If you’re a shutterbug like me, you’re always after the perfect yearbook photo. But perfect shots are relative to the elements and subjects we’re aiming at. If it’s a picturesque landscape in Yosemite National Park, we’ll want Bridalveil falls and all surrounding elements in focus. If it’s a ladybug perched on the petal of a yellow daisy, this time, we’ll want to draw the viewers attention to the insect’s red shape. And, like most yearbook photos, if it’s of a group of students, we’ll want to make sure all of their smiling faces are crisp and clear. When it comes to achieving these goals you’ll need to master depth of field. And you can only do it through use of your camera’s aperture.
What is the Aperture?
Simply put, the aperture is the physical opening in the lens that allows light to pass through. The wider the aperture opens, the more light can pass through. Want to know how to take yearbook photos, and for that matter, great ones? Master the aperture.
Cameras measure their aperture settings in what are called f-stops, written f/1.4, f/8 and so on. You can typically find the maximum aperture marked on the lens itself. What’s important to remember, is that a camera’s f-stop setting shares an inverse relationship with the the width of the aperture opening. Huh? In a dark room, with low lighting, by setting your camera to f/2.8 or smaller, you’ll be creating a very wide aperture opening, thus letting a lot of light in. A smaller f-stop number equals larger aperture opening. Remember this inverse relationships as I’ll refer to f-stop numbers for the rest of the post.
Large F-Stop Numbers
There is something else that happens by using different f-stops, and sometimes with dramatic effects. Depth of field. In the image below, the f-stop is set at f/8. Some professionals call this the “sweet spot” because it is the aperture setting that provides the sharpest focus for a lens. Notice how all of the elements of the photograph are in focus?
Small F-Stop Numbers
Now, let’s take it to the extreme by setting the camera on a wide open aperture setting (remember this means a small f-stop number). The photo below was taken by a lens with a maximum aperture setting of f/1.4. Notice how the baby’s eye is practically the only thing in focus, and that even her ear begins to “vanish”. This can create moody and dramatic effects with your photographs, especially for portraits or single elements.
Depth of field and the aesthetic quality of the blurred portions of photographs is such an important part of photography, that the Japanese have turned it into an art. They call it boke. Boke • BOH – KAY focuses on the parts of a photograph that are not in the current plane of focus. We see these areas as blurry or hazy in the final work. The following photograph illustrates the beauty of Boke. Notice how the background almost appears to be painted due to its smooth texture?
3 Tips for Using Aperture in Your Yearbook Photos
Let’s cover a few technical applications of depth of field depending on the subject matter in your yearbook photos.
Yearbook portraits are probably one of the most common yearbook photos your school will capture. You’ll want to follow some key rules of composition, being certain that you are filling the frame with faces, but you’ll also want to make sure that the critical element of the photograph is in focus: The face. When taking portraits of one person, you’ll have a lot of flexibility in choosing your aperture setting. Be sure to focus on the subject’s eyes when using a low f-stop number (f/5.6 or lower).
Yearbook Setting Shots
When taking photographs of the school grounds and building, or of events and activities with large gatherings of people, be sure to use an f-stop setting of f/8 – f/11. This will ensure that the focus of all the elements in the photograph are sharp.
Yearbook Group Photos
The great documentary photographer, Arthur Fellig, when asked how he was able to capture critical moments of rapidly changing events, simply replied “f/8 and be there.” When taking group photos, you’ll also want to use an f-stop number of f/8 or larger. That way, the faces of all of your subjects will be sharp. This will also allow you to focus on your composition.