apertures top to bottom : f/1.8, f/8.0, f/1.8, and f/9.0

Hey guys, last time I talked about shutter speed, as part of a series of posts on how to use your camera in manual mode in order to control your exposure and achieve other effects. Today I want to focus on aperture, and I’m pretty excited. Aperture is my favourite – you’ll see why at the end of this post.

Aperture is the size of the opening in the lens when you’re taking a photo. When you press the shutter of your camera a hole opens up inside your lens which lets light through. Your aperture determines the size of that hole, so the larger the hole the more light gets in (the smaller the hole the less light). Aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’. You would have probably seen something like ‘f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22’ before. Moving from one f-stop to the next either doubles or halves the amount of light going through the lens. At this point I’ll have to mention shutter speed again, as it follows the same principle: a change in shutter speed from one stop to the next also doubles or halves the amount of light getting in. So if you increase one of them (either aperture or shutter speed), and decrease the other one you will still have the same amount of light getting through your lens.

Just a little more tech-stuff before we move on to the really nice effects : Don’t get confused by the f-numbers. A large aperture (when the hole inside your lens is big and lets through lots of light) is represented by a small f-number (e.g. f/2.8). And the other way round: A small aperture (small hole – lets through little light) is given as a large f-number (e.g. f/22).

The biggest impact aperture has on the outcome of your photos is by influencing the depth-of-field. A large aperture results in a shallow depth-of-field, where only a small part of the photo is in focus, and the rest (in front and behind the point of focus) is blurry. A small aperture gives you a large depth-of-field, which means pretty much everything in your photo (from the foreground to the background) is sharp and in focus.

Keeping this in mind aperture has a huge impact on the outcome of a photo. For example small apertures are often used in landscape photography in order to keep most of the landscape sharp, whereas large apertures can be really handy when it comes to portrait photography. When taking a portrait you usually want your subject to be in focus, and avoid anything distracting. By using a large aperture you get a nice blurry background (due to the small depth-of-field). So keep in mind :

large aperture = small depth-of-field = small f-number (e.g. f/2.8)
small aperture = large depth-of-field = large f-number (e.g. f/22)

I love using a large aperture which gives me a nice blurry background, and focuses the attention on the main subject/object. It can also give you a really nice bokeh effect, making your image look dreamy and soft.

The difference that the size of the aperture can make is really obvious – the first photo at the top of the post was taken with an aperture of f/1.8, whereas the aperture for the second photo was set on f/8. You can see the background in the second photo is a lot sharper and in focus than in the first picture. (Same with the other images included in this post.)

Now that you know how much of an impact aperture can have on the outcome of your photos you should give it a go. Getting out your camera and experimenting is the best way to get your head around the numbers and getting used to the different results. I’d recommend to use your camera in aperