Understanding f-stops is key to controlling depth of field in photography. But f-stop values can be abstract and confusing at first. An f-stop chart visually maps out f-stops, shutter speeds, and equivalent exposure settings, making the correlations clear. Having a chart on hand lets you quickly reference appropriate f-stop and shutter speed combinations to achieve desired effects.
In this article, we’ll look at how f-stops impact depth of field, how to read an f-stop chart, and tips for using them. To help you master f-stops, we’ve created a free printable f-stop chart PDF you can reference or even laminate for durability. Read on to gain clarity on this essential yet perplexing photography concept.
Table of Contents
What Are F-Stops?
F-stops refer to the calibrated aperture settings on a camera lens that control the amount of light entering the camera. The f-stop determines how wide the aperture opens and closes. A wider aperture (lower f-stop) allows more light in, while a narrower aperture (higher f-stop) allows less light.
F-stops are represented in a sequence of numbers – f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, etc. Lower numbers indicate a wider aperture. As the numbers double, the aperture narrows by half. Understanding f-stops is key for managing exposure and controlling depth of field in photographs.
F-Stop Chart Templates
Understanding f-stops is key to mastering photography, and this F-Stop Chart template makes it easy. With a comprehensive f-stop scale and examples of photos at different f-stops, it’s an invaluable learning tool.
The template includes the full range of f-stop values from f/1.0 to f/32.0. For each full f-stop, example photos show the depth of field and background blur at that aperture. This visual demonstration illustrates how depth of field decreases and background blur increases at wider apertures.
With just a glance, this F-Stop Chart template provides photographers with an at-a-glance reference to aperture settings and their effects. Keep it handy whenever adjusting aperture so you can select the precise f-stop to achieve your creative vision. Both beginners learning about exposure and advanced shooters mastering depth of field control will find this template helpful. Whether printing a copy or keeping it on your device, this template makes understanding f-stops simple.
Aperture refers to the opening in a camera lens through which light passes to enter the camera body and hit the sensor. It plays a crucial role in determining how much light reaches the sensor and, therefore, influences various aspects of your photography, such as exposure, depth of field, and even the sharpness of the image. The size of the aperture is controlled by a set of diaphragm blades in the lens that can expand or contract to increase or decrease the size of the opening.
Relationship Between Aperture and F-stop
The size of the aperture is quantified using the f-stop scale, often seen as f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, etc. The f-stop number is the ratio of the lens’s focal length to the diameter of the aperture. This might sound counterintuitive, but the larger the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture size, and vice versa. For instance, f/1.4 is a larger aperture than f/8.
In practical terms, each full f-stop either doubles or halves the size of the aperture, which in turn doubles or halves the amount of light hitting the sensor. Going from f/4 to f/2.8, for example, will double the amount of light reaching the sensor because the aperture size has been increased. Conversely, shifting from f/2.8 to f/4 will halve the light since the aperture size is reduced.
How Aperture Affects Exposure
Exposure in photography refers to how bright or dark your image turns out, and it’s a function of three main elements: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The aperture setting plays a pivotal role in determining exposure because it controls the amount of light entering the camera. A larger aperture (represented by a smaller f-stop number like f/1.4) allows more light to pass through the lens, resulting in a brighter image, which is especially useful in low-light conditions. On the other hand, a smaller aperture (represented by a larger f-stop number like f/16) limits the light, making the image darker.
To maintain proper exposure, you’ll often need to balance aperture with shutter speed and ISO. For example, if you decrease the aperture size (moving from f/2.8 to f/4), you’re reducing the amount of light coming in. To compensate for that and achieve the same exposure, you could either slow down the shutter speed to let light hit the sensor for a longer time or increase the ISO to make the sensor more sensitive to light.
|Maximum light intake. Ideal for astrophotography, extremely low-light conditions. Very shallow depth of field. Potential optical aberrations.
|Excellent for low light conditions like indoor photography. Shallow depth of field, useful for isolating subjects.
|Good for low-light and indoor photography. Moderately shallow depth of field. Often the maximum aperture for many zoom lenses.
|A compromise between light and depth of field. Good for outdoor portraits and medium-light conditions.
|Commonly used for daylight photography. Offers a balance between depth of field and light intake.
|Standard for landscape photography. Large depth of field while still allowing for reasonable light intake.
|Great depth of field. Useful for macro and landscape photography. May require a tripod in low-light conditions.
|Excellent depth of field, but risk of image quality reduction due to diffraction. Good for hyperfocal distance in landscape photography.
|Minimal light intake. Extreme depth of field. Usually requires a tripod. High risk of diffraction affecting image quality.
|Used in very bright conditions or for special effects. Maximum depth of field. Significant risk of diffraction.
