The F-stop is part of the three components that make up the exposure triangle in photography. The F-stop refers to the aperture setting, otherwise known as the command that controls the size of the opening that allows light into the camera.

If you’re just venturing into photography (or bought a new camera), you may be wondering where you can find the F-stop settings. Here are some quick instructions for changing the F-stop setting on some of the most popular camera brands:

Canon

  • Set your camera to “manual mode,” “aperture priority mode (AV)” or “programmed automatic (P) mode.”
  • Locate the AV button that is on the top right-hand side of the display. Adjust the number with the slider that is next to the shutter button at the top.

Nikon

  • Put your camera in “program mode (P),” depress the shutter button until you see the activated meter.
  • Turn the sub-dial right or left depending on which f-stop setting you wish to use. You will notice the f-stop number decrease as you turn left (wider aperture) and increase as you turn right (smaller aperture).

Sony

  • Set your camera to manual mode and depress the shutter release. You should notice the meter activate.
  • Turn the control dial right or left according to the f-stop you wish to use. Turning the dial right will give you a smaller aperture (high f-stop) and turning it left will give you a wider aperture (large f-stop).

Are you overwhelmed when it comes to understanding the f-stop setting? We’re here to explain!

The exposure triangle refers to these three fundamental elements that are key to obtaining perfectly exposed shots.

  • Aperture
  • Shutter speed
  • ISO

F-stop and Aperture: Are They the Same Thing?

F-stop stands for the aperture. You may hear it mentioned as F-stop or aperture, but don’t worry, it’s the same thing. The aperture is the function and the f-stop number is the actual command to control the aperture size in the camera. This is how you tell the camera to widen the opening or make it smaller.

The F-stop is technically the setting that measures the amount of light that is let into your lens opening through a hole. The larger the hole, the more light that gets in, while a smaller hole lets less light in. This is set by the f-stop number on your camera whose range is determined by the lens that you are using. Different lenses allow different f-stop numbers. The higher the f-stop number, the smaller the hole, the smaller the f-stop number the bigger the hole. This may be confusing to some at first, as we are mostly familiar with having larger numbers signify larger values. In this case, it is the opposite.

This hole that we talk about is actually a set of blades that move together to create the opening that lets the light inside. You can actually see these blades if you look into your lens with a good light. Together they form a near perfect circle and open up or shut down according to the f-stop that you choose.

A camera obscura refers to a darkened room with a pinhole that lets light in. This is basically the beginning of aperture photography and the origin of the f-stop. The camera obscura phenomenon was discovered quite a long time ago, and since then we have come a long way, but the science behind modern cameras remains the same.

When cameras first came around with the automatic mode feature, we lost some control over our exposure settings. Everyone could now take perfectly exposed photographs without having to think about, or even have knowledge about, the exposure triangle settings. The ISO, the shutter speed, and the aperture became words only used by professional photographers. This was quite useful, and it gave access to photo technology that many people would not necessarily have had before. There is nothing wrong with using the automatic mode on your camera, but learning how the ISO, shutter speed and f-stop work in conjunction with each other will make you more aware of how your camera functions and give you access to all its capabilities. Having the knowledge to change the f-stop on your camera will give you the opportunity to possess full decision-making powers of the aperture and therefore of all it’s creative possibilities as well.

Understanding the f-stop and having control over it while shooting will let you become more creative and help you achieve those great photos you aim for. Some situations actually require you to have full control of the camera settings because it may misread the environment. Sunrises and sunsets are perfect examples of this. If you like silhouette photography, mastering the f-stop is highly recommended in order to achieve those perfect shots.

You are obviously interested in photography and looking to improve your skills, and by mastering the exposure triangle; the shutter speed and ISO, and particularly the f-stop, you will develop the skills necessary to take your photos to a higher level.

The f-stop setting you choose will have an impact on the amount of light that is let into your camera lens and will also determine the depth of field. You know those great photos with the blurred backgrounds you see professional photographers taking? If you want to succeed in taking photos like these, you will need to learn about aperture and learn how to use the f-stop on your camera.

The f-stop scale is measured in numbers and can be as low as f/1.2 or as high as f/22 (or even higher on certain cameras). Let’s look into what these numbers mean and the impact that they have on your final image results.

It’s not all that complicated, and once you understand it you will see your photography skills improve dramatically.

