How to Stop Down in Photography

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When you are new to photography, you may often hear the phrase "stop down" referred to either in shooting or processing a print. The term "stop down" refers to the F-stop on the aperture of your lens, and means to change it to a smaller opening. F-stops on a standard 50 mm lens generally range from F2 to F32, where F2 is the largest opening letting in the most amount of light, and F32 is the smallest opening, letting in the least amount of light. Stopping down has a couple of advantages. If you find yourself in a very bright situation, stopping down will allow you a greater range of tones (less contrast) while increasing your depth of field.

Things You'll Need

  • Film camera with either manual or semi-manual settings
  • Color or black-and-white film
  • Light meter (internal or hand-held)
  • Access the situation in relation to what sort of image you want to create. Generally, you will want to stop down in bright, outdoor situations where you want a greater depth of field.

  • Take a light reading with your internal or external light meter. If your light meter registers above the average line reading, you can stop down by turning your aperture to a higher-numbered F-stop, for example, from F8 to F11.

  • Adjust your "shutter speed" to accommodate your aperture change as needed. Shutter speed refers to how fast or slow your aperture opens, and directly corresponds to the F-stop opening. Shutter speeds on cameras generally range in fractions of seconds from 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, to 1 second. Note that some cameras will have more options than others.

  • Increase your depth of field in a high light situation when you have a proper light meter reading by making an adjustment to your shutter speed. Close down your aperture opening to a higher number. Less light will be coming in, so you will need a slower shutter speed to accommodate the change. For example, if your correct light meter reading is at F8 and 1/125 of a second of shutter speed and you stop down to F 11, you will need to let in more light with a longer shutter speed of 1/60.

  • Lessen the depth of field (a clear foreground and out-of-focus background) with a larger aperture opening, and a faster shutter speed. The least depth of field you can achieve is with F-stop F2. In high light situations, you may need a shutter speed as fast as 1/1000 of a second.

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