How Do F-Stops Work?
F-stops, often denoted by the symbol “f/”, are a measure of the aperture setting on a camera lens. The aperture is the opening through which light passes to reach the camera sensor. Understanding how f-stops work is crucial for controlling exposure, depth of field, and other aspects of your photography.
The f-stop number is a ratio that describes the size of the aperture. Specifically, the f-number (f) is defined as:
f = F / D
- “F” is the focal length of the lens.
- “D” is the diameter of the aperture.
So, when you see an f-stop like f/2, f/4, or f/16, the number refers to the ratio of the focal length to the aperture diameter. This ratio determines how much light is allowed to reach the camera sensor.
Typical f-stop scales on a lens are something like f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32, and so on. Each step represents a halving or doubling of the light reaching the sensor:
- Moving to a lower f-stop number (e.g., f/4 to f/2.8) doubles the amount of light entering the camera because the aperture becomes larger.
- Moving to a higher f-stop number (e.g., f/4 to f/5.6) halves the amount of light entering the camera because the aperture becomes smaller.
Depth of Field:
F-stops also affect depth of field, which is the range of distance within the subject that appears to be in focus.
- Lower f-stop numbers (e.g., f/2, f/2.8) result in a shallow depth of field, meaning less of the scene will be in focus. This is often used for portraits to blur the background.
- Higher f-stop numbers (e.g., f/11, f/16) result in a greater depth of field, meaning more of the scene will be in focus. This is often used in landscape photography.
F-stops can also have secondary effects, like impacting the sharpness and diffraction of an image. Higher f-stop numbers can lead to diffraction, which decreases overall sharpness, although you gain in depth of field.
Understanding f-stops is a cornerstone of mastering the “exposure triangle,” which also includes shutter speed and ISO. By skillfully manipulating these three variables, photographers can achieve the desired exposure and artistic effects.
So, to sum up:
- Lower f-stop = More light, shallower depth of field
- Higher f-stop = Less light, greater depth of field
Creative Uses of F-stop
The f-stop setting is a critical component for photographers, not only for technical reasons like exposure but also for creative considerations. Here’s how you can use different f-stop settings in various photography genres:
- Shallow Depth of Field (Lower f-stop, e.g., f/1.8, f/2.8)
- Advantage: Isolating the subject from the background, creating a beautiful bokeh (blurry background), is a popular technique in portrait photography.
- How-to: Use a lower f-stop like f/1.8 or f/2.8. Focus on the subject’s eyes or face.
- Creative Tip: You can place the subject against a background with patterns or lights to enhance the bokeh effect.
- Environmental Portraits (Higher f-stop, e.g., f/8, f/11)
- Advantage: Sometimes you want to include the background in a portrait to tell a story.
- How-to: Use a higher f-stop such as f/8 or f/11 to maintain a deeper depth of field.
- Creative Tip: Position your subject within a significant or interesting environment that adds context or narrative to the portrait.
- Deeper Depth of Field (Higher f-stop, e.g., f/11, f/16)
- Advantage: To keep everything from the foreground to the background in focus.
- How-to: Use a high f-stop number like f/11 or f/16.
- Creative Tip: Experiment with leading lines or patterns that start in the foreground and move towards the background. A high f-stop ensures everything stays in focus.
- Selective Focus (Lower f-stop, e.g., f/4, f/5.6)
- Advantage: You can focus on a specific object in a landscape while making the rest blurry, thus drawing attention to that particular element.
- How-to: Use a lower f-stop and focus on the object you want to highlight.
- Creative Tip: This technique works well when you want to emphasize a particular subject, like a flower or rock, within a broader landscape.
- Starbursts and Light Trails (Higher f-stop, e.g., f/16, f/22)
- Advantage: Creating starburst effects from point light sources and capturing long trails of light.
- How-to: Use a high f-stop like f/16 or f/22 and a slower shutter speed. This will both elongate light trails and create a starburst effect from point light sources like streetlights.
- Creative Tip: You can use this technique in urban settings to capture car light trails or in astrophotography to capture star trails.
