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When To Be Open And When To Be Closed?

In photography the terms to be ‘open’ or to be ‘closed’, don’t refer to a photographer’s personality! What these terms refer to are the settings the photographer uses on a camera when taking the photo. But to be more specific, these terms refer to the setting of the lens, its aperture. Understanding this is the key to getting better results when taking your next photo.


A wide open aperture of f/2 has drawn the viewer’s attention to the main subject and made the background appear out of focus. This is the use of a shallow depth of field, often used in portrait photography.

Have you ever noticed and wondered why in portrait photos, the person being photographed is often the only part of the photo that is sharp and everything else is out of focus? That’s because the photographer used a wide aperture. On the other hand, often in landscape photos, everything seems in focus from the foreground to the background. This is because the photographer used a closed aperture. Sounds confusing?

The aperture controls what is known as the depth of field. Depth of field means how much of the photo is in or out of focus and is measured in f/stops. This is covered in more detail in my other blog post The Exposure Triangle: Part 2 Aperture. When taking a photo it is well worth considering the aperture and what impact changing it can make on the final image. Using the right aperture can have a huge influence and be the difference in having an engaging photo, or something that looks more like an everyday snapshot.

Do I Need an Expensive Camera?

To get the best results with aperture and depth of field you can’t go past a DSLR or mirrorless camera in manual or semi manual mode. However on many compact cameras these days there are automatic shooting modes such as “Portrait” or “Landscape” that tell the camera what kind of effect you want. Theses modes do a better job than shooting in full Auto and are worth trying.

The “Portrait” mode tells the camera to use an open aperture, such as f/4 when you take the shot. This reduces the depth of field and as a result can assist in keeping your main subject looking sharp and in focus, while putting the background more out of focus. This draws the attention back to your subject.

Palm Beach Ferry Wharf Panorama

A closed aperture of f/16 allows for maximum depth of field which is typical of landscape photography. By taking the photo at f/16 everything is in focus, from the foreground to the background.

In the “Landscape” mode, the camera will use a more closed aperture such as f/8 to try and maximise the depth of field, meaning keeping everything more in focus. When shooting landscapes, we usually want the image to remain in focus from the foreground all the way to the background.

As the camera sees the world differently to our eyes, it is really interesting to see the results achievable by just trying out a different camera setting. By experimenting with aperture and depth of field, you will find your photos becoming more creative and will have more fun when using your camera. By having these tips up your sleeve, you will be able to create photos that you are happier with and photos that people will be talking about!

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