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Photography QnA: Exposure Settings

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Category: All About Photography : Photographic Field Techniques : Exposure Settings

Wondering about indoor photography exposure settings? Maybe you are more interested in outdoor settings. This Q & A and Exposure Control in Digital Photography article covers it all. For in-depth instruction, check out Bryan F. Peterson's Understanding Exposure online photography course.

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Photography Question 
Glenn Theal

member since: 7/30/2001
  61 .  Appropriate Apertures for Landscapes

I am wondering what the best aperture settings are for doing landscapes. From my own reading of DOF and hyperfocal charts, I have found F/stops between 5.6 and 11 to be most suitable. Specifically, those settings closest to 8, considering that it has the sharpest focus.

Am I correct in this judgement? Are there any situations in landscape photography where I would want to stop down the lens past F/stop 11?
I know that stopping down further will bring the near focus closer, but wouldn't reframing a shot be better than stopping down that much?

Thanks for the help.


7/31/2001 1:14:47 PM

doug Nelson

member since: 6/14/2001
  Sometimes you might want to wring out every last bit of depth-of-field, with the wildflowers in focus, as well as the distant mountains. I wouldn't hesitate to shoot at f16 with a 35- or 28-mm prime lens, and a lens hood, setting the focus at the hyperfocal distance.

8/1/2001 8:19:52 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy

member since: 3/4/2002
  Glenn, so much of it depends on what you want the final image to look like not to mention what lens you are using. There may be times when you want a very shallow DOF and will shoot wide open. There will be times when you want extreme DOF and shoot stopped all the way down. As far as lenses go, wide angle lenses have greater DOF and require less stopping down than telephoto lenses. Depending upon the quality of your lense you may get less softening effects of stopping down than on lower quality lenses. If I'm shooting a landscape and I want it all in focus but I'm not overly concerned about any one item being extremely sharp I will shoot all the way stopped down (f32 or f45). There will be times when the sharpness is the most important factor and you will want to shoot at the optimum aperture but for the most part I shoot at whatever aperture gives me the DOF I require.

8/1/2001 1:03:53 PM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/20/2001
  Hi Glenn, I'm certainly no expert--I'm learning the technical stuff from the beginning. I thought maybe if I tried explaining to you what I've learned, it would help me retain the information--kill two they say.

First, a little review --
1) The farther you stop down (the smaller the aperture), the more depth of field you're going to get, (i.e. more of the subject(s) will be in sharper focus). By f/22, you get extensive DOF.

2) Shorter lenses have greater DOF than telephoto lenses.

3) The distance between you/the camera and the subject also makes a difference. The closer you are, the less DOF you will have.

*The catch is not only having enough light with the small aperture you are trying to get sufficient DOF with, but with the small apertures, you will get a very slow corresponding shutter speed.'s what Nat'l Geog. Field Guide says:

"In landscape photographs we generally expect extensive DOF, with sharp focus from the foreground to the background. To achieve this effect, select a wide-angle lens, set a small aperture (perhaps f/11 or higher), and focus about 1/3 of the way into the scene before reframing and shooting."

I hope I'm not offering redundant information here. I'm quite sure you have this stuff down pat, but I am a little slow and frequently need to go back and refresh my rapidly decaying memory. I also don't have a DOF preview on my camera (rats!), so the "focus 1/3 of the way..." business will have to work for me until I upgrade in the very distant future...


8/1/2001 6:27:17 PM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/20/2001
  OH--and don't forget to use a tripod. pcl

8/1/2001 7:03:42 PM

Glenn Theal

member since: 7/30/2001
  Thanks for all the help, everyone.

I have been focusing on infinity using wider angled lens, i.e. 28mm - 50mm. Obviously, the only reason that I would need any more stopping down than f/stop 8 would be to bring in the near focus.

I find it very interesting that NG recommends stopping down and focusing 1/3 of the distance into the scene. Considering that landscape shots travel very far into the distance (infinity), I am assuming that 1/3 into the scene would be 1/3 of focusing scale on your lens.

