What is the best aperture for outdoor portraits? Taking control of your camera’s aperture is crucial for shooting portraiture in which your subject stands out. With outdoor portrait photography, it’s even more important you set the best f stop for your subject and scene. So how do you know what that is?
It depends how much of a background you want to show to add context, or how much you want to blur it to make the subject stand out in shot.
In our examples, shot on a Canon EF 50mm f/1/4 USM, you can see how a wider aperture (eg f/1.4) captures a shallow depth of field – so less of the scene is in focus; whereas a narrow aperture (eg f/16) captures a greater depth of field – so more of the scene is sharp.
So which is the best aperture for outdoor portraits?
For our shot, with the beach houses in the background, we felt an aperture of f/4 was about right – the houses are nicely out of focus, while our model is completely in focus, from her hands to head.
At f/1.4 the houses are so blurred it’s not obvious what they are, whereas at f/8 and above, they’re too clear and distract the eye.
Bear in mind that your distance from the subject and focal length also affects depth of field. For a really shallow depth of field, get in closer, use a wide aperture, and shoot at a long focal length such as 200mm.
By doing this less of your subject will remain sharp too, so your focusing accuracy has to be spot on – otherwise their nose could be sharp, but not the all-important eyes, for example. The widest aperture or shallowest depth of field isn’t always best!
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