Remember: A big f-stop number means a small opening and a small f-stop number means a wide opening. 

How to Change Your F-Stop

Do you know where the f-stop setting on your camera is? You will need to find where and how to change the f-stop on your camera in order to take control of the aperture.

If you were using your DSLR on full-automatic mode in the past, the f-stop was set for you and you had very little control over the depth of field and the amount of light that was let in through the opening. You didn’t even have to think about changing the f-stop. When in automatic mode, your camera would analyze the environment and provide the best possible exposure using the exposure triangle features. Now that you are out of automatic mode and experimenting with manual mode or other semi-automatic modes, a world of opportunities will arise for you. You will also get to know your camera a lot better and finding out where your f-stop setting is will be primordial to your learning process.

All camera makes and models are different and their control buttons are not always in the same area. You will need to read through your manual and find out exactly where your control is for the aperture on your camera. If you don’t have your manual on hand, you can search your camera brand and model in an online search engine and find a variety of helpful articles or videos explaining how to change the aperture on your camera. Sometimes this is even easier than going through the camera’s manual. We recommend you watch a tutorial of someone explaining your exact camera. Watching someone actually go through the motions while you have your camera in hand can be a lot simpler for you instead of fumbling around trying to figure out the controls on your own.

Some of the most popular brands are pretty basic and the f-stop setting is usually in the same place regardless of the model.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common brands on the market today. Don’t worry if we don’t address your exact make and model, like we said, you can easily find this information you need in your manual or online.

When to Change Your F-Stop

Blurred Background Vs In-focus Background

You can easily set the mood for your images by knowing how to play with depth of field. The depth of field is important and will let you decide if you want a blurred background or a fully focused background. This will have an impact on the mood, warmth, and feeling of your image. This is something that the camera cannot predict. When the camera is in automatic mode, it takes all possible parameters into consideration and chooses the best possible outcome for you without really knowing what your intentions are. You as the photographer will have to tell the camera how you want your photo to turn out and how your background will look. This is taking control of a creative feature on your camera that will definitely make your photos look more professional.

How F-Stop Affects Depth of Field

The number one thing you control with the f-stop is the depth of field. When you are in an environment with a distracting background, you will want to have shallow depth of field and have focus on your subject.

If you want a dreamy looking image with lots of bokeh in the background, you will need to set your f-stop to a large aperture. Remember, this means a smaller number. The lens you are using will determine the parameters of your options regarding your f-stop. When talking about bokeh, we are referring to those dreamy background lights or objects that you see in photos sometimes. This is fully controlled by the f-stop and the lens that you choose to use.

When shopping for your lenses, the f-stop is a major consideration to take into account. The wider f-stop lenses tend to be more expensive. Always try to purchase the lens with the widest f-stop available for your budget. This way you can be more creative with your photography. The lenses with a f/1.2 aperture can provide very shallow depth of field, but tend to be on the pricey side. These lenses will provide great opportunities for you to experiment with the blurry backgrounds that make photos look professional.

There are two types of lenses on the market, prime lenses and zoom lenses. Prime lenses are designed to function with a fixed focal length and the zoom lenses are made to work with variable focal lengths. The focal length is the millimeters (mm) number that you see on the lens. The primes lenses, those with only one mm number, will offer maximum aperture and more creative options. The zoom lenses are more versatile and can cater to a variety of situations, but will give you access to the large apertures.

Remember: The smaller the available f-stop on your lens, the shallower the depth of field. A shallow depth of field means you will be capable of achieving blurrier backgrounds

Photographing People, Taking Portraits

When photographing people or taking portraits, it’s always interesting to have the focus on the person and not the background. You obviously want the attention on the person in the image and you want the viewer’s eye to remain mostly on this person and not the background. One way to do this is by widening the aperture to diminish the depth of field and, consequently, blurring the background. You will need to learn how to tell your camera where to focus in order to achieve this. Try to focus on the person’s eyes and not on an object in the background or other body part. When your f-stop number is set low (wide open aperture), you will have very shallow depth of field and everything that is in the foreground and background of your focal point will rapidly lose focus and become blurry the further away it gets.

Photographing a Group of People

Photographing a group of people tends to be a little trickier. If your depth of field is shallow (low f-stop number) and the people are not lined up evenly, you will end up with some people in focus and others out of focus and blurry. If it’s not possible to line up the people, then lower your aperture (raise the number) to make sure to get a good evenly focused image. Remember that if you raise your f-stop, the background will become more in focus and less blurry. It’s also a good idea to use wide-angle lens if you have one available when photographing large groups.

