Aperture: Create Dramatic Blur in your Portraits | Tabitha Park | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Aperture: Create Dramatic Blur in your Portraits

teacher avatar Tabitha Park, Product & Food Photographer

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Aperture and f/stops


    • 3.

      Depth of Field and Bokeh


    • 4.

      Equivalent Exposure


    • 5.



    • 6.

      Final Thoughts and Project


  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

In this class I'll illustrate the importance of selecting the right aperture for your scenario. We'll talk about ways to add creamy out-of-focus backgrounds in your portraits, what an f/stop is and how to push your photography to the fullest.

I'll show you a demonstration for achieving your desired Depth of Field as well as the many ways to achieve a properly exposed photo through equivalent exposure.

This class pairs well with my Shutter Speed class but can also be viewed independently :)

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Tabitha Park

Product & Food Photographer

Top Teacher

Hi! I'm Tabitha and I teach photography classes. I'm a lifestyle, product, and food photographer living in the Pacific Northwest with my husband, our 17 gorgeous chickens, and Smallcat! I love plants and coffee and naps. In my spare time I'm a reckless gardener (irl and in Stardew Valley), and unapologetic hobby starter. Currently hyperfixating on crochet, embroidery, and spoon carving!

See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: Hey, this fundamental photography class is all about aperture. If you have always wondered how people get such beautiful creamy backgrounds on their portraits, I will show you how. This class I'm going to go over f-stops, depth of field, brocade, equivalent exposure. If you're feeling a little bit shaky about manual mode, this class is going to help you get one step closer to total competence with your DSLR. My name is Tabitha, I photograph families, babies, and plants, and I also teach picture classes here on skill share. I have a ton of information for you, so let's dive right in. 2. Aperture and f/stops: Okay, so if you took my shutter speed class, this next part will seem a little familiar. We'll go through it pretty quickly so you can get an idea and move on to the new stuff. So photography is the documentation of light. Without any light, you can't have a picture. So we have three different key settings that we can change to affect how much light our camera sees, and those are shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. Shutter speed refers to how long the shutter curtains open letting light into your camera. So if it's open for a long time and then it closes, it with lots of light in really fast. But if it's a really quick shutter speeds like a split second, it doesn't want as much light in, and so you use that in conjunction with aperture and ISO and that will help you get a properly exposed photo. So ISO that measures how sensitive your sensor or your film is to the light. So if you have a really high ISO, your sensor is going to be really, really sensitive to light. It's going to see it faster, but it results in a grainier image. So if you want to have a really clean, crisp photo that doesn't have a lot of noisy pixels, you're going to want to go with a low ISO. But if you're working in a dark scene where you need more light, you can kick up your ISO. Then lastly, aperture, that's what we're going to be focusing on in this class. Aperture refers to the size of the opening on your lens. So really wide aperture, that's a very big opening and it is denoted by a small number. So this aperture is called 1.7. This is as wide as this camera goes. one point set or is this lens goes. If I go to the opposite end and stop it down to F16, this is as narrow as it goes. So it doesn't get as much light in. It takes longer to let the same amount of light in, but more of the scene has time to get in focus. So this F16 is great for shooting landscapes and architecture or groups of people, like a large group of people. Because there's a wider distance in your photo that's able to be in focus. If you are shooting wide open, that means you've got a little sliver of the photo that's in focus. This is great for portraits because it helps to blur out the background so that your subject is really the main focal point of your image, and then somewhere in between is where you'll do like everyday other stuff, and obviously you can break the rules you can do. You could try and shoot groups with wide open or you can shoot portraits where you can see the whole scene. That's fine too. So it just depends. Once you have an understanding of how it all works, that's when you can say, "Okay, for this scene, I want to choose to photograph at this way." So basically the understanding is what we're going for here. F-stops. Let's talk about F-stops. F-stops, I tapped on a little bit ago, that refers to the number on the lens. So this lens, this is a film lens. I'm using it because I can adjust the aperture to show you what's happening. This is F-4, that's what the F-stop is called. The next stop up is 5.6. So F-4 to F 5.6, that is half as much light. So F-4, let's in like this much light, and then when I stop it down if I put down 5.6, it lets in half as much. So it's half as bright. The opposite direction, 5.6-4, you're doubling the amount of light that goes in. So oftentimes with film, you get half stops. So there is one click between four and F 5.6. It doesn't say what it's called, so it's got to be somewhere like 4.8 or something. That gives you some flexibility. So that means that lets in like a quarter more light or a quarter less light, if that makes sense, as opposed to half. With digital cameras nowadays they're actually in increments of third stops. So not to confuse you anymore. But you have F-4 here and F 5.6 here. So there's one full stop. This is twice as much or half as much light. With our digital cameras, we have