Aperture is a basic concept in photography, yet one of the most important. Understanding aperture doesn’t have to be difficult. In this short article you’re going to learn what it is and how to use in no time.
In photography, aperture affects how bright or dark an image is and it also affects the Depth of Field. The aperture of a lens is the size of the opening that allows light through into the camera body. Understanding what is the aperture is so important because it will get you away from automatic mode and also because together with Shutter Speed, ISO and Focal Length is one of the pillars of photography.
If you’re looking for an in-depth explanation about how aperture works together with ISO and Depth of Field you can also read my articles
Photography Basics: Understanding ISO and The Ultimate Beginner Guide to Photography.
How Does Aperture Work?
Let’s understand how Aperture works.
When you’re shooting a photograph, your lens diaphragm opens for a certain amount of time (exposure time) and it allows the light to hit the camera sensor to record the image.
The size of the lens opening is the Aperture and it’s measured in f-stops.
It’s important to know that mastering the use of aperture will allow you to dramatically improve your photos. Thanks to a wide aperture for example, you can obtain a shallow Depth of Field hence a nice bokeh (soft background). Viceversa a narrow aperture will cause the Depth of Field to be longer and so to get a larger part of your image in focus.
Read the Bokeh Photography Tutorial for Beginners to learn how to obtain silky smooth backgrounds in your photos using aperture.
As I said, aperture not only affects the Depth of Field, but also the exposure of your image. To a wider aperture not only corresponds a shallower depth of field, but also a brighter image. Viceversa, a narrow aperture will give you a darker image (and a longer depth of field).
As you adjust the aperture in your settings, a series of circular blades inside your lens will narrow and widen determining different opening, according to the values of aperture you choose.
Let’s now introduce the concept of f-stop (and make things a bit more confusing) and how to measure aperture. Take a look at the following images.
Here you can see how aperture affects the brightness and darkness of an image (exposure). From left to right as you can see the initial aperture value of f/2.8 will let in a lot of light. That’s a wide aperture. Moving forward, reducing the aperture reduces the brightness and as you notice the values on the second and last images are f/8 and f/22. So the greater the f-number the smaller the aperture, the darker the image.
In the following image instead, you can see how aperture affects Depth of Field.
On the left, the wide open lens (wide aperture f/2.8) results in a shallow Depth of Field. The background is completely out of focus. On the right a small aperture (f/16) makes it so that the background is acceptably sharp as well as the foreground. Larger Depth of Field.
There’s a lot more to say in regards to Depth of Field and how to master it with the knowledge of Hyperfocal Distance. Find more here The Best Guide to Understanding Hyperfocal Distance
How to set different values of aperture in your camera? I recommend to abandon the Automatic mode of your camera and set it to Aperture Priority mode. It’s called A (or Av on Canon cameras). The Aperture Priority mode is a semi-manual mode with which you can adjust the aperture value and the camera will automatically determine the correct shutter speed for a correct exposure. This should be enough, but The Complete Guide to Camera Settings will walk you through the process step by step in case you need it.
Experiment, Experiment, Experiment!
At his point you know quite a lot about aperture. To master it, make sure to experiment with different values and scenarios and compositions. Exploring the menu of your DSLR or mirrorless camera and playing around with different settings is one of the most important things to do when learning photography. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or need any help understanding your how camera works!
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Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.