Photographing in Low Light

When you are working in low light it is best to use a wider lens aperture. The smaller the f-stop number, the more light that can get through your lens. This helps the ISO to remain on the low side and also provide access to a fast shutter speed. The higher the ISO setting, the grainier your photos will be. Sometimes you will need to raise the ISO because the light is not adequate, but by widening your aperture, you will see that your ISO will not have to go to a high level to achieve a well-exposed photo. Working with a slower shutter speed will augment the chances of camera shake, and there is nothing that says “amateur” more than unfocused and shaky photographs. Sometimes the light is very low, and even with your best efforts, the shutter speed will remain low. This is where tripods and camera stabilizers come in handy.

Photographing Sunrises and Sunsets

Capturing the beauty of nature is always a fun activity, but cameras tend to not do so well when photographing the sun and situations of extreme contrasts. This is where your knowledge of f-stop will come in handy if you want to capture what you are seeing. Using a lower aperture will help capture this moment. The higher the number, the better. This sometimes means that you will have to stabilize your camera in order to avoid shake. Because the sun is quite far, using the high f-stop number will keep the landscape in focus and provide a better overall focused photograph. Try not to focus directly into the sun but rather a little away from it. Some say that photographing directly into the sun can damage your camera sensor.

Silhouette Photography

This can be a fun project that you can easily achieve by controlling the f-stop on your camera and telling the camera to focus on the brightest part of the scene. Silhouette photography will give you moody and creative photographs. Basically, the people or objects in your photo are black against an interesting sky. When experimenting with silhouette photography, you will want to expose the background’s brightest area and set your camera to a low aperture. Raise the f-stop and make the opening smaller.

Quick F-stop Settings for Specific Situations

Here are some tips and recommendations to use the f-stop setting creatively in certain situations. When you get more accustomed to the settings on your DSLR, you may step out and try some new and different things, but these simple ideas will help get you started. These are simple guidelines that usually work well in most situations. When you master the use of your aperture setting on your camera, you may begin to experiment with more options.

What F-Stop to Use

Portraits

To accomplish successful portraits, you may try setting your f-stop to approximately f/2 to f/4. These are usually good numbers to achieve the blurry backgrounds and a focused face. Any f-stop number lower than that may result in having a blurry nose when focusing on the eyes. Some lenses come with f/1.2 capacity, but be careful when using this extremely wide aperture. It doesn’t mean that you will not be capable of achieving some nice portraits, you will need to control your focus very well. Any number above f/4 will put the background into focus and take attention away from the person on the photo.

Recommendation: f/2 to f/4

Groups

When photographing a group, remember that if you use a wide aperture (small f-stop number) you will have some people out of focus if they are not lined up perfectly. An f-stop of f/4 is usually a good idea. Depending on the number of people you have in your group, you may try to widen your aperture. Many factors come into consideration as well. If you are photographing outside, you may keep your f-stop high, but if you are in an inside setting, you will have to lower your f-stop to let more light into the camera. You may try to experiment with flash photography at this point.

Recommendation: f/4 and up

Landscape

When photographing landscapes, you will want a small aperture (high f-stop number) in order to capture as much of the scenery as possible. Shooting above f/8 is recommended in order to have a well-focused photo. You may use higher f-stop numbers, even to f/22 in some landscapes that have excellent light situations. This will provide crisp and fully-focused photographs throughout. Your goal is to have all the elements in the photograph in focus, from the trees that are nearest to you to the mountains that far away. Having a wide depth of field with a high f-stop will let you achieve this.

Recommendation: f/8 and above 

Food

Photographing food is a new trend and you have surely seen many amateurs on Instagram achieving some pretty good shots. With a decent DSLR and good skills, you too can get those shots. You will want to focus on the food or the plate and make the background blurry. To get this image, you have to keep your aperture as wide as possible. A f-stop as low as f/1.2 can be used to get those awesome shots. Make sure to keep your focal point on what is the most attractive in the photo. By mastering the f-stop on your camera you too can become a food photographer!