Very interesting. Thank-you.


8/1/2001 11:22:46 PM

Glenn Theal

member since: 7/30/2001
  I think that I am finally starting understand this hyperfocal distance thing. Correct me if I am wrong, or just simply say that I've got it. :)

If I use a 35mm lens, use an f/stop of 16, and focus on the hyperfocal distance (in this case 8' 6"), everything from the near distance (in this case 4' 3") to infinity will be in focus. If this is true, it is way too cool!

Also, I take it that when shooting landscape shots, it is more appropriate to set the focusing distance manually rather than using Auto Focus.

I've only been doing this stuff for about 2 months now, and I love it more and more every day.


8/1/2001 11:31:48 PM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/20/2001
  Glenn, about the NG book--they say to focus 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the frame of your landscape since DOF extends roughly 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind the point you focus on. Same basic idea as using the hyperfocal charts. Stopping down will extend the hyperfocal range, thus your extent of DOF. pc

8/2/2001 8:12:24 AM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/20/2001
  Glenn, found this discussion going on farther down the page. Plenty of different explanations for DOF and aperture. Here's something from Jeff on aperture choice and DOF:

"....F8 doesn't give you more DOF. When you focus on an object you have a critical focus spot and DOF. The critical focus spot is the sharpest point of focus. Your DOF is sharp but still not as sharp as the critical focus spot. F22 gives you a larger DOF but the critical focus point is not as sharp as it would be at f8. So unless you need the DOF provided by f22 you are better off with a wider aperture (ie f8,f11,f16 etc.). "

- Jeff 5/24/2001 1:41:25 PM

also check out, and don't forget about checking Canon's (or whatever your camera brand is) Web site for further info.


sorry to be a unsolicited buttinski...pc

8/2/2001 8:38:49 AM

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Photography Question 
Pravin Sanil

member since: 7/25/2001
  62 .  Shutter Speed and Aperture Settings
I have a Nikon F70 and I dont know how to use the shutter speed and aperture settings. I'm a beginner and love photography.

7/25/2001 8:52:54 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
  Exposure 101:
The combination of shutter speed and lens aperture set the film exposure, and this you undoubtedly already know. Most cameras allow the user to set them in full "stops."

Shutter speed is set in seconds and fractions of seconds, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 . . . 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, etc. Following the sequence, the shutter is open half the time in going from one shutter stop to the next.

Lens aperture is set using an f-number. This system was devised to create a common system of setting lens aperture so that the scheme means the same on any lens of any focal length. The f-number is the focal length of the lens divided by the diameter of the aperture. If you have a 100mm lens and the (effective) aperture is 25mm in diameter, the lens is set at f/4. For f/4 on a 200mm lens the (effective) aperture would have to be 50mm in diameter. An f/4 setting on any lens admits the same amount of light as an f/4 setting on any other lens.

Common f-numbers found on lenses are: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, and f/16. The higher the f-number the smaller the aperture opening, and less light is admitted. These, just like the shutter speed settings, are full stops. There are other numbers found, most often for the widest possible lens opening, such as f/3.5 or f/4.5 (these are 1/3 stop larger and smaller than f/4). Partial f-stops are almost always found in 1/3 stop increments.

Amount of light admitted by an aperture is directly related to the its area, not its diameter; area is directly related to the square of the diameter. If you double the diameter, you quadruple the amount of light. If you triple the diameter the amount of light goes up by nine times. That's why f-numbers are in increments of the square root of 2 (1.414 approximated).

Since shutter speed and aperture settings move in equal increments, you can trade shutter stops for aperture stops and have the same exposure. This gives you a range of aperture openings and shutter speeds that you can use.

What determines the required exposure? Basically it's subject brightness and film speed. This is a more complex subject in application because of the need to define what the subject brightness is. For most users, the averaging system of some type performed by the metering built in to the camera works under nearly all conditions.

