F-Stops, Apertures and Depth of Field, oh my!


I had a huge headache in college that lasted 4 years. Why? Because I had to learn all these technical things by reading about them, and looking at boring diagrams all day. You’d think in a Photography classroom we’d look at pretty pictures all day. BUT NOOOOO, they had to make it like a real classroom, with books that had lots of words in them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to read. Just not textbooks. Textbooks take all the fun out of learning.

Like I said before in previous posts, I’m a very visual learner.

I’m going to explain this in the simplest way I can – I write like a 5th grader as it is, so hopefully this is easy.


F-Stops - These are the numbers around your lens (4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, etc.) that indicate the amount of light entering your camera. The SMALLER the number, the BIGGER the opening. The BIGGER the number, the SMALLER the opening. Confused yet?  There is a huge explanation about why it’s the way it is, but let’s just skip all that and say that’s the way that is.

The F-numbers might be different on the digital display if you have a DSLR. That’s ok, the rule still applies.


Aperture – This is just the name of the opening where the light comes in.

How it pertains to F-Stops:

A lower F-Stop uses a wider (larger, bigger) aperture.

A higher F-stop uses a smaller (narrower) aperture.


Depth of Field - self-explanatory, I would assume. It means how deep the sharpness of the image gets.

How it pertains to apertures:

Large aperture = shallow depth of field

Small aperture = large depth of field


Dumplings with 2 different settings:

DSC_0140   DSC_0136

Left photo: f /25 – sharper background (larger depth of field)

Right photo: f /5.6 – blurred background (shallow depth of field)


 Flowers with 2 different settings:

DSC_0013   DSC_0015

 Left Photo: f/4.2 – Background is blurred, pink flower in background is blurred a bit

Right Photo: f/16 – Background is sharper, green plant in background is sharper in comparison to the f/4.2 image 


I wouldn’t recommend using a larger F-stop (say, anything over F/8) unless you have a tripod, or steady surface to set your camera on.  This is because a larger F-stop number needs a longer exposure time. But try it out and see what you like for yourself.

In most of my food shots I prefer a shallow depth of field, because it’s more interesting to focus in on one aspect of the photo, say, one dumpling out of the many. It leads the viewer’s eye to focus in on one object and understand what you want them to really see.

Plus, you don’t need no stinkin’ tripod for a shallow depth of field!

 Especially if you want your food to remain warm and edible after you photograph it.


Here are some wikipedia links for more technical mumbo jumbo about F-stops, apertures and depth of field.

Read it if you’re really, really bored or need to fall asleep fast.

25 Thoughts on “F-Stops, Apertures and Depth of Field, oh my!

  1. Awesome post. I’m going to experiment with my camera tonight!

  2. Gorgeous photos, as always!

  3. Thanks for the photography tips.
    I’ve given you a Kreativ Blogger award! See my blog for the rules.

  4. Great tips! I took photography in high school, but I have forgotten quite a bit of it. It’s always good to have a refresher!

  5. Thanks for the posts! Check out my site and you’ll see how my photo’s have gotten SOOO much better. Thank you!

  6. This is exactly what I needed! I just gave in and ordered a DSLR for myself, but I’m truly a beginner and will need to start with the basics. Thanks for this and making this lovely site.

  7. Kika – let me know how you do!

    Faith – Thank you :)

    Hummingbird – Thanks for the award! I’m flattered!

    Jen – Doing all this stuff for the blog has actually been my refresher course! It’s been all locked up in my brain for years! Though I still have a lot to catch up on…

    Diana – Can’t wait to check your site out! You’re welcome :)

    Xiaolu – Congrats on purchasing your DSLR! Have fun with it and let me know how you’re coming along!

  8. I have a question about f-stops. On my camera, I am unable to go below 3.2 on the manual setting. Why is that?

    Thanks for the tutorial! It really helped.

  9. Memoria – That’s probably the lowest F-stop your camera lens can go. Most people can’t go below 3.5, I wouldn’t worry about it!

  10. Great information… I just got a new compact camera. Will try this infos out! Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Pixen – congrats on your new camera! :)

  12. Ok – Thank you – someone FINALLY put this in simple terms.

    I took high-school photography and aced it, but I think during my drug years those are the particular brain cells that got fried because I’ve not been able for the life of me been able to figure out why when I take pictures of my kids that one of them are always more blurry than the other.

    Then again, maybe one *IS* more blurry than the other – something to investigate. ;-)

  13. Jesse – hahaha! Your kid must have some kind of blurriness syndrome. I’ve seen it around lately.

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  15. Phil Guhl on April 24, 2012 at 1:02 am said:

    Great overview. It is concise and to the point and I appreciate that. I do have one curiosity question, so I am not further confused: In the section with the “Flowers with Two Different Settings,” are the photos reversed?

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