Recommendation: f/1.2 to f/4

Silhouette Photography

When choosing to photograph silhouettes, you will need to set a high f-stop number. The smaller the aperture, the better. You will want evenly focused photos with your subjects and the background clear. Clear, but not defined, because the subject will be black without features. Focus on the brightest part of the background and see what happens to the people or subjects. Have fun trying different things with this technique.

Recommendation: f/11 and above

Why Use a High F-Stop?

You will want to use a high f-stop number when you are photographing landscapes or night photography with a tripod. When you raise the f-stop, the amount of light that is let into your camera diminishes because the hole becomes smaller. Remember the blades we talked about earlier? When you set the f-stop to a higher number, these blades shut down and make the opening smaller.

Why Use a Low F-Stop?

A low f-stop lens is usually considered to be faster and is also usually more expensive. The lower the f-stop number you use, the more light you let into your camera. The hole gets wider with every lowered f-stop. Having a wider opening creates a shallower depth of field which means it’s a very good idea for portraits.

Experiment with Your F-Stop

Try a little exercise by taking several shots of the same setting with different f-stops to see the impact that the depth of field has on your photos. Remember to focus on the same object in every shot to have this exercise be useful.

By doing this experiment, you will see first hand what you are capable of controlling when taking photographs. Take notes while photographing and remember what you like and don’t like about certain photos after you look at them together.

Example: Place a fruit bowl on a table with a background that has many elements. Place your bowl the farthest away from these background objects. Decide the angle of your shot and focus on one of the fruit in the bowl. Set your f-stop to the lowest number your lens will allow and take a photo. Now raise the f-stop a few numbers and shoot again. Do this several times with different numbers always keeping the same focus on the same fruit. Look what happens to the background!

The more you learn to use your f-stop setting on your camera, the more comfortable you will be with changing it and it will become second nature to you. There is obviously a learning curve here. Give yourself the time and patience to learn this very important feature on your camera.

Practice does make perfect in this case.

Aperture Priority

If you have this option on your camera, you may want to try this when getting to know aperture and how it affects your photographs. Putting your camera into aperture priority will tell the device to choose the ISO and the shutter-speed depending on the environment that it analyzes all the while letting you choose the f-stop.

This is a great mode feature that lets you keep creative control of the depth of field while not having to fuss over the other 2 elements of exposure. When you are in a setting with no specific challenges present, this may come in very handy. Aperture priority mode may not work in settings that pose challenges, like low light or fast-moving objects.

We do recommend that you get to know the ISO and the shutter speed of course. By having knowledge of their functions and impact on your shots will only help make you a better photographer.

If you choose to shoot in aperture priority, notice how the ISO and the shutter speed change on your camera according to the f-stop that you give it. You will notice that if you choose a high f-stop number, the ISO will go up and the shutter-speed may lower. The camera is doing its best to keep the photograph well exposed.

Bringing Your F-Stop Skills to the Next Level

Many professional photographers shoot in aperture priority. Yes, you read that right! We don’t all shoot in full manual mode all of the time. The difference is that we know exactly the other two elements in the exposure triangle and how they affect our photography. It’s always best to take the time to learn the exposure triangle and how it works in order to fully comprehend what our camera is doing.

Sometimes the location makes it so that it’s quicker to let the camera determine the shutter speed and the ISO. The environment will be analyzed by the camera and the shutter speed and the ISO will automatically be set to take the best possible photo in the best exposure that it can. This only goes to show how important the aperture is. This is the number one element that gives you creative control over the depth of field and consequently setting the mood for your photo.

If you want those blurry backgrounds, you will need to tell your camera to do it because it will not automatically assume that this is what you want. You achieve this with a wide aperture or a small f-stop number.

Before going into aperture priority mode, you have to learn your camera settings in manual mode and get comfortable with each element in the exposure triangle. This way you will know exactly why you are getting the results you are getting. Like in all art forms, by knowing the rules, you can then break them (or cheat them).

Remember that the wide aperture you need for the blurred backgrounds require the smaller f-stop numbers, and the shallow aperture needed to have fully focused landscapes need a higher f-stop number.

Portraits and people: f/2 to f/4

Landscapes: f/8- f/22

Food or small objects: f/1.2 (if your lens allows it) to f/4

When you become familiar with the f-stop on your camera and start experimenting with the lenses you have available, you will see your photography skills taken to the next level.

Have fun experimenting and watching your photographs get more attention as your skills become perfected. Your friends and family will be amazed at your photography and you will take pride in your new achievements.

Happy shooting!

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