- Smooth Water Effects (Variable f-stop based on lighting conditions)
- Advantage: Smoothing out water in rivers, oceans, or waterfalls for a dreamy effect.
- How-to: The f-stop can vary based on the available light, but you’ll often use a neutral density filter to allow for a slower shutter speed without overexposing the image.
- Creative Tip: Try combining this with sunset or sunrise colors for a stunning effect.
How to use the F Stop Chart?
Understanding how to use an f-stop chart can make it easier to achieve your desired exposure and depth of field. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use it:
Step 1: Understand the Chart Layout
First, familiarize yourself with the chart layout. Typically, f-stop numbers will be listed in a column or row. These may be accompanied by corresponding values for shutter speed and ISO, which together form the “exposure triangle.”
Step 2: Identify Your Photographic Goal
Determine what you aim to achieve with your photograph. Are you trying to isolate a subject with a blurry background, capture everything in sharp focus, or achieve some specific exposure effect? Your goal will guide your f-stop selection.
Step 3: Refer to the F-stop Column/Row
Locate the f-stop values on the chart. They usually start from a smaller number like f/1.4, f/2, or f/2.8 and move to larger numbers like f/11, f/16, or f/22.
Step 4: Match F-stop to Your Goal
- For a shallower depth of field (e.g., portraits), look for smaller f-stop numbers.
- For a greater depth of field (e.g., landscapes), look for higher f-stop numbers.
Step 5: Consider the Exposure Triangle
If your chart also has shutter speed and ISO values, see how changes in f-stop could necessitate changes in these other settings. For example, a higher f-stop number (smaller aperture) will let in less light, so you may need to slow down the shutter speed or increase the ISO to maintain proper exposure.
Step 6: Check for Special Notes or Tips
Some f-stop charts may include special notes about the impact of certain settings on image quality, like potential for diffraction at high f-stop numbers or increased risk of camera shake at slow shutter speeds. Take these into account.
Step 7: Test and Review
After selecting your f-stop and corresponding settings, take a test shot and review the results on your camera’s display. Check whether the depth of field and exposure match your expectations.
Step 8: Fine-tune as Needed
Based on your test shot, you may need to adjust your settings. Refer back to the f-stop chart and make any necessary adjustments to the f-stop, shutter speed, or ISO.
Step 9: Take the Final Shot
Once you’re satisfied with your settings, go ahead and take your final shot.
Step 10: Post-Processing
Remember, the f-stop you choose will have implications for how much you can adjust exposure and depth of field in post-processing. Make sure you are happy with your initial choices to make any later adjustments easier and more effective.
Where is the F/stop value located?
The location of the f-stop value can vary depending on the type of camera and lens you are using. Here are some common places where you might find it:
On the Camera Display:
- Digital Display: On digital SLR cameras and mirrorless cameras, the f-stop value is typically displayed on the LCD screen on the back of the camera and often in the viewfinder as well.
- Top LCD: Some DSLRs have an additional LCD on the top panel where exposure settings, including the f-stop value, are displayed.
- Electronic Viewfinder (EVF): For mirrorless cameras with an electronic viewfinder, the f-stop will usually be visible in the viewfinder display.
On the Lens:
- Aperture Ring: On older lenses and some modern manual lenses, the f-stop values are often marked directly on an aperture ring that you turn to set the aperture manually.
- Lens Barrel: Even on lenses without a dedicated aperture ring, you might find f-stop values inscribed on the lens barrel, often near the front element. These marks are usually more about the lens’s capability (e.g., “f/2.8-4”) rather than the setting you’re currently using.
In the Camera Menus:
- Quick Menu: Many digital cameras allow you to access a quick menu where you can see and change current settings, including the f-stop value.
- Full Menu: In some cameras, you can delve into the full menu system to find a display of the current f-stop setting, although this is usually more cumbersome than other methods.
On a Smartphone:
- Manual Mode: If you are using a smartphone with manual camera controls, the f-stop value (if it is adjustable) will be displayed on the screen when you enter the manual or “pro” mode.
- Camera Specs: On smartphones with fixed apertures, the f-stop is usually listed in the camera’s technical specifications but won’t be adjustable.
- Post-Processing: If you’re looking at a photo that’s already been taken, software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop can display the f-stop value in the metadata of the image.
