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What is the best aperture for daylight?

When shooting photos in daylight, choosing the right aperture is essential for getting properly exposed, sharp images. The aperture, which is measured in f-stops, controls the amount of light entering the camera and the depth of field. Selecting the optimal aperture for daylight shooting involves balancing multiple factors like subject distance, desired background blur, and required shutter speed.

What is Aperture?

In simple terms, aperture refers to the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken. The aperture is controlled by adjustable blades inside the lens that can open up or close down to let in more or less light. Aperture size is measured in f-stops – common aperture settings on lenses include f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, and f/11. The lower f-stop numbers represent wider apertures that let in more light, while higher f-stop numbers are smaller apertures that let in less light.

Aperture also affects depth of field – the area in front of and behind the subject that appears sharply focused. Lower f-stop numbers produce a shallow depth of field, while higher f-stop numbers give a greater depth of field. For example, shooting at f/1.4 will create a photo with a very shallow depth of field, while f/16 will make more of the scene appear in focus.

Choosing the Optimal Aperture for Daylight

When photographing in daylight, the optimal aperture setting will depend on the needs of the shot and artistic goals. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Lighting conditions – A wider aperture (lower f-stop) may be needed on an overcast day or in shade, while a smaller aperture would work fine in very bright sunlight.
  • Subject distance – Distant subjects generally require a smaller aperture to get proper focus, while closer subjects can be shot with wider apertures if you want blurred backgrounds.
  • Motion blur – Fast moving subjects may require faster shutter speeds, which can be achieved by opening up the aperture.
  • Depth of field – Do you want your whole scene in focus? Or blurred backgrounds/foregrounds to isolate the subject? Adjust aperture accordingly.
  • Lens sweet spot – Most lenses are sharpest when stopped down 1-2 stops from their maximum aperture.

Smaller Apertures for Daylight Landscapes

When photographing landscape scenes in daylight, it is common to use smaller apertures in the f/8 to f/16 range. This provides a large enough depth of field to get both near and far elements sharp and focused. Smaller apertures also often give better sharpness and image quality due to being in the lens’s optimal center of its aperture range. A downside is that longer shutter speeds may be required to compensate for the smaller aperture, necessitating a tripod.

Example f/stop settings for landscape photos

Aperture Use When
f/8 General landscape shooting in daylight
f/11 Greater depth of field needed for very near and far subjects
f/16 Maximizing depth of field is critical

Wider Apertures for Daytime Portraits

When taking portraits outside in daylight, photographers often prefer using wider apertures in the f/1.4 to f/4 range. The shallow depth of field produced by wider apertures helps isolate the subject from the background and creates more pleasing, softened backgrounds. This draws the viewer’s eye towards the subject. Wider apertures also allow faster shutter speeds to avoid motion blur when shooting handheld. A downside is that getting proper focus can be trickier, requiring more precision.

Example f/stop settings for daylight portraits

Aperture Use When
f/1.4-f/2 Extremely shallow depth of field and bokeh wanted
f/2.8 Good subject isolation with nicely blurred background
f/4 Slight background softening while keeping more in focus

Adjusting Aperture in Different Light Conditions

The optimal aperture range can shift in varying outdoor lighting situations. Here are some examples:

  • Backlighting – Use a narrower aperture (higher f-stop) to avoid a silhouette effect.
  • Sunny conditions – Stop down aperture more to decrease light entering the camera.
  • Heavy overcast – Open up aperture wider to compensate for less ambient light.
  • Sunrises/sunsets – Wider apertures help capture the mood with shallow depth of field.
  • Light rain/fog – Narrower apertures help maximize depth of field.

Finding the Right Balance

Determining the ideal aperture is ultimately about balancing trade-offs. Wider apertures provide faster shutter speeds, shallower depth of field and better low light performance. But they also decrease overall image sharpness, make proper focusing more difficult, and reduce depth of field. Narrower apertures provide greater depth of field and maximize image sharpness, but require slower shutter speeds and perform worse in low light conditions.

When photographing in daylight, it’s recommended to start at your lens’s optimal sharpness aperture, typically f/8 or f/11, and adjust from there based on the creative and technical needs of the shot. Use wider apertures when you want more background blur or faster shutter speeds, and stop down for greater depth of field when necessary. With experience, selecting the right aperture for the situation will become second nature.


While there is no single perfect aperture that works for every daylight photo, using the f/8 to f/16 range is a safe starting point for general shooting. Wider apertures around f/2.8-f/4 are better for portraits and shallow depth of field, while narrower settings like f/16 help maximize depth of field when required. The most important thing is understanding how aperture affects exposure, depth of field, and image quality so you can quickly adjust it as needed for changing daylight conditions.