What the F___?! Stop!

I decided I wanted to become more proficient with my camera. So I hired a professional photographer to give me some one-on-one training. His name is Jay Pegger. Jay took me out into the field so he could give me some pointers on how to shoot.

We came upon a beautiful Joshua tree that Jay thought would make an excellent photographic subject. So he told me to frame up a picture.

Jay: Frame up a picture. But before you do, you’re going to want to increase your focal ratio. (I creased my forehead) You know, your f/stop.

Oh, that seemed easy. I already knew the control for adjusting f/stop. So I made the tweak as instructed.

Jay: Before you shoot, let me check your adjustment.

He took the camera.

Jay: What the f___? I thought you knew how to adjust f/stop!

Me: I do. You told me to increase it, so I took it up to f/22. That’s as high as it can go. It was at f/11.

Jay: No, no, when you increase f/stop, that means you decrease the number.

Me: Come again? You mean more is less?

Jay: No, not at all. And I thought you told me you’d studied all this. I didn’t realize you were such an amateur! Listen carefully. F/stop gets bigger the smaller the number, because it’s a ratio of the size of the diaphragm that controls the size of the aperture. More f/stop means more light.

Me: Before I got fixed, I always stopped my f-ing if I knew she wasn’t wearing a diaphragm. I know what that aperture can do to a man.

Jay: That’s not funny. I’ve heard all those stupid jokes many times before. That’s why I try to limit my students to more advanced photographers. Now listen! Wrong diaphragm, wrong aperture. There’s a diaphragm in the lens of your camera.

Me: So tell me, Jay, what does the “f” stand for, in f/stop?

Jay: Focal! Focal! Got it?! Focal!!

Me: I rest my case.

Jay: Oh, Jesus! Look . . . just remember, you increase f/stop by reducing the number. But if it will make things easier, let’s just talk about aperture. Now, increase the aperture in your camera.

I took the camera back and fiddled with the controls. This would be easier if I wasn’t already at the highest f/stop. Or was that the lowest f/stop?

Me: Hey Jay, I’m already at f/22. How can I possibly increase the aperture any further?

Jay swiped the camera out of my hands.

Jay: Listen! You increase aperture by increasing f/stop! You increase f/stop by reducing the number! This isn’t brain surgery!!

Me: Alright, alright! I just wanted to make sure, that’s all. I suspected it all along. Just checking, that’s all.

I didn’t really suspect that, but I didn’t like Jay being mad at me. It hurts my feelings to pay someone by the hour to yell at me. I took the camera back, and reduced the f/stop number down to f/8.

Me: I’m at f/8. Is that good, or do you want me to reduce the f/stop further?

Jay: Reduce?! Reduce?! No damnit! I want you to INCREASE the f/stop further!!! INCREASE it to f/6!

His temper-tantrum was leaving me feeling panicked. And when I feel panicked I have a hard time thinking straight. With shaky fingers, I fiddled with the controls.

Me: Okay, okay, calm down. There, no, wait. Oh goshdarnit! I increased the f/stop to f/10!

Jay: Goshdarnit?! GodDAMNit!! Don’t you fucking listen?! It’s motherfucking impossible to increase an f/stop from f/8 to f/10! Motherfucking impossible! Understand?!!

I stood there tremulous. My eyes darted around for any weapon I might use to defend myself. There was a stick about 10 yards away.

Me: Jay, Jay, I’m sorry. I’m just a little nervous. It would help if you’d stop yelling at me.

Jay’s pupils visibly dilated, as if there were out-of-control f/stops whirring about in his eye sockets. But after a long minute they receded. He actually started to calm down.

Jay: You’re right. I’m sorry. But this whole f/stop issue really bugs me. Every new photography student seems to have a learning curve when it comes to f/stop. And wanna know something? I’m sick of it! It really isn’t that hard to get. But I’ll try to be a little more patient.

Me: Thank you, Jay. Now, could you tell me why you wanted me to increase the aperture?

Jay: Oh, well that’s to reduce your depth of field. We want the Joshua tree to be in focus, with the background being slightly out-of-focus. It makes for a striking effect.

Me: So you increase aperture to reduce your depth of field?

Jay: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. (Breathing more deeply and calmly) Now just go ahead and increase your aperture, and let’s take this picture.

I fiddled with the camera’s controls.

Me: Jay, do you think f/22 would give me a big enough aperture? I mean, when I look through the viewfinder the depth of field doesn’t seem to have gone down much.

Jay: You son-of-a-bitch!!!

I ran for the stick.


When you increase aperture, you decrease depth of field, throwing the background out of focus. I let Jay take the picture.

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