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Aperture-Priority AE Technique #2: Create Background Bokeh for a Warm, Friendly Family Photo

Create a bokeh effect in the background when you want to capture your family's warm and friendly mood. This makes facial expressions more appealing. If you set the lens aperture to the maximum, you will get a lovely bokeh effect in the background as well as a softer-looking image. (Reported by: Teppei Kohno)


The maximum aperture of a standard zoom lens is perfect for family photos

When the focus is on both the background and the people being photographed, the appealing facial expressions of the subjects may fail to stand out as they tend to become overpowered by the background. When shooting scenes of family and children, their faces play a starring role. You would want to capture their facial expressions well. For such scenes, use the Aperture-priority AE mode and open the aperture to its maximum. Generally, shots taken at maximum aperture allow a softer depiction to be captured compared to those shot at a smaller aperture. Remembering this will allow you to capture a softer image of the facial expressions of the subjects.

When you set the aperture to its maximum, the f-number becomes the smallest value available on the lens used. The maximum aperture of a standard zoom lens is generally f/3.5. When using a standard zoom lens to shoot family photos with many people present, the background can be blurred by adjusting the focus on all the family members. For family portraits, if there are differences in the distance between each person and the camera, some people will be in focus but others will be out of focus. Hence, it would be best for all of them to stand at about the same distance from the camera.

FL: 28mm/ f/8/ 1/1000sec./ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shot taken at maximum aperture using the EOS 700D's standard zoom lens. The large background bokeh effect makes the child's facial expression the focus of the photo. The child's face is also depicted in a soft manner.


FL: 28mm/ f/8/ 1/125sec./ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shot taken with the aperture narrowed to f/8. The photo has a wide focusing range and becomes a descriptive photo of the surroundings. However, the child lacks presence. Her face also looks sharper with a greater tonal contrast.


Key Point

Use an interchangeable lens that gives a bigger bokeh effect

Although a standard zoom lens set to the maximum aperture is good for taking family photos, a lens with a smaller maximum aperture is recommended when shooting only one or a few people. For example, the EF50mm f/1.8 STM is extremely bright at its maximum aperture of f/1.8, and allows a bigger bokeh effect to be captured. Furthermore, it is compact, lightweight and reasonably priced, making it a highly recommended purchase.

EF50mm f/1.8 STM


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FL: 50mm/ f/1.8/ 1/1250sec./ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
Shot taken at the maximum aperture of the EF50mm f/1.8 STM. Large bokeh effect in the background.


FL: 50mm/ f/5.6/ 1/125sec./ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
Shot taken at the telephoto end maximum aperture of a standard zoom lens (55mm). Without a sufficient bokeh effect, the children’s faces do not stand out as the main focus of the image.


Setting the maximum aperture with the Aperture-priority AE Mode For EOS 700D

1. Set the camera to the [Av] mode

Turn [ON] the power supply and adjust the Mode Dial to the [Av] mode.


2. Turn the Main Dial

Turn the Main Dial to the left to change the f-number to the smallest value.


3. Check that the f-number has been changed to that of the maximum aperture



Teppei Kohno

Born in Tokyo in 1976, Kohno graduated with a Social Work degree from the Department of Sociology of Meiji Gakuin University, and apprenticed with photographer Masato Terauchi. He contributed to the first issue of photography magazine PHaT PHOTO and became an independent photographer after that, in 2003. The author of many books, Kohno not only shoots all sorts of commercial photographs, but also writes prolifically for camera and other magazines.