What  is camera aperture and how is it used in product photography?  In this post, we explain what aperture is and how to use it with some simple examples.

Do you have a DSLR? Do you shoot in ‘auto’ mode thinking that because it is a DSLR, your images will be better than with a point and shoot? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. This is the first post in a series that will take you through the key camera settings that you need to know in order to take great product photos for your site.

What is camera aperture?

Simple explanation: Aperture is a setting that lets you control how much of your product is clear/in-focus (and how much is in blur). Depending on the type of product and how much of the item you want to be in focus, you will need to play with your aperture settings as needed.

Technical explanation: The more technical phrase for the above is “depth of field”. Aperture is the gap through which light enters the camera. The larger the gap, the more the light. The more the light, more of the product that is in focus.

In product photography, most often, you want the entire image to be clear so buyers can see all the details. However, there are instances when you can use some blur so the focus is only on a unique or interesting aspect of a product.

How do you set the aperture in the camera?

The setting: The aperture setting is called an f-stop and depending on the lens, your lens will let you go from f1.4 to f32 in varying increments but usually by +1. So you can set it at f2, f3, f4…etc. as needed. The lens that comes with your camera probably ranges between f4 to f32.

What setting to pick? Without getting too technical, at f1.4, most of the image will be blurry and at f36, most of the image will be clear. So as that number 1.4 increases to f2, f5, f7, etc., more of the image becomes in focus.

For a clear image, why not pick F36 all the time? The trade-off is that at f36, the image won’t be as sharp and it will be darker, since less light is coming through the lens. So if you want the full image to be clear, you should pick the lowest number needed.

An example: Try imagining a frying pan on a table with the handle pointing straight towards you. With an aperture like F1.4, the area which you focus on (the red square on the camera) is the area that will be clear (sharp). The background and rest of the pan will be blurry. With an aperture of f11, a larger area of the pan will be in focus and sharp.

An example when blur is used in product photography: When shooting a product on a model in a natural setting like somewhere outdoors, set the aperture so the model is in focus and the background is blurry. This gives the image a nice effect and puts the focus on the model.

Aperture, Illustrated with Examples

To help you understand this even better, I photographed three garlic bread rolls to illustrate depth of focus in relation to aperture. These were taken in a light box. I left these images unedited so that you can see the effect the different apertures had, not only the depth of field, but also on the lighting/exposure of the image. It will help to remember this when reading future posts, where we will discuss shutter speeds, exposure and more details.

Each lens have different aperture ranges. Here, I used the standard 18-55mm lens which is included with most starter DSLR’s. The f-stop on this lens ranges from f5 to f32.

Image shot at F5 – Here, notice that the front roll is sharper (clearer) and the other two are blurry.

Aperture F5 shutter speed bread rolls depth of feild

Image shot at F14 – This image taken with an f-stop of 14 shows the first and second roll quite clearly. There is less blur on the third as the depth of field increases. Notice that the front roll is still clear but not as clear as the above image. As I mentioned above, going up on the f-stop reduces clarity a little bit. So use the lowest f-number you need.

There is also a very subtle difference in lighting. This image is slightly darker than the one taken at f5 as the aperture has narrowed and allowed less light through.

Image shot at F22 – This image brings the third roll into a clearer focus. You can start to see more detail as the depth of field has increased even further. But notice that the front roll is even less sharp than the second image shot at f14.

Aperture f22 shutter speed bread rolls depth of field

Set at f22, this image brings the third roll into a clearer focus and you can start to see it in detail – the depth of field has increased even further.

Image shot at F32 – This photo, taken at f32, shows all three rolls in focus and the detail. Notice that though the image overall is in focus, the image is more grey/darker than the previous images. This can be adjusted with shutter speed, which we will discuss in the next post.

Aperture f32 shutter speed bread rolls depth of feild

The best way to understand this further is to try it out yourself. Take the same image with different aperture settings and see how the clarity changes.