What Is a Small Aperture Lens?

f2.8 small aperture lens

Photography allows us to capture a vast array of important shots by using various techniques. These techniques include using a camera’s aperture to obtain your desired effect.

In this article, we will look at what a small aperture is and how it can be useful.

What is a small aperture lens?

Small aperture lenses are utilized for several jobs, including close-up, in-focus shots of a subject, and faraway landscape photos. Depending on distance and light, and you can obtain a greater photo quality in low-light scenarios with a small aperture lens.

Now, let’s dive deeper into what small aperture lenses are and talk more in-depth about their uses. But first, what exactly is aperture?

What Is Aperture?

lens aperture chart

Aperture is the size of the opening in a lens that allows light to enter. Once the light has reached the camera’s sensors, it can then be captured in a photograph. 

This is no different from your eye, as your eyes will also change pupil size when you walk out of a bright day into a dark room. The pupil acts in the same manner as a camera’s aperture.

A camera allows you to control the aperture in its settings.

What Is a Small Aperture Lens?

photograph of an essential oil bottle with background blur
To create this background blur (bokeh) you need a shallow depth of field, achieved with a small aperture.

Now that we understand the basics of what aperture is, let’s break down what we need to know about small aperture lenses.  

A lens with a small maximum aperture lens allows you to take photos with either broad or shallow depths of field by closing off and opening light from reaching your camera’s sensors.

You can accomplish this not only through the lens but also by adjusting the camera’s settings properly. 

A small aperture lens intendeds to provide a shallow depth of field for close-up subjects or a broad depth of field for shots from a distance. 

What Is a Depth of Field? 

baseball ball with a shallow depth of field

Depth of field describes what is in-focus and what is out-of-focus in a photograph.

This term will also help us understand when and why a small aperture lens is appropriate. 

Concerning a small aperture lens, a broad depth of field allows everything in the camera’s viewer to be sharp, despite variations in distances.

Focal length will also impact depth of field, read my article about focal length for more insight.

Again, this takes a bit of separation between you and the subject you are shooting. It will also take some experimentation, as a broad depth of field is better for landscape shots taken from a tripod with slow shutter speed.

A shallow depth of field, on the other hand, has a limited amount of sharp elements in a photograph’s composition. It is usually limited to a single depth being in focus while all others are blurred.

Shallow depths of field are typically reserved for when you want a single subject to be featured, such as in a portrait.  

How Do I Know Which Depth of Field To Choose?

There are no right or wrongs with the depth of field you decide to use. It’s all about what looks good to your eye and what your purpose is for taking the photo.

But with a small aperture lens, you’ll want to be shooting either a shallow depth of field or a broad depth of field with a subject that is not too close.

You’ll also want to be cautious about shooting in low light with a small aperture lens, as the light source of your photograph’s subject is already governed by the lens and camera setting.

But with the right shutter speed and a tripod to steady your long exposure, you can capture incredible images with your camera lens. 

A narrower aperture accompanied by a slower shutter speed will absorb more light, making low-light photos possible. The tripod allows the camera a longer period to take a photograph by letting it be still.

A remote release can also be helpful as it too will prevent your camera from shaking as you won’t even need to touch it. 

A narrow aperture is also suitable for taking pictures of a very small subject at close range.

This can be a tiny bug or a blooming flower, and it will take a sharp photo of the subject while allowing the background to blur.

Similarly, tripods and remote releases can be helpful for close-up photography. The closer you get to your subject, the more any instability in the camera will show. 

Shooting with a small aperture lens will take a great deal of experimentation from shot to shot, as each combination of distance, time, and lighting can and will vary. This goes especially for after dark while trying to capture a starburst effect or car light trail. 

What Do the Aperture Numbers Mean?

After understanding what a small aperture is, it is also essential to know what is the opposite, a large aperture.

You first need to know that the numbers are the inverse of each other, meaning small aperture numbers are higher, and large aperture numbers are lower. This is because the aperture is measured in fractions. 

For example, an f/2.8 is larger than an f/11. This is because the ‘2.8’ represents the whole number. So another way to look at f/2.8 is as the fraction 1/2.8, which is larger than 1/11 (f/11).

With experience, you’ll begin to understand which lenses and apertures are appropriate for which situations. If your photos are either too light or too dark, try adjusting the shutter speed and see how that works with your aperture. If that isn’t enough, you can raise your ISO number.


Photography has endless possibilities, and with the right equipment, knowledge, and level of experimentation, you can capture priceless moments with your small aperture lens.

We hope this article has been helpful, and we can’t wait to see what memorable photo you capture with your small aperture lens next. 

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Hi! I'm Rudy.
rudy dewatine

I’m a travel photographer from Paris, France. I blog and publish articles about camera lenses here at lensguide.io.

Hope you find them helpful, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

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