Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What an Aperture of F/22 Can Do for You

The first article in this series on aperture is called Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum. When I was first starting out in photography, I found it much easier to wrap my head around aperture by thinking about what each aperture category could do for me than in trying to parse out all of the values and variables and terminology. So I wanted to organize this series of posts around three divisions of the aperture range and the benefits and limitations of each. This post will focus on the narrow end of the aperture spectrum, in the range of f/18 – f/22. The other two posts about specific apertures include the wide-open end of the aperture spectrum, in the range of f/1.2 – f/5.6 and the middle of the aperture spectrum, in the range of f/8 – f/11.

These bullet points summarize the main points about the two opposite ends of the spectrum:
  • F/1.8: A larger aperture value (larger fraction) = a wider opening = more light coming in = shallower depth of field (much less in focus) and a faster relative shutter speed
  • F/22: A small aperture value (smaller fraction) = a narrower opening = less light coming in = a wider depth of field (much more in focus) and a slower relative shutter speed
Castle Geyser at Yellowstone National Park by Archaeofrog
This image is available for purchase and is featured with other national park metal prints.

What You Can Do with a Narrow Aperture

Narrow apertures are prized for their ability to render much (or all) of a photograph in focus. F/22 can be considered the landscape photographers’ aperture, as landscape photographers often employ a large depth of field to keep everything in the image, front-to-back, in focus.

What an Aperture of F/22 Can Do for You | Boost Your Photography

In this image, the f/22 aperture extends the depth of field (area in focus) from the flowing water in the foreground through the reflection pond in the middle and all the way to the structure in the background. The shutter speed of 1/40 allowed me to hand-hold the camera for this particular shot, but because f/22 lets in much less light, many landscape photographers use a tripod to stabilize the camera and to support the longer shutter speed necessary. (Read how to Maximize Your Tripod.)

Read how to get this image in the post Long Exposure Photography at the Fair(e)

F/22 is also useful in situations where you want a longer shutter speed. Moving the aperture towards f/22 (narrower apertures, smaller fractions) lets in relatively less light and requires relatively longer shutter speeds. For the carnival ride shot above, I knew that I wanted a long shutter speed to maximize the amount of blur and lights captured. This shot was taken at f/22 and a shutter speed of 5 seconds (along with a tripod and remote release).

Slow-Motion Silky Water by Archaeofrog on Flickr

F/22 and slower, longer shutter speeds are also used to make the oft-admired 'silky water' shots, like the image above. A long shutter speed creates the long, slow blur in the water. This image was shot at f/22 with a shutter speed of 0.8 seconds. The high speed of the water helped create the blur in that fairly short shutter time.

Sunglasses Waterfall by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Many photographers use additional accessories to create an even longer shutter speed with flowing water. A circular polarizer or a neutral density filter on the front of the lens further cuts down on the light reaching the sensor and requires an even longer shutter speed to balance the narrow f/22 aperture. As an example, in the image above I used my sunglasses to simulate a polarizer and achieve a slower shutter speed (1/4 th of a second).

Sparkle by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Another creative use of the f/22 aperture is the creation of sun flares, like in the image above. At f/22, point sources of light become these bright, multi-pointed stars. While the sun is usually too overwhelmingly bright for this effect, you can use sunlight filtering through an obstruction, like leaves or trees to create a point source. This effect also works well on smaller sources of light, like street lights along a darkened street. (Look carefully in the carnival shot below and you can see the sun flare star effect on the back street light.)

Traffic Trails by Archaeofrog on Flickr

The long shutter speed of f/22 works well for shots with light trails created by moving traffic. The shot above used a shutter of 15 seconds and a tripod. Both the red and green street lights are visible over the time of the exposure and have been rendered as star bursts. The cars stopped at the light are visible at the stoplight because they were stationary for the majority of the exposure, while the other cars appear only as their headlights and taillights.

Summary of Narrow Apertures, like F/22

The narrow end of the aperture spectrum, from roughly f/18-f/22 and beyond, is great for getting large swaths of your photograph sharp and in focus. The narrow apertures should be your go-to values for when you want a long exposure, an in-focus landscape or subject, or to create a sun flare effect. Spend some time exploring these apertures and see what works for you!

Christmas F/22 by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Have you read up on Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum? The previous article in this series covered What an Aperture of F/1.8 Can Do for You, and the last article explains the Middle Range of Apertures: F/8-11.

Want more posts geared toward beginners? Click 'For Beginners' up at the top or try the rest of our series, Camera Settings and Strategies:

Want to learn more? Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.
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