How to Use Creative Aperture to Maximum Effect

One of the most powerful controls on your camera is the aperture setting. It’s so useful that a good proportion of photographers utilize aperture priority as their primary setting, allowing them to quickly change this setting for creative aperture use.

So what are the ways you can use aperture to get creative photos? There are several ways and some different effects that can be achieved. So read on, and see how you can add these creative approaches to your photography.

You can use aperture to create bokeh like this.

Creating Bokeh in Your Photos

Almost certainly the first thing you’ll think of with creative aperture is bokeh. So what is this and how is it achieved?

What is Bokeh?

Bokeh is the area of the photo that’s out of focus, and the level of blur achieved will depend on a number of factors. The word itself come from the Japanese word ‘boke,’ which translates as blur.

Using aperture to blur out the background is an ideal way of making the main subject standout more.

How Creative Aperture Makes Bokeh

You’ll create bokeh by using a lens with a large aperture, and sometimes with a lens that has a long focal length. The best lenses for creating bokeh are prime lenses, mainly because they offer larger aperture. To create bokeh focus on an object in the foreground, and ensure there is a separation to the background. When using a lower focal length with a large aperture the distance of separation between fore and background can be relatively small. If you use a longer focal length with a lens that has a smaller aperture you can still achieve bokeh as long as the background is far behind your foreground object. To sum up use your lenses largest aperture, and ensure you leave enough distance to the background so it’s blurred.

  • Light source – One of the most attractive aspects are what are sometimes called ‘bokeh balls.’ When you have points of light in the background, they’ll become enlarged orbs because of bokeh. Look to place city lights in the background during blur hour, or light reflecting off leaves to create this type of bokeh.
  • Tell the story – One way of subtly telling a story in a scene is to blur out the background, but leave enough definition to see what’s happening in the background. Perhaps you can photograph some food, with the chef making that food blurred into the background.

You can use bokeh for simple minimalism in a photo.

Creative Bokeh

It’s possible to get even more creative with bokeh, by turning it into various shapes. The idea behind this involves placing a piece of black card over the front of your lens. You’ll need to cut the shape your want to create with your bokeh in the center of that card first though! To find out more about how to do this you can read this guide. Remember you’ll need some light sources in the background, so how about experimenting with some fairy lights this Christmas!

Get those creative sparks flying with different shaped bokeh!


Lensbaby is a series of lenses produced with the idea of using bokeh in your photo. It’s a little like a tilt-shift lens and will create stretched bokeh as you change the position of the focal sweet spot. This lens can be fun to play around with, though it doesn’t produce the sharpest photos you’ll ever see.

The Sweet Spot

While this area of aperture usage isn’t especially creative, it’s worth knowing about. The lens sweet spot refers to the aperture which produces the greatest sharpness across your photo. Each photo will have a different sweet spot, but generally between f8 and f11 is the sharpest point for your lens. Knowing your lenses sweet spot is essential knowledge for landscape photographers. Keep in mind that if you have elements close to your foreground, you may need to use focus stacking to keep sharpness across the entire image.

Landscape photographers will often use an aperture of f8 for their photos.

Starburst Effect

A starburst can be produced when you have a single focused light source. This can be a street light, all the way up to the sun! The effect is produced by closing your aperture down to a number smaller than f16. Each lens will produce a slightly different starburst as well. This depends on the type of diaphragm used in your lens to open and close the aperture. The lens diaphragm has a number of blades and depending on how many of these there are, your ‘star’ will have different numbers of spikes.

The sun can have a star look to it, by hiding it behind the tree.

  • Photographing city lights – This is relatively straightforward, as you just need to close down your aperture. Keep in mind however that a small aperture will mean your photo is less sharp.
  • Photographing the sun – To do this you’ll need the sun to be partially blocked. This might mean hiding the sun behind some tree leaves, or waiting for the sun to just about disappear behinds some clouds or headland. In these conditions, the sun won’t dominate the rest of the frame as much, and you can create a star effect with it by closing down your aperture.

Starburst Filters

Not related to creative aperture, but this is an alternate way of creating starbursts in your photo. Once again this will create starbursts from a point of light in your frame. The light spikes will be longer though, and you might decide this creative effect is not for you.

City lights provide a great point of light, and this can be made into a starburst.

Get Your Own Creative Aperture Photos!

So now it’s your turn to use one of the key settings to its creative potential! Get your camera on aperture priority, and see what you can produce!

Do you have a favored way of using aperture for your photography? We’d love to hear your experiences with this setting.

Finally, please share your photos with the digital photography school community, by posting them in the comments section below.

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