photos)

Do you have any questions or comments about How Aperture, Depth of Field, and Shutter Speed Affect Image Sharpness?   Leave us a comment below – we would love to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

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