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Use a wider aperture
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Use a wider aperture

f/1.8 and be there!

To overcome many of the problems associated with low-light photography, and give your creative juices a jump-start, use a lens with a wide maximum aperture (in the f/1.4-2.8 range) and shoot away.



The advantages of shooting at maximum aperture:
  • It allows you to use a faster shutter speed, which in turn allows you to shoot hand held with less risk of blur due to camera shake. For instance, if your meter says f/5.6 at a 1/15 sec, you could shoot at f/1.8 at 1/125 sec!
  • You can also choose a lower ISO, which will improve overall image quality.
  • If you use maximum aperture in combination with built-in anti-shake (available on Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, and Pentax DSLRs), you have even more low-light shooting options.
  • The narrow depth-of-field allows you to draw attention to your subject by throwing elements in front of and behind your subject out of focus.


Anna Bryukhanova used a wide aperture, eliminating camera shake, and creatively used the narrow depth of field for an effective window-lit portrait.

You don't get a free pass shooting at maximum apertures, though. The disadvantages:
  • Lens quality will be less than optimal, since most lenses perform best at a middle aperture.
  • The cost of a zoom lens with a wider aperture (f/2.8) is generally much more than that of a kit lens with a maximum aperture in the f/3.5-4.5 range. Fixed-focal-length (prime) lenses have larger apertures but also cost less--see tomorrow's tip!
  • Since focus is narrower, it may be harder to focus accurately.


Don't let the disadvantages discourage you, however. There are ways around them. More tomorrow!

Lise Gagne used a wide aperture to add drama and depth to this romantic scene.

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