two settings in between. So it goes F-4, F 4.5, F-5, F 5.6. So you really have a ton of flexibility between F-4 and 5.6, where you can really fine-tune how much light is getting into your camera. So just, I guess to simplify, a wide aperture, lets in a lot of white and a narrow aperture lets in less light. Narrow aperture has a big number and big aperture has a small number. It's a little confusing, but once you get that down, it's so much easier. One thing that I like to think about in reference to aperture is how our eyes dilate depending on how much light is available. So if you've ever been inside or been in a dark movie theater and then you go outside, your eyes just close down. Your pupils get really, really small because it's so bright outside that your eyes adjust by letting less light go into them, and you're able to focus better that way, and then on the opposite end, let's say you enter a dark movie theater, your eyes, your pupils will open up because they're trying to lead as much light in as possible, so that they can see. If you look at animals, their eyes will dilate too, and it's like really interesting to be like, "Wow, like I'll have my cash will be sitting by the window and her pupils are just slits because it's so bright they're so much like going into her eyes. They just adjust and it's cool because our eyes like just do this automatically. With a camera, we have to do all the settings, but our eyes just are all focusing, all just like." It's called their little lenses and they just do all of it for us and it's just really neat. That's basically aperture. So I'm going to talk to you about depth of field and Bokeh next. 3. Depth of Field and Bokeh: Depth of field refers to how much in your scene is going to be in focus. A really shallow depth of field, that means just a sliver of the photos and focus, maybe my eyes and tip of my nose they are in focus. Then my hair slightly blurry and then whatever is behind me is just a smear of color. It's so auto focus, it's so blurry. That is achieved with a really, really wide aperture. Opening all the way up, that means just a little bit of the picture is in focus. Sometimes like if you're doing portraits, you can go too far. Maybe one eye is in focus and the other eye is not, you have to decide, is that going to be distracting or is that going to look super cool and artsy. A really wide, no, sorry, a really deep depth of field or wide depth of field, that is where a lot of your scene is in focus. Let's say you're photographing a mountain scene and you've got some wildflowers in the foreground, some like a row of trees and the mid ground. Then your background is just like beautiful mountains and sky. If you want everything in your landscape picture to be in focus, you are going to want to stop down to a more narrow aperture and get a tripod to photograph the whole scene in focus. But that's not the only way. This isn't the only way to change your depth of field. There's actually three ways to do it. This is one of them. F-stops your aperture. The next is actually how long your lenses case, this is a really short lenses. This is a 50 millimeter, this is an 85 millimeter. I'm just going to take us off so you can see apples to apples, what we have here. One lens is obviously a lot longer. This is, if I would have photograph a person standing in front of me with this lens, I might get their head and shoulders. If I switch to this lens, I would only get their head. It would crop in because it is 85 millimeters and that is more zoomed in basically. If I had an even longer lens, so this is actually a zoom lens, this would be 24, and then it goes all the way to 120. The difference between these two is monumental. Again, if I'm photographing that person, this lens I'd get head and shoulders. This lens I would get like corner of face. This is for photographing cheetahs and this is for photographing babies. Obviously you can get closer to one of them than the other so you need the help of your lens. This is going to affect. If I'm photographing a person and I have a really, really long lens, they are proportionately closer to me than the background is, so the background's going to be a lot more blurry than the same settings with a 50. With a 50 millimeter, if I'm photographing a person, I'm still going to be able to see some of the background. If I want the background to just be smithereens, I just wanted to be a smear of color, you can work with a longer length lens. But obviously if you're capturing the same, if you want to get your head and shoulders instead of just the corner of your face, you need to step back. That is the third aspect of your depth of field adjustments. We have how wide open your lens is, how long your lens is, and how close you are to your subject. If I get really, really, really close to my subject, like their face is going to be like this much in focus. Then everything behind them that gets progressively further away is just going to turn into nothing. It's going to be so, so blurry. Whereas if I were to focus on doing a close up photo of someone's face with the 50, getting super close to them is going to blur out everything behind them. Not quite to the same degree as a 120 millimeters, but enough that you're going to be like that significant blur. Closeness to subject, if you're closer to the subject, the backgrounds way blurrier. If you want to see more of the background get further away from your subject. Then if your subjects to faraway use longer lens to see them in the picture and then anyway, adjusting, adjustments, play with your settings, figure this out. Try different f-stops, try different lenses, try different distances from your subject. Really just get an idea. I mean, the best way to figure this out is to just do it, to try and to experiment and see what's working for you. Then I wanted to talk about bokeh for a second. That is a Japanese word for blur. You've seen those pictures where it's just like a person and then behind them they've got