Basics - Aperture

What's up?

So here is what everyone has been waiting for. To be honest I might have been waiting for it too. Each of these posts on camera Basics will be a little lengthy so make sure you have a little bit of time on your hands.

As always I recommend you PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE (take more and more pictures). It's the only way that you'll achieve better ones. And if you love taking photos then your practice shouldn't be that hard :)

Before we start be sure to check out Gear Pt. 3. It's not required, but still a good read.

Anyway so I'm here to talk about aperture. What is aperture? Well for the longest time I called it the "blur" in photos. But I wasn't exactly right. It's what controls the blur. But it's a whole lot deeper than that.

While aperture controls the amount of light coming into the lens. it even more importantly controls your depth of field.

If I'm being honest depth of field isn't something I've understood greatly until recently. I knew how to achieve the maximum amount of blur (shallowest depth of field) and I went for it. But that's not always the right move.

Let's start with what all photos revolve around - light. Lighting is key in any photo you take. Do you want a lot? Do you want a little? How much is too much? All those good questions.

I always prefer more lighting than less. But that's just a personal preference. All photographers are different. I myself prefer natural lighting. that is light the sun, moon, or stars make. But remember, it's all personal preference.

So if a picture is too dark we need to add more light. How can we do this? There are three ways.

- Slow the shutter speed down

- Increase the aperture

- Increase the ISO

Aperture is what we're focusing on in this post. I always shoot in Manual mode. Why? Because you can control each of those settings listed above (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) individually. But let's talk about the other three common settings - Auto, Av, and Tv

Auto mode, senses the image you're going to take and changes all the settings (Shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO) to give you the best and most well lit image it can.

Av mode. or Aperture Priority mode, changes your settings based upon the best aperture for that photo. This creates an image where you get the most "blur" while keeping your other settings in tact. There's nothing wrong with that until you're in a dimly lit room and your camera says that your ISO can't go higher to give you more light without making the photo bad. But you know that can be edited just fine. Then you have to change to another mode.

Tv mode, or Shutter Speed Priority mode, changes your settings based upon the best shutter speed for that photo. This creates an image where you get the most fastest or slowest shutter speed necessary to give you a well lit picture.

Now, back to Manual mode.

Manual mode let's you change all these things at once.

Aperture is changed in "stops" - possibly know to you as "f-stops". On your screen it is shown in numbers such as f/1.8, f/2.2, f/3.5, etc. Each of those numbers has a certain meaning. The lower the number goes the more light is allowed into the lens. Let me show you.

So, if you read my Gear (Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3) series, you know that the "click" you camera makes when you press the shutter button is the mirror in your camera closing to allow the image to record on your sensor. If you didn't read that's fine, but I highly encourage you to go back and give them a read - they give some insight into my work and will help explain some of the language I may be using. Well, each lens has "blades" . And they close to only allow a certain amount of light into the camera. Aperture controls this. So when depending on what your f-stop is, f/1.4, f/2, or f/2.8, etc. that is how much light will be coming through to light your picture.


Aperture doesn't just control the amount of light coming through. It controls the depth of field as well. Let's talk about that.

So depth of field is just what it sounds like. And if you have no idea what it sounds like let me help you.

You're in a large open field with your best friend. You're having fun with a camera someone let you borrow. You tell them to walk ten steps away, turn around, and face you.

Look at them . Then look at everything surrounding them. Behind them, about thirty steps away, is an orchard. Do you want to see the orchard in the picture of not?

Now close your eyes.

No, actually close them and picture everything you just read.

Think of all that space between them and the orchard, the "depth of the field", as your depth of field.

A greater depth of field is achieved by increasing the f-stop (f/16).

A shallower depth of field, "blur" is achieved by decreasing the f-stop (f/1.8).

Check this out.

So if you want to see that orchard behind your friend you need to increase your aperture. But as you do, the "hole" gets smaller and smaller which means you have to add light in other areas. This is where shutter speed and ISO come in.

Now one thing you'll notice in each of these pictures, is that there's not a lot of difference in the "hole" created by the blades closing - at least not for the higher apertures.

For example there's not a lot of difference between f/16 and f/22. But there is A LOT of difference between f/2.8 and f/5.6. The same can be said for their depth of field. Once you reach the lowest f-stop your lens will allow (yes, the lowest aperture is dictated by the lens and not the camera) the depth of field is very VERY small. This is why often times in portraits, an eye will be in focus, but an eyelash is not.

So for a group photo, it's probably not the best idea to shoot at your lowest f-stop. Here's why.

Lets say you have a group of seven friends. They all want a picture together so you make them stand side by side, stand about thirty steps back to take their picture and your lens aperture is set for f/1.8.

You focus on the person in the center, as you should, and snap the picture. What you'll find is that as you move away from the person in the middle the picture gets blurrier and blurrier leaving the people on the edge completely unrecognizable.

So what do you do?

Increase the depth of field. After all, this isn't a wedding shot. Go for something like f/2.8 or f/4.

BUT what if it was a wedding shot. The bride's grandparents who've traveled from Washington State just for THIS moment.

These are the things you have to know. Or should know. Or should be getting to know.

So to sum it all up, aperture isn't just about blur, it's about what's in focus and what's not. It's about your depth of field and how much light is coming through. It's about determining the very nature of your shot. And it's my absolute favorite.

Play around with it and let me know if you have any questions below.

Until next time,


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