Aperture is Important in Family Portraits

When you set out to take family portraits, aperture can play a very important role. As a professional photographer we produce hundreds of family portraits every year. This article was written from our experiences as a photographer to help you take better family portraits.

Think of aperture like the pupil in our eye. A larger aperture value means a larger pupil. A lower aperture value means a smaller pupil. The aperture on the camera controls two primary elements in our final photograph. The first thing that aperture controls is depth of field. The second thing aperture controls is the amount of light that is let in. A lower aperture allows for a brighter image but a lower depth of field. While a higher aperture creates a darker image with a larger depth of field.

Depth of field controls how much of the photo is in focus and how much is not. For example, imagine we have two people in our photo, and we have one person standing five feet away from us and the other person is standing five feet behind the first person. Let’s say that we choose to use a low aperture setting such as 2.8f. We look through the camera and we focus the lens on the first person standing closest to us but we make sure we can still see the second person in the photo. We take the photo, and the resulting photograph will show that the first person is in perfect focus, clear and sharp. However, the second person will not be in focus. They will be completely blurry and not sharp at all. The depth of field is small. The aperture was too low if our intention was to have both people in focus. The blur in the background is known as something called bokeh. Sometimes we want the blur, but sometimes we don’t. We can use the blur to our advantage for creative effects as well in family portraits.

For the example above, if we had wanted both subjects to be in focus, we would need to increase the aperture quite a bit. In the example given, traditionally, we would have wanted the second person to be blurred out for a nice creative effect for nice family portraits. In reality, there will be times where aperture is really important when shooting groups of people and producing family portraits. If everyone is standing the same distance away from the photographer then a lower aperture can be used. If the crowd is staggered however, for example people are standing behind one another, then a higher aperture must be used to make sure that everyone in our family portraits are in focus.

Aperture Objectives for Family Portraits

When determining what aperture to use for family portraits, there are two objectives that we need to focus on. First, we ask ourselves, how many people are in the photo, and are they all the same distance away from our camera? If they are, then a lower aperture such as 2.8f could be used. If there are multiple people in the photo and they are varying distance from the camera such as a staggered group, then a higher aperture such as 4.5f may be more suitable. Our second objective is determining how much light we want to allow into our photo. The lower aperture allows more light resulting in a brighter image. The higher aperture allows less light in resulting in a darker image.

Something else that is worth mentioning is determining what aperture ranges are available to us when shooting family portraits. Aperture range is determined by the lens that we are using. Some lenses allow for very low apertures such as 1.2f and other lenses start out a bit higher around 4.5f. The quality of the lens determines its lowest aperture capability. The lenses that allow the lowest aperture settings are often very expensive. For the best family portraits, we often want to make sure we have the best equipment available.

Learning How to Produce Better Family Portraits

Once we have made the necessary adjustments to our aperture, there are still a couple of other settings that can be adjusted to help make sure that our resulting photograph is the best it is capable of being for our family portraits. To learn more about how to adjust shutter speed and produce even better family portraits, click here to read this article. If you would like to learn more about how to make adjustments to the ISO, then check out this article here. And lastly, we have an article that goes into how to use all three adjustments together.

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