the Christmas tree, but it's just glowing orbs and it just looks so ethereal and beautiful. That's the bokeh. That's the smooth, creamy, beautiful backdrops that is very, very sought after in portraiture because you really want to separate your subject from the background. You want everything else to be blurry so that the viewer really focuses on the person or the thing in the picture that you are trying to draw attention to. The bokeh, you would see it more often in the background of photos using a really wide aperture. Sometimes you'll notice if you're watching a movie, they'll have those beautiful artsy scenes between shots. It'll zoom out or something and you'll see the bokeh, the circles, the big orbs. The wider the aperture is, the more the roundness of the orb will be. If you click down, you're going to be able to see the aperture blades actually form a hexagon. Shooting it like F8 or F11, F16, you can still get that same blurriness. It's going to be a little trickier. You're going to have to bring your subject really close and the background is going to get blurrier like we discussed. But those orbs are going to actually be hexagonal shaped. A fun way that you can change the shape of your blur is by putting a piece of construction paper in front of your lens with a hole cut out in the shape that you want. Skillshare has like a blog post with a little video on how to do this. If you just Google creative bouquets Skillshare, it'll probably pop up and you can watch that little clip. They show you how to make like stars or hearts or triangles. Then I can tell you these things, but I feel like if I show you, it'll just help you. For my depth of field demonstration, I have set up in my front room this long skinny table oriented toward the window. So the window is my back light. I have the monium falcon, which will be auto focus in the background. Then I have four little mini fix that up about two inches away from each other and then staggered side to side. I have my camera here and I'll be shooting this direction, showing you basically with different apertures, how the scene, or how each of the characters are or are not in focus. Here's what happen, and before I jumped into settings, I just want to flip through these real quick. I took each of these images with completely different aperture and then I changed the shutter speed to go along with it because obviously if you're opening up your aperture, you're letting more light into your shutter speed needs to change to compensate. This first image, you can pretty much see each of the characters pretty clearly. Chewbacca and Lucas are little bit soft, but for the most part it's really nice. Then as I open up my aperture, you'll notice that these characters get progressively blurrier to the point where I'm open all the way that my lens will allow to 1.8. The only thing in focus is Han Solo and the little bit of space right in front of Darth Vader. The way that the lens focuses is on a plane. Everything that is where Han Solo is and to the right and left of him is going to be in focus because that's on the same plane. Then whatever is closer or further away from him is going to get progressively blurrier. This is a super easy setup that you can put together to just really test out your lens and try and get this same experiment on your own. I used a tripod so that each of my pictures would be in the same spot and then also so that for my shot, I did have to shoot at one-tenth of a second, which I think is too slow to hold your camera. I would have wanted a tripod for that picture anyway because one-tenth of a second is pretty slow. 4. Equivalent Exposure: Tapping back into our mini fig demo, I wanted to talk to you about equivalent exposures. Basically, there is many different ways to photograph a scene and get a properly exposed photograph. There's not just one solution. Here we have four images that are basically the same. They look identical but their settings are all completely different. I kept the same lens, the same crop. I have it on a tripod so that it was as seamless as possible. Then I also have the same aperture, so the background is the same blurriness in each of the four images. What changes is our shutter speed and our ISO. The shutter speed you're not going to notice that much changing because it's on a tripod but the ISO is what we're going to focus on here. If I zoom in a little bit, you can start to see in the shadow area, a little bit of grain, a little bit of pixelation in the background. But it's not really till we get zoomed in super far that you even really notice. The last image was at 6400 ISO, which is very high. You can definitely tell there's reduced quality in that image, especially compared to the first. But is that enough to make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. Unless you're blowing up this picture and hanging it up on your wall and you have really picky photographer friends who are going to get that close to your images, nobody's going to notice and nobody's going to say anything. I always would prefer to shoot with ISO 100 in every scenario but sometimes you want to shoot a show and it's dark and you have to crank up your ISO and that's fine. But just keep in mind that when you are changing your ISO, you are reducing quality and that's just the way it goes. Again, this is for different pictures, all that look the same, taken with completely different settings. That is essentially the whole idea behind equivalent exposure. 