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Photography/Aperture with studio strobes


Hello Steve,

I'm an amateur working on learning to shoot with studio lighting.  I see many photographers describing a desire for fast aperture lenses and shallow depth of field for portraits but I also see many studio photographers using apertures ranging from f/10 to f/22 or even slower (and I'm not talking about situations where the photographer is trying to create a black background).  This seems conflicting to me.  I speculate that the photographers using the slow apertures are using plain studio backgrounds so there is no need to create a background blur and they go for a deep depth of field to make sure the subject is in focus.  Does this assumption of mine sound correct and are there any other reasons why a stopped-down aperture would be preferable in a studio setting? I'm also aware that, at least for the couple of lenses that I have, that sharpness suffers when stopped down beyond about f/12 or so, so there is a downside to stopping down very far and I'm curious if there is a plus side to sacrificing the sharpness.

Thank you much!

Starting with aperture stops. There are the standard F/stops of F/4, F/5.6, F/8, F/11, F/16 etc.. There is no F/10 or F/12. .

I have no idea what "many studio photographers" do but stopping down a lens to increase the depth of field when shooting a portrait has little or nothing to do with the background. It is about sufficient depth of field so that more of the subject than the tip of their nose is in focus.

I am not sure how you are aware that the sharpness of your lenses decreases after F/11. First of all it is a misconception. It depends on the lens, its brand --Leica lenses for example stay sharp through most of their aperture range-- and its maximum wide open aperture etc. If F/16 or F/22 is the lens' smallest aperture it is possible to get some loss of sharpness due to diffraction of the light by the aperture blades. But it is so tiny that no one would ever notice it even in a 24x36 inch print.

Also I don't quite get the question. "Aperture with studio strobes" When shooting with strobes you can adjust them to get any aperture you want. You don't have to stop down to F/16 all the time. You understand that, right?

And I don't see the connection between studio strobes and backgrounds.

"Creating a black background" is an odd thing to say. Most studio photographers have an assortment of backgrounds on hand. To get a black background you just hang a black background behind the subject.

But what I definitely suggest to you is to slow down and go read a good book about photography. Don't speculate about things you suspect photographers do or listen to the second hand wisdom of other amateurs. Learn the basics. Learn them well and then you will be able to understand these things out for yourself.


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Steve Meltzer


I am a professional photographer and I've been shooting for newspapers, magazines, commercial clients and artists for over 30 years. I have shot stock photography for dozens of years and in 1977 created West Stock (Seattle, WA) which was one of the first to produce stock photo CDs and later one of the first to establish an online stock photo slaes site. I have a new book on digital photography "PHOTOGRAPHING ARTS, CRAFTS AND COLLECTIBLES (Lark Books, 2007)which is available at, and in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. I have another book, CAPTURE THE LIGHT which will be puiblished in November, 2008. I write 20-30 feature articles and columns for regional and national publications a year. My education includes studying with photographers like Cornell Capa, Duane Michels and Oliver Gagliani (from the Ansel Adams Center.)

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