66 Working with Aperture
Aperture and Narrative
Aperture and Narrative
While the story may not be immediately obvious, all
photographs do tell one. The narrative component of a
photograph is usually the most emotionally important
part of an image. Even if the viewer of the photograph
is not conscious of the story the photo tells, it is the
story the viewer responds to viscerally.
Since narrative is so important to the success of an
image, it is worth every photographers while to think
about the story a photo tells. What is going on in the
photo? What came before the photo? What will come
afterwards? Will a casual observer who wasn’t at the
scene see the same story that you do? What can you do
to introduce compelling or interesting narrative into a
photo? Dont be scared of questions: often the narra
ive itself consists of more questions than answers.
Of course, many things influence the role of narrative in
your photos, including your choice of subject matter and
composition. Aperture choice also plays a big role in the
effectiveness of the narrative structure behind a photo.
The choice of a small aperture (and high depth of
field) can bring disparate elements of a photo together
to create a unified story, particularly in a wide-angle
the other hand, a large aperture (and low depth
of field) isolates, and makes more important, the ele-
ents that are in
focus in a composition. Selective fo-
cus combined with low depth of field tells the viewer
of a photo what the story is about. If you really hit the
jackpot, out of focus elements can also give the viewer
a hint about the backstory.
Working with Aperture
The choice of a wide-open aperture and shallow depth of field helped me to isolate
the boy and the geese from the out of focus and hazy city skyline. The result is an
interesting, and somewhat eerie, narrative. What is that boy doing with the geese?
These aren’t Hitchcocks birds, are they?
The underexposure of the foreground of the photo causes the foregound elements
(boy and geese) to go into silhouette, adding to the sense of mystery.
18–70 zoom lens at 52mm, 1/2000 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 200, hand-held.
I used a very wide angle setting (18mm
in 35mm terms) and great depth of field
(because of the f/22 aperture) to tell the
story of the Serpent Mother and her egg.
12–24 zoom lens at 12mm, 18 seconds at f/22
and ISO 100, tripod mounted.
68 Working with Aperture
I checked my sun and moon charts, and knew the full moon was rising at 9:20 PM, so I positioned
myself at that time to photograph the moonrise from beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
As the bright summer moon emerged from behind the San Francisco skyline, a cruise ship with
passengers enjoying the night spectacle of San Francisco Bay passed in front. I used a moderate tele-
photo to isolate the moon and ship beneath the bridge, and a moderate aperture with a 10-second
time exposure to turn the cruise ship into an abstract composition of horizontal lines of light.
This exposure had the effect of showing the motion in the cruise ship, but not in the other parts of
the composition. The story the exposure tells is of a cruise ship moving rapidly out to sea under the
Golden Gate Bridge by the light of a glowing moon.
18-200mm VR zoom lens at 140mm, ten seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.
Working with Aperture
I used a moderate aperture and shallow depth of field
to capture the eye stalks of this hermit crab, and tell
the story of an ocean creature hiding under a rock.
The hermit crab is hiding under his shell, a kind of crab
mobile home, shown blurred and out of focus on the
upper right of the photo.
200mm f/4 macro lens, 1/160 of a second at f/7.1 and ISO
100, tripod mounted.
70 Working with Aperture
These water drops on a leaf seem to be in a line. Are they waiting for a bus? Are the
two drops on either side part of the group? What does the pattern of water drops
mean? Does it remind you of a sideways musical notation or some kind of glyph?
The choice of a small aperture and high depth of field allowed me to pose the
conundrum of this pattern of water drops in the sun.
200mm f/4 macro lens, 1/10 of a second at f/32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

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