Size Matters With Big Numbers and Small Holes
Small apertures ( big f-numbers) have a bad name as we are conditioned to constantly be chasing huge apertures. When a huge aperture like f/1 or f/1.2 we automatically assume quality. The opposite is often true with small apertures where problems like diffraction and loss of detail are always mentioned. In most situations it is simply not relevant unless you're pixel peeping. Small apertures will still produce beautiful images that can be printed and blown up large.
Big Depth of Field
Small apertures will provide a large depth of field where you can have your whole image in focus. This is essential for landscape photography where you want both foreground and background in focus. It also helps with macro and product photography. When you get in close to your subject, depth of field becomes much smaller so having a small aperture can minimise this effect. Some macro lenses go right down to f/32 to get as much of your small subject in focus as much as possible. Smaller apertures are also important for taking group portraits. The last thing you want is to have half the people in sharp focus and the rest with blurry eyes. This is a common mistake people make when first shooting with prime lenses with big maximum apertures.
Small apertures mean less light gets into the camera. Longer exposures are therefore needed to get proper exposure, especially in low light. We can use this to our advantage to capture long exposure photography even without the use of an additional filter. This shot of the London Eye was captured without any filters using f/22 and is a 2 minute and 45 second exposure. This is thanks to the small aperture.
Shooting at these minuscule apertures enhances the star effect on bright sources of light shining straight at your camera. This can include artificial light like in the shot above of the sun in a sunset shot like this. There are filters that simulate this effect but it thanks to aperture blades coming close together and forcing the light through the small hole onto your sensor.
Apertures at around f/5.6 and f/8 are often the the aperture that will maximise the sharpness of your lens. These are still pretty small apertures although you do start to lose sharpness again once you go beyond f/11 or f/16. Again though, you probably need to be pixel peeping to notice a difference. A good fact to know, especially if you’re looking to maximise the quality of your gear, especially in studio portraits and product photography.
Improve Your Skills
Thinking about the aperture you are using and controlling your exposure is an important step in taking your photography to the next levels. It will help you towards shooting in manual mode giving you total control over your camera. For me this is important because it frees you to then truly focus on capturing beautiful images.
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