Simone's Kitchen

Aperture and DOF – foodphotography exercise I

Aperture 5.6 left and 13 on the right

Aperture 5.6 left and 13 on the right

Whenever I give a workshop, it turns out that aperture and in general lighting is one of the most confusing things about photography. It doesn’t help that all those numbers mean virtually nothing to someone who is just starting out and is trying to get to grips with his or her camera. So when Aparna from my Diverse Kitchen started a series with exercises in foodphotography I figured it would be a great thing to join in and explain a few things here. You can find Aparna’s post here and her explanation on how to join in too.

I get many emails asking me for information on how to take photos, which camera to buy, which lenses to get and general tips on improving food photography. You can already find some of the articles here on the foodphotography page but the exercise of today is to take two photos of the same subject from the same angle with the only variation being the aperture.

I shoot a lot of my photos in aperture priority. It’s easy, I don’t have to worry too much if the light changes and I still have full control over the DOF. (Depth of Field) Now what is the aperture you may ask… It is essentially the hole in your lens that let’s the light in. I always give the James Bond intro as an example as the ring he stand in is what it looks like, more or less.


But apart from the fact that it controls the light coming in, it also controls (for a part) the depth of field in your photo. And depth of field is the area in your photo that appears sharp to the human eye. The smaller the number of your aperture (i.e. F2.8) the smaller the depth of field in your photo, but the bigger the opening in your lens. The bigger the aperture number (i.e. F22.0) the bigger the depth of field in your photo, but the smaller the opening in your lens. In the image above the mint tea you can clearly see the difference between the first and the second shot. This is a dramatic difference as I shot the first on F5.6 and the other on F32.0, which is really an aperture I never use.

50mm macro on F2.5 (left) and F5.6 (right)

50mm macro on F2.5 (left) and F5.6 (right)

Now the exercise that Aparna has us do is to shoot two photos on a 50mm lens. In the image above I used my 50mm macro which has as a widest aperture 2.5 so that’s what I used for the first shot and I used 5.6 for the second one. As you can see the difference between the two shots is not so dramatic as the difference in the first two photos, but that is partially due to the type of lens used and the fact that the difference between aperture 1 and aperture 2 was not that big. For the first two comparison photos I used my 100mm 2.8 lens which I use for 90% of my foodphotos.

I love a photo with shallow depth of field, but there can be too little of it, so play around with your camera and your lens and see what the result is. Every camera and every lens has a slightly different outcome. Also be aware that if you close the opening in your lens (so your aperture number becomes higher but the opening becomes much smaller) your shutterspeed will rapidly go down. Using a tripod is then essential!

Now hop on over to Aparna’s blog and check out the tips she is giving and the exercises that the others have done there too!

The recipe for the lemoncurd will follow shortly!

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  1. A great post! I wish I had a 50mm lense…



  2. This is such a great post! I am not at all a photographer but take pictures like I want them.BUT my husbnad knows a lot of it!
    You explained it very well! I love your tip posts like this one!

  3. alongside the basics, I’m definitely learning styling..which is so important in the overall appeal of a food image! The lemon curd shot is a simple setup yet stands out.

  4. Thanks for joining me and the others in this exercise, Simone. Your photographs are gorgeous, and and your explanation of aperture and DoF, and how it can differ with different lenses and cameras is great. Love the first shots of your lemon curd the best.

  5. Great post Simone! I would love a 50mm lens too, but I (still?!) have to buy a tripod first! Looking forward to your lemon curd recipe!

  6. I really need to learn a LOT about the technical part of the camera.. know nothing:( just started taking a few shots in aperture priority, but still to experiment more with it. And I do not have a 50 mm.. wish I did. But will get one once I master the camera more. Beautiful photographs Simone.

  7. What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing Simone. I wish I had these lenses. They are just so expensive in SA. But I can dream πŸ™‚ xx

  8. Thank you! I have a book that I’ve been referring to, but even in this short post, you’ve explained it to where I understand it better. Great information. Now, off to play with that aperture.

  9. Simone,
    I appreciate you taking the time to explain photography 101 to novices like myself. I will definately be trying this excercise. And I REALLY appreciate you taking the time to make suggestions and checking out my pictures too! You are pretty awesome!

  10. You know what I love most about this post? I understand what you are talking about! I started a blog because I wanted to keep an online record of my food experiences and recipes for family and friends. I’m a cook and someone who loves to entertain…that did not necessarily translate to being a photographer, that’s for sure. So it’s been a HUGE learning experience and I want you to know how much I appreciate the generosity of spirit people like you have shown to others to make this journey easier. And how excited I am that I actually understand aperture. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks so much Barbara. When I started out with this little blog of mine, I was already a photographer but still had no clue about foodphotography whatsoever! I think I actually posted my very first (horrible) foodpic somewhere here too…

  11. I love all your pictures. I am well familiar with aperture now after two years of practice, but I wish I read something like this back then. Aperture is the most confusing thing in photography concepts and you explained it well.

  12. Great post Simone, though I don’t dare to take photos myself (not my talent I’m afraid), but keeping these things in mind for one day perhaps… πŸ™‚

  13. What a great post and I love how you’ve clearly explained and illustrated depth of field. When I first started using a camera I was reading all about depth of field but until I actually saw an example it didn’t make sense. I wish I had read something like this back then!

  14. Thanks for the tips and the lesson! Despite blogging for years and years now I am still a veritable amateur when it comes to my camera!

  15. Thank you dear Simone, for the lesson and tips. Love the pics and the way you have brought out the differences between the lenses. Awesome! The lemon curd looks yum. Can’t wait for the recipe to up! Beautiful!
    Also, thank you for the constant encouragement. Truly appreciate it!


  16. I have decided when you came to visit me you should also teach me how to use my camera.
    I love this post Simone. You explain everything so well.
    I think I might even take the setting off ‘auto’ xxx

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