Aperture Lesson: Shooting Portraits Wide Open vs. Stopped Down

Here’s a quick portrait photography tutorial that demonstrates how different aperture settings affect your shots. 

Remember all those manual photography cheat sheets that we’ve been sharing recently? Here’s how you can apply what you’ve learned about aperture when shooting portraits. In a quick video tutorial by Sony Artisan Miguel Quiles for Adorama, we see the results of shooting with the aperture wide open and stepped down, and when to pick one over the other.

In the video description, we learn that Quiles prefers to shoot his portraits stopped down instead of the more common (and even popular) style of shooting wide open. He explains this choice in the tutorial below as he shows the difference between shooting with the two.

In the first photo he used an aperture of f1.4, ISO 100, and shutter speed of 1/320. It’s common for portrait photographers to choose f1.4 or whatever is the biggest aperture of their lens when shooting portraits because it effectively blurs the background. This comes in handy if there are distracting elements in the background. However, Quiles also notes that this aperture setting tends to keep the eyes sharp but makes the skin appear soft or blurry. It could also save you time in post-processing, so that may or may not be a plus to you.

If you’re like Quiles and you prefer to get some textures to your portraits and more details of the skin and face, shooting stopped down is your best option. This is because the smaller aperture of f5.6 increases the depth of field, allowing a bigger area of the frame to stay sharply in focus. As he described, it makes portraits pop and gives them a high definition look. For the second shot, he also shot with an ISO of 320 and shutter speed of 1/200 to compensate for the stop down.

You may or may not like the post-processing results, but the straight from the camera shots should be enough to let you decide which one works best for you.

Check out the Adorama YouTube channel for more photography tips from photographers like Miguel Quiles.