What is your favorite ƒ-Stop?

Ocean Isle Peer on early morning walk on the beach in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 360, 1/250, ƒ/16, (35mm = 24)]

If you were to look at the EXIF data on all your photos would most of them be wide open or closed down aperture?

There is a really good chance you fall into one of two camps.

Wedding Day at Grand Cascades Lodge at Crystal Springs Resort [NIKON Z 6, 35.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/500, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 35)]

BOKEH

If this word is part of your vocabulary and what you talk about when it comes to photography most of the time you most likely own some pretty expensive lenses with aperture of ƒ/1.4.

Labor Costs [NIKON Z 6, 35.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/125, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 35)]

You may be just like me when I love to isolate the subject and simplify the composition.

Walk on the the beach in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. [NIKON Z 6, AF-S Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1400, 1/1000, ƒ/16, (35mm = 28)]

Group ƒ/64

There was a group of photographers that shot mainly large format and would close down the aperture to get everything they could sharp as possible.

In 1930 Willard Van Dyke as well as Ansel Adams & Edward Weston formed the Group ƒ/64. They shared a common photographic style characterized by sharp-focused and carefully framed images seen through a particularly Western (U.S.) viewpoint. In part, they formed in opposition to the pictorialist photographic style that had dominated much of the early 20th century, but moreover they wanted to promote a new modernist aesthetic that was based on precisely exposed images of natural forms and found objects.

If you were part of the ƒ/64 style you had to really pay attention to everything in the frame, which if you are familiar with Ansel Adams and Edward Weston’s work you know they paid unbelievable attention to detail.

Form or Function?

Form follows function is a principle associated with late 19th and early 20th century architecture and industrial design in general, and it means the shape of a building or object should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose.

Here are some ideas where Form is more important than Function:

  1. Wood Floors in Bathrooms
  2. Carpet in Bathrooms
  3. Door-less Shower Enclosure

Sometimes, like with anything in life, one side is going to win a bit more over the other. When you’re faced with any situation, I recommend you do what I do: do your best to see both sides of the story, and then chart the best path forward for whatever situation you’re in. 

By the way here is a sampling of images in Lightroom and their aperture for me.

ƒ/1.410653
ƒ/2.823389
ƒ/5.694475
ƒ/832147
ƒ/163346

When I started shooting photos for a newspaper in 1982 I was often shooting wide open due to trying to shoot available light with Black & White Kodak Tri-X film shot at ISO 1600. That was for most of my first twenty years of shooting film the high ISO available. They did make a new film that went to 3200. So, you shot wide open to just get a photo.

BOKEH wasn’t really even talked about in my circles until we started shooting digital and the ISO 12800 or faster was a reality.

ƒ/64 Group wasn’t photographing people most of the time, so they could shoot really long exposures on tripods.

When ISO 12800 was possible for me on my Nikon D3, I for the first time realized I could close down the aperture inside for the first time shooting with available light. This really changed the possibilities.

You Stuck In A Rut?

Most likely in photography you are stuck in a rut. Most of my friends are due to how you learn to shoot. One of my friends teaches people to look for the moment. To do this he tells people just put the aperture on ƒ/2.8 and look for moments.

When I started I shot wide open because I didn’t have much of a choice, but after twenty years of programing I find it hard to shoot other than wide open inside.

Now when I am outside I might shoot at ƒ/5.6 to be sure things are in focus. This is true when I shoot sports. I don’t want the ball and the face out of focus.

If you started with Digital

Now if you started shooting with digital there is a very good chance that Form was more important than Function. You read all those articles about BOKEH and fell in love with the look. That is where Form is more important than Function.

The sad thing is that even Photojournalists and Communication photographers who should be more about Form following Function will find that they want a strong image more than just a storytelling image.

Seattle Skyline [NIKON D750, 70.0-200.0 mm f/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 2.5]

Often I will shoot what I call a beauty shot and while it is often a strong visual, the story isn’t really being told with the photo. I am using it to hook you to make you read the caption that will pull you into the photo.

Balloon Ride in North Georgia [NIKON D3, 24.0-120.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 640, 1/1000, ƒ/5.3, (35mm = 75)]

These are examples of my work that it is really just about how cool something looks.

Family vacation at Tybee Island [X-E2, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 6400, 1/300, ƒ/3.6, (35mm = 32)]

Compare that to where I want to include everything I can in the frame to help tell the story. This is where Form follows Function.

Rose Nantonah the nurse is setting the IV with a small child patient at the Baptist Medical Center in Nalerigu, Ghana. (Photo by: Stanley Leary) [NIKON D2X, AF Zoom 18-50mm f/2.8G, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/80, Focal Length = 27]

If you haven’t thought about it, then you are most likely stuck in a rut.