A group of kids outside blowing bubbles. The foreground of the photo is in focus, the background is slightly blurred.

In our previous post ‘How to experiment with aperture’, we covered how it can regulate image exposure and give you control over depth of field (DoF). This time, we’ll help you put your understanding of aperture into practice, so you can take professional-looking portraits and landscape shots that you’ll want to show off in a new bonusprint photo book.

A recap on aperture

A close-up of a camera lens with the diaphragm partially open.

Before we get started on the tips, here’s a quick refresher on the basics of aperture. The more open your camera’s diaphragm is, the more light can enter your camera, and the brighter your image will be. The DoF will be shallower too, so you need to be mindful that only the subject of your image will be in focus. Because there’s a lot of light entering your camera, you’ve also got to be careful of overexposing your image.

On the other hand, the narrower your aperture is, the less light will enter your camera, which can make your photo darker and broaden your DoF. This means you need to watch out for underexposing your image, and keep in mind that the foreground and background of your photo will be in focus.

Creative uses for depth of field

DoF is a very important creative tool in photography. It can help you express certain emotions, and it can drive the viewer’s attention to specific areas in your image.

If you’re into street photography and you want to capture a busy scene, like a bustling market, for example, a narrow aperture will work well. A narrower aperture will give you a broader focus and help capture all the details in the scene. This is the kind of approach a photojournalist would use, where the scene talks directly to the viewer, rather than it being open for interpretation.

a wide shot of the whole market at dusk

But let’s say you wanted to single out a specific person or object in that busy market instead, like a colourful stall that stood out to you. To do this, you’d need to focus your lens on that stall and set a wide aperture. You’ll start to see everything in front of and behind the stall blur slightly in your frame. This will help to draw the viewer’s attention to what caught your eye as a photographer.

a close-up of brightly coloured baskets on a stall

Depth of field tips for portrait photography

In portrait photography you’ll usually aim to direct all the attention to your subject, and blurring the background is a great way to do this.

A girl eating an apple in a field of long grass. Grass in the foreground and background is blurred slightly, but the girl is in focus.

First, find a background with a colour or texture that you like and ask your subject to stand in front of it. Set your lens to the widest aperture you have, then focus on your subject’s eyes to make sure they’re perfectly sharp in your image.

Take a photo to check the exposure. If it needs adjusting, you can do this by altering the shutter speed – check out these tips on shutter speed if you need a reminder of how to darken or brighten your image. Depending on what your widest aperture setting is, you should be able to see the background blurred and your subject standing out against it.

If you haven’t quite got the look you were going for, give these tips a try.

Extra portrait photography tips

A little girl stood outside at sunset. The buildings in the background are blurred, but the girl is in focus.

  • If you’re already at your widest aperture setting but want to increase the blur, move the subject further away from the background and closer to the camera. The more distance there is between your plane of focus (your subject in this case) and the background, the blurrier the background will be.
  • Try a background with more texture. A brick wall or a very leafy background can create a great blurry effect, and they can add some extra reddish or green tones to your portrait.

Depth of field tips for landscape photography

When you’re shooting a landscape, generally you’ll want to capture everything in focus, so the viewer feels like they’re there.

A photo of a lavender field taken at dawn. The hills in the background are slightly out of focus.

Find an interesting landscape with lots of layers, so something in the foreground, middle and background. Set your lens to a narrow aperture, focus on something about a third of the way into the distance and take a test shot. If the image is too dark, try a slower shutter speed to increase the exposure.

Here are a couple more tips that can help you get the perfect landscape photo.

Shutter speed tips for landscape photography

A DSLR camera on a tripod pointed at a lake in low light. The camera is in focus, the background is blurred.

  • When using slower shutter speeds, it’s best to use a tripod to avoid camera shake from spoiling your shot. Tripods are great for landscape photos, and so are timers for your shutter. That way you can make sure no unwanted vibrations or movements get in the way of a sharp photo.
  • The ideal aperture setting for a crisp shot depends on the lens you’re using. Experiment with different settings to find the one that works for you, but usually somewhere between f/8 and f/13 should work well.

Extra ways to experiment with aperture

A photo taken very low to the ground on a rainy night. There are bright lights in the background that are out of focus.

If you want to push your landscape photography a little further. Why not give these creative tips a try?

  • Try shooting with electric lights in the background, like a shop sign, traffic lights or a billboard. If you want to create a blur in your shot, these lights can add some intense colour.
  • Capture something in the foreground of your landscape to add depth. It can be something as simple as a large rock, but it can make a huge difference to your final image.

As with anything creative, no rules are set in stone. But if you learn the basics of aperture and the best practices of photography, you can start to tell a story through your images.

Have some fun trying out these techniques and remember to share your photography experiments with us using #bonusprint on social. We’re sure you’ll build up a great portfolio of new images in no time and can start to create some professional-looking photo books you’ll be proud of.