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on Apr 1, 2006 in Thought of the Month

What's "The" Right F/Stop?

Battery Point Lighthouse

Man, is that a common question! My partner Vincent & I have this whole comedy routine built around this question it’s asked so often. What’s the answer? The answer is, whatever f/stop works best to communicate what YOU want to communicate.

What kind of answer is that you ask? Well, f/stop selection has to do with depth of field and depth of field selection has to do with how much of the subject itself you want sharp, and then how much of the world around the subject you want in focus. And then all of this is determined by the focal length of lens in use and the physical distance the camera is from the lens. So with all of that, how can anyone advise what is “the� best f/stop.

Now what does the Photo of the Month have to do with f/stop selection? There’s this thing going around, has been for quite a while, how closing a lens down to its smallest aperture can degrade the image quality. I have read, been emailed and queered so many times on this topic, I decided to put my two cents worth out for public destruction. It’s generally thought that closing a lens down to its smallest aperture causes defraction, bouncing of light off the aperture blade degrading the image quality. This is probably technically very accurate. Who Care

The photo of the month was captured by a 70-200VR closed all the way down to f/22. I wanted the longest possible shutter speed to blur the wazes and a starburst from the lighthouse. F/22 was the way to achieve this. Oh no…f/22, the image won’t be sharp, defraction is going to get you! Hells bells! Forty folks saw this image the next day after I shot it at our Redwoods DLWS event and they were blown away how sharp the image was, especially knowing it was taken during a rain storm, in the wind. Forget the fact I shot at f/22 for 20sec, you can see the detail in the bricks in the lighthouse!

So many things about photography are written as if they were presented from the heavens. Most of those things besides being boring facts, take the fun and rewards out of photography. Go take photos, throw the rules to the wind and just make images that please you. You will come out ahead without knowing what’s “the� right f/stop.