Shooting Wide Open Isn't Always the Best Choice

I will be the first to admit that shooting at super-wide apertures like f/1.4 is a lot of fun. But like many things in life, just because you can do it does not mean you always should. This great video discusses why there is more to life than wide open shots and why you should consider stopping down more often.

Coming to you from Matt Granger, this fantastic video discusses why shooting wide open is often not the best choice. Granger is coming at the topic mostly from an image quality standpoint, and he is definitely right: things like sharpness often improve drastically as you stop down a lens (normally, a lens' best image quality can be found about four stops away from its wide-open aperture). However, beyond that, it is also a question of creative expression. Sure, a wide open aperture can make for an interesting portrait, but often, you are trying to tell a story about your subject, and blowing everything that is not their eyes into blurry oblivion can actually work against your ability to tell said story. Consider stopping down a bit and including some of their environment to give the image more context. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Granger. 

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15 Comments
zeissiez lee's picture

Shooting at F1.4 is boring

Charles Mercier's picture

I never try to shoot wide open because it brings out the flaws on the lens' edges. (I wouldn't know about super expensive lenses - maybe they are different?)

Heiko Kanzler's picture

If people judge my pictures because of blurry edges with a wide open lens, I must have done something wrong with my subject...

Richard A. G. Lipscomb's picture

Why do photographers think the bokeh background is more important than the subject Bokeh Is an effect of the optics using a wide aperture not the reason for using a wide aperture. Its to let in more light and allowing more light in low light situations. If you have to shoot in a bad location, yes blur out the bad/busy background. Now everyone is shooting wide open and it's getting boring. Start finding better locations and show some of the environment with a smaller aperture.

Charles Mercier's picture

As my friend says, I belong to the f64 club!

It's funny but almost none of the Editor's Picks photos and the contest entries have bokeh in them!

Billy Paul's picture

I paid a $1000 for that extra 0.5 stop so I am going to use it and the results will clearly be great!

Matthias Rabiller's picture

Well, you make good use of it everytime you look through your viewfinder. I love my little Takumar 35mm f/3.5 but the Takumar 35mm f/2 sure is easier to work with specially when it's not bright sunshine around.

Sam Sims's picture

I like to shoot street photography at around f8 or f11 because that way every part of the frame has to count and not just lazily blurring out bad shots to hide unattractive backgrounds or to obsess over the quality of the blur. Besides, choosing an f stop should be a creative decision, not something decided well in advance of the photo shoot.

Tony Clark's picture

Shoot with a fast lens wide open and you lose a bit of contrast which makes it look like you missed the focus. I think the sign of a good photographer is to use tools that help you achieve a successful image. Some use them well and others use them as gimmicks.

Timothy Gasper's picture

I rarely shoot wide open, but I do mostly Landscapes, so.....
Even with portraits though, it depends. I am not looking for that 'bokeh' all the time.

Sam Sims's picture

It’s also irritating the way some people judge lenses almost solely by their wide open rendering, especially the bokeh. As an example, I own a Voigtlander 40mm f1.2 and it often gets very negative comments because it’s not great at f1.2 and doesn’t produce round bokeh stopped down. It is a stunning lens (imo) with lots of character and is sharp from f2.8 to f11 and I’ve never cared about round bokeh balls anyway. People see a few wide open shots on a forum or lens review and dismiss the lens outright. Photography shouldn’t revolve around or be solely judged on wide open rendering.

Chris Rogers's picture

I shoot my portraits at f4 or smaller. I only stop all the way down if I'm in EXTREME low light conditions. Wider than f4 I usually get unusable images because it's so difficult to get both eyes in focus. This last shoot I did I shot mostly at f2.8 because I wanted to try some shallow DOF photos since I have not done them in a really long time and location was an issue. I had to throw out most of my photos from that shoot because the important bits were not in focus.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I typically shoot my 35 f1.4 @ f2 and 75/85 f1.8 @ f2-2.5. I love that extra detail on the skin and fabrics.

MC G's picture

Nah because all the big famous photogs on insta do it, say goodbye to your followers/likes then if you stop.