Advanced users sometimes concern themselves with the the brightness level of the brightest highlights and deepest shadows in which detail is desired, and make decisions about how to average the two. Under some conditions, the difference between them is greater than the film can capture (the contrast is greater than film latitude), requiring more decisions on what to give up, some of the highlight or some of the shadow.

Control of shutter speed is most often desired to stop motion or prevent camera shake from causing visible blurring. Control of aperture is most often desired to set depth of field, the range around the lens focus distance which will appear in focus.

-- John

7/29/2001 11:25:36 AM

Roland Towey

member since: 5/28/2001
  Hi, when you say you don't know how to use shutter & aperture, do you mean you can't operate these functions? I too have the F70.

To set shutter, press 'function button' on left hand side. While holding this down, turn dial on right hand side. You will notice arrow in green area of display. When you turn the dial, the arrow moves into different sections. Stop arrow in area with letter P. Now depress SET button on left hand side and turn dial at same time. You will notice P turns to S or A. When S is displayed turn dial and you will see the shutter speed increase or decrease depending which way you dial.

To set aperture, follow the same steps until A appears in green zone. Don't forget to release the clip on the aperture ring. Turn the aperture ring on lens - you will notice f numbers increase or decrease.

Hope this is of use to you. It was said by critics that this camera is brilliant once you have mastered the controls. I agree. But with a little practice you to will be able to operate easily. I am very happy with the F70.

8/3/2001 6:32:08 PM

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Photography Question 
Lucie e. Moore

member since: 7/18/2001
  63 .  Comprehensive Exposure Charts
I have quite an old camera, passed down from the old man :) and its light meter is broken. I am looking for a comprehensive chart (the kind that used to be on the inside of film boxes) that relates light conditions, to aperture size and shutter speed etc, so that I don't have to buy a new meter. Is there one on the web anywhere? or in a book? I hope someone can help... thanks a lot!!

7/18/2001 1:19:39 PM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 5/18/2000
  Check out this index of technical data for Kodak films

For example, clicking on the link for "KODAK GOLD 100 and 200 Films,
Pub. No. E-15" brings up the document with the following exposure info:

Use the exposures in the table below for average frontlit subjects from 2 hours after sunrise to 2 hours before sunset.

Bright or hazy sun on light sand or snow:
GOLD 100 - 1/125, f/16
GOLD 200 - 1/250, f/16
Bright or hazy sun (distinct shadows)*:
GOLD 100 - 1/125, f/11
GOLD 200 - 1/250, f/11
Weak, hazy sun (soft shadows):
GOLD 100 - 1/125, f/8
GOLD 200 - 1/250, f/8
Cloudy bright (no shadows):
GOLD 100 - 1/125, f/5.6
GOLD 200 - 1/250, f/5.6
Heavy overcast or open shade :
GOLD 100 - 1/125, f/4
GOLD 200 - 1/250, f/4

* Use f/5.6 for backlit close-up subjects.
Subjects shaded from the sun but lighted by a large area of clear sky.

7/18/2001 2:44:07 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
In addition to the data Jon has provided for your immediate use, see also my answer to a similar question a few days ago. The guide referenced can be found for less than $15, it's quite durable and it easily fits in a shirt pocket:

-- John

7/18/2001 11:09:07 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
  Oops -
Forgot to mention, the guide has better descriptions (longer definitions) of what constitutes "open shade," "weak, hazy sun," plus how to adjust slightly for side lighting.

-- John

7/18/2001 11:11:32 PM

Michael J. Cunningham

member since: 12/6/2001
  The old rule of thumb which I picked up somewhere is the "Bright Sun" rule.

It says that a subject to be photographed in bright sun should be shot at f16 with a shutter speed of
1/(film speed). If you're shooting ASA 100 film in bright sun, use f16 at 1/100 or 1/125.

This is a great general rule which my experience has allowed me to adjust as lighting conditions or subject motion has changed.

--Mike C, Philadelphia

12/6/2001 10:47:24 AM

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