- Tethered Shooting: When a camera is connected to a computer for tethered shooting, the f-stop can usually be viewed and controlled through the tethering software.
Minimum vs. Maximum F stop
The terms “minimum f-stop” and “maximum f-stop” refer to the aperture settings of a camera lens, and they can be a bit confusing because they relate to the size of the aperture opening in opposite ways. Understanding these terms is essential for controlling the amount of light that enters the camera and affects depth of field, exposure, and image quality.
- Aperture Size: The minimum f-stop refers to the smallest aperture size (i.e., the largest f-stop number) your lens can achieve, such as f/16, f/22, or even f/32 in some cases.
- Light Entry: A minimum f-stop will allow the least amount of light to hit the camera sensor, which is useful in extremely bright conditions to avoid overexposure.
- Depth of Field: Using the minimum f-stop will give you the greatest depth of field, making more of the scene from the foreground to the background appear in focus.
- Image Quality: While a small aperture increases depth of field, it may introduce diffraction, a phenomenon that can reduce overall image sharpness.
- Use Cases: Commonly used in landscape photography where maximum depth of field is often desired, or in bright conditions where reducing light intake is necessary.
- Aperture Size: The maximum f-stop refers to the largest aperture size (i.e., the smallest f-stop number) your lens can achieve, such as f/1.4, f/2, or f/2.8.
- Light Entry: A maximum f-stop will allow the most amount of light to hit the camera sensor. This is extremely useful in low-light conditions, allowing you to capture images without having to resort to exceedingly slow shutter speeds or high ISO settings.
- Depth of Field: A large aperture (maximum f-stop) will yield a shallow depth of field, isolating subjects from their background and creating a pleasing bokeh effect.
- Image Quality: Lenses are often sharpest at aperture settings a few stops from their maximum, although modern lenses are increasingly well-corrected even when wide open.
- Use Cases: Frequently used in portrait photography, indoor photography, or any situation where light is limited and a shallow depth of field is desired.
Things to Consider:
- Cost: Lenses with larger maximum apertures (like f/1.4) are generally more expensive than their smaller-aperture counterparts.
- Weight: Lenses capable of very large apertures are usually heavier and bulkier, due to the glass elements required to allow that much light through.
- Fixed vs. Variable: Some zoom lenses have variable maximum f-stops, meaning the largest possible aperture changes as you zoom in or out. Fixed aperture lenses maintain the same maximum aperture throughout the zoom range.
- Lens Quality: The quality of the lens affects how much you’ll want to use its minimum or maximum f-stop. Cheaper lenses may produce poor image quality at these extremes.
Understanding f-stops is critical for mastering photography and controlling your camera settings. With this free printable f-stop chart, you now have a handy reference to keep your knowledge sharp. Hang this chart near your desk or take it with you on shoots for quick guidance on setting apertures. Knowing which f-stop to choose will help you dial in the right exposure and depth of field to achieve your creative vision.
Use this chart as a training wheel until f-stop numbers become second nature. With practice, you’ll be able to glance at a scene and instinctively know which f-stop will give you the look you want. So download, print out, and get familiar with this f-stop cheat sheet to take your photography skills to the next level. Whether you’re a beginner looking to grasp the basics or a seasoned pro brushing up on the exposure triangle, this chart puts the power of f-stops at your fingertips anytime you need it.
What does a higher f-stop value signify?
Higher f-stop numbers like f/16 or f/22 mean that the aperture is smaller, letting in less light but providing a greater depth of field. This is often used in landscape photography where you want more of the scene to be in focus.
How does the f-stop relate to exposure?
The f-stop is one of the three components of the exposure triangle, along with shutter speed and ISO. A lower f-stop lets in more light, potentially overexposing your shot in bright conditions. A higher f-stop lets in less light, which might underexpose your image in low-light conditions.
Why are there gaps in the f-stop chart?
The chart often doesn’t list every possible f-stop value but rather the most commonly used or standard ones. Many modern lenses allow for incremental adjustments.
How does the f-stop affect image sharpness?
Extremely low or high f-stops can affect image sharpness due to optical aberrations or diffraction, respectively. Mid-range f-stops like f/5.6 or f/8 are often the ‘sweet spot’ for lens sharpness.
Can I use the f-stop chart for video recording?
Yes, the principles of aperture size and depth of field also apply to video recording. You can use the f-stop chart as a reference for achieving your desired visual effects.