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You are probably already familiar with the effect of aperture on your images. If not, here’s a quick recap: for any given focal length and camera-to-subject distance, use a wider aperture to get less of the image in focus. There’s a fair amount of science behind that statement (some of it subjective, such as the definitions of depth-of-field and sharpness) but the end result is that you can use wide apertures to limit depth-of-field and add a real creative edge to your images. Note that you’ll get the best results with a prime lens as they have wider maximum apertures.
I’m writing about using wide apertures in this article because they are exciting. You can use them to do wonderful things with composition, focus and colour. Today I’m going to concentrate on the relationship between aperture and colour, something that I hadn’t really thought about before until someone pointed it out in a comment on a previous article. It made me realise that a wide aperture alone isn’t enough to make a good image. Light (as always in photography) is important, and (unless you’re working in black and white) so is colour.
Here’s an example. I used an 85mm lens and an aperture of f2.0 to create a portrait with very little depth-of-field. Now, look at the model. She has fair skin and dark hair. She’s wearing a black top over another green top. There is very little colour. I emphasised that by placing her against a grey coloured background. I darkened the background in Lightroom and reduced the saturation. The end result is a portrait with a lot of neutral light and dark tones and very little colour. The colour has become a subtle and understated part of the composition.
Here are two more portraits. They were taken during the same shoot, just with different backgrounds. In both cases I moved the model away from the background so that it would go out of focus. The idea here was to have fun and play around with the colours. Unlike the previous example the colours are strong, rather than subtle.
The background in both portraits was a painted door. Perhaps it’s also another example of seeing – where many photographers would see a door I saw colour, because I understood that I could throw the doors out-of-focus by choosing the right lens and aperture.
This portrait has a different approach. We took the photos in a children’s playground, and I noticed that the model’s jumper was nearly exactly a match with the colour of one of the plastic climbing frames. I was able to position her so that the colour of the background (out of focus again) matched her jumper.
The key in all these photos is first in observing the colours (seeing what is actually happening in the scene) and then finding interesting ways to work with the colour palettes presented by the combination of clothes worn by the models and the environment we were in. None of these were pre-conceived concepts. I was simply reacting to the circumstances given to me.
It’s also part of learning about how lenses and aperture work. Once you understand that you can make the background go out of focus by moving your model away from it and using a short telephoto lens with a wide aperture, you can start seeing what the camera sees, rather than what you see when you use your own eyes.