Photography Cheat Sheet: When to Use Wide or Narrow Aperture

With a wide range of aperture settings to choose from, how do you know when to go for a wide aperture over a narrow one? This photography cheat sheet will give you an idea.

Whether you’re just transitioning from a smartphone camera or an everyday point and shoot digital camera, working with aperture settings can be confusing. When do you choose a smaller aperture over a wider one? What effect does a wider aperture have on a photo? These could be some of the questions you are asking, so we’re sharing just the right cheat sheet to help you make sense of it.

In a tutorial by Digital Camera World, they discuss how adjusting the aperture of the lens plays a big part in the resulting image. In a nutshell, how much light passes through the lens at a given shutter speed depends on the aperture setting. You can choose an aperture either through the camera controls or through the ring around the lens barrel. Either way, changing the aperture will move the blades inside the lens to create a larger opening. The smaller the f-number, the larger the size of this opening; f1.4 or f2.8 would correspond to wide apertures, while f16 and f22 would be small or narrow apertures.

So, when do you go wide or narrow? The cheat sheet included in the tutorial gives us a summary:

Use a small aperture to:

  1. Increase the depth of field to get the whole scene in focus. This is especially important for landscape photography;
  2. Maximize the fine details captured in your photo. This will work great for landscape photos and even architectural photography;
  3. Work with slower shutter speeds when you want creative motion blur effects like star trails (astrophotography) and light trails (street photography at night).

Use a wide aperture to:

  1. Produce shallow depth of field to blur the background and focus attention on your subject;
  2. Separate your subject from a messy or distracting background;
  3. Let more light into the sensor so you can use faster shutter speeds to freeze action or avoid camera shake;
  4. Create artsy abstract photos when shooting with a macro lens by controlling which parts of the composition is sharp.

Ready to move on to the next related cheat sheet? We suggest checking out four depth of field decisions to make.