5. Portraits: That's a lot of information. Let's apply it. The easiest way for me to really just apply this to my life is through portraits, because that's what I do. I photograph a lot of families and senior pictures and head shots and stuff like that. For me, if I'm working with one person, my goal is to separate them from their background. I don't want anything in the background to be upstaging the beautiful person in the foreground that I'm trying to capture. What I need is, I need a wide aperture so that I can make sure that they are wide enough that the background is blurry but not so wide that only their eye, their noses in focus, I need the whole face to be in focus and I need them to be separated from the background. That's my main goal. I'm able to work with apertures between 2.84. I can even dropped down to like 1.8 if I wanted to, if I'm far enough away from them to make sure that they're in focus. But I can worked with my wide apertures and really just get the most effective picture that way. If I'm photographing a couple, let's say I'm doing engagements or bridals and photographing a couple, as long as they are on the same plane, it's essentially like one-person. If they're like hugging and they're both the same distance away from me, then I'm able to use again more of my wider apertures. If I have, like, let's say the girl, the bride, she wraps her arms up around her husband or her fiance and her head is further back in the picture than his, I need to make sure that I haven't aperture to make sure that they're both going to be in focus. If you're shooting close up, like maybe you've got a couple snuggling on the couch at home doing a lifestyle session, you're over the shoulder of one photographing other. It's okay if if the back of the boyfriend's head is out-of-focus, as long as her faces and focus if she's looking at the camera and she's looking away, you have to choose what do you want to be in focus. In that scene, you could have more of the scene and focus, but if you're shooting inside, you're going to have less light, so it's give and take you have to decide. What's most important is, having everybody in focused in this picture most important, or creating a mood with the available lighting, and adding creative artistic blur. Really with this scenario where having everybody in focus matters is when you're doing a family portrait. If you've got a big family like six people or 18 people, 35 people, you've got a huge group of people, the most important thing is to make sure that everybody is in focus. If you have a couple tears of family, let's say you're shooting this giant family reunion on bleachers, and they're six rows of people, and you're taking a picture of the group, if you're focused on the front row of people and your aperture is too wide, back row people will be blurry and they will be very upset about it. So make sure that you stop down so that you have enough space in your focal range to capture the entire family in-focus. If you need help with that, if maybe it's not bright enough and you can't go narrow enough, step back. You get further away from the family, the distance they take up is proportionately smaller in comparison to your lens, and so you're able to get more of them and focused by stepping back or changing your lens. You could even try to get them to be closer together, squash the families so that they're really just taking up the least amount of distance as possible and photograph them that way. I would say use a tripod, but if you're shooting with short enough shutter speeds that you are long enough shutter speeds that you need a tripod. You probably your people are going to be blurry. A tripod is good if you're trying to do like a head swaps situation. If you take a bunch of pictures of people with a tripod and then you're like, oh man, little Jimmy and the front, he is making the weirdest face, and then like, and June in the background, she's close your eyes. If you take like ten pictures of the scene with a tripod, you can just cut a face out of one picture and put it in the other with Photoshop, and that happens a lot. Face-swapping is real. I probably face-swap at least one picture out of every other families session that I do. Because sometimes we have a lot of kids and you got to make sure you get everybody smiling. That's important. But more important than everybody smelling is everybody in focus because you can't fix that in post. You can have just like make your picture more focused if it's not focused when you take it. Group pictures, your biggest priority's make sure everybody's on focus. That can be achieved with a narrower aperture, getting further away from them or changing the lens that you use and mixing this up, trying it out before you actually go out and shoot, is a huge important deal. Go out with one person, photograph a model, or your friend, your sister, photograph them and play with your widest apertures that you can really, really get close to them and make that background super blurry so that a really, really separated from the background. That's how this all applies to portraiture. That's my daily. Maybe it's yours, maybe not, but hopefully this helped you. 6. Final Thoughts and Project: That's it. That's all I have for you. I hope that you learned something. I hope I was able to convey these ideas to you. Thank you for taking my class. I seriously appreciate it. It makes me so happy when I login to Skillshare every morning like before I even get out of bed, I'm like do we have any new students? It's so fun for me to see. Just like the interaction on here. It's just like a really cool community and I hope that you feel inspired to become part of it. Posts your pictures. I want to see. Let's see photographs something twice but with completely different aperture. Go from one end to the other and then show me the results and we can talk about what's more effective or what is able to tell the story better. Whether you have a lot of blur or nothing blurred and then maybe if you want to experiment with, okay. Try and make a really creamy blurry background in a portrait or something and show me what you come up with. I want to see how you take your photography to the next level. If you have any questions for me, feel free to put those in the discussion section and I will totally respond. If you have suggestions for future content stuff that you want to see me teach. I would love to hear that as well. That'd be so cool. Yeah, and that's all I have. Thanks again for taking my class.