What is the recommended aperture for street photography?
This is one of the most common questions: ‘What is the aperture for street photography?’
Although there is no short answer, I will attempt to answer it here.
The most common approach, one that many street photographers swear by, is to use a high aperture value, let’s say f/9 and upwards. The reason for this is to be able to create layers and also to keep near and far objects relatively sharp. However, do you always need to use layers and close the aperture? Well, maybe not. Let’s explore a few scenarios that will provide insights into different aperture settings for street photography.
Reasons to shoot with closed aperture
Reason One: There is Too Much Light
If you are shooting when the sun is shining strongly, even raising the shutter speed up to 1/8000s, you still can’t use very low apertures. Therefore, you have only two options: one is to use an ND filter, and the second is to close the aperture blades. it is much easier and faster to control the aperture than changing filters while doing street photography.
To keep the highlights under control and even underexpose slightly to match my idea, I kept the aperture at f/8.
Reason two: You want your surroundings or background to contribute to the narrative. – Using layers
Using a closed aperture in street photography can be beneficial when you want to maximize the depth of field to ensure that both your foreground and background are sharp. This is useful for scenes where you want to capture the entire street, including people at various distances.
Photographing a scene like this with an open aperture would disconnect our hero from the background, and the story would feel different. It would be as if he is dancing by himself. By including these extra layers, we can see the other participants who help form the entire story
But do we always need to shoot that way? are photographs with open aperture not street enough?
Well let’s see some examples.
reasons to shoot with open aperture in street photography?
The first scenario: Light.
If there isn’t enough light, you simply can’t shoot with a closed aperture. You can increase the ISO or reduce the shutter speed, but at some point, you have to open the aperture to work in low light conditions.
It was around 4 am, and the only source of light was a bare bulb.
The second scenario: Background is close and doesn’t disturb the story
There is nothing specific you want to capture in the background, or the background is very close and doesn’t interfere with how our subjects look.
You don’t need to capture the background in more detail because you have the entire story in one line. Therefore, you can and prefer to shoot with an open aperture.
Third scenario: Background is busy and REQUIRES isolation
This typically applies to street portraits, where you want all the focus to be on the person in the frame. In a busy location you might wan’t to reduce the power of the background, you can still convey a sense of the surroundings, but you don’t want the details of a busy frame to steal attention from your subject.
Fourth scenario – Details shots
There is not a big difference if such an image is shot at f/4 or f/11.
Conversely, you will want to use something like f/4 to have the sharpest, most in-focus area where the object is, in this case, the fingers.
While many street photographers prefer using an aperture of f/9 and upwards, it’s not a strict rule; it’s simply a common practice that others often follow. In reality, your aperture settings for street photography should be guided by these four factors.
- Available light
- Desired depth of field
- Creative Idea
And sometimes it happens that it doesn’t really matter which aperture you are using.
If you have enough light and background is clean and you are relatively far from your subject.
You can take similarity looking image with both f2.8 and f11
Let me know your thoughts in the comments and perhaps you would want to look at the article that goes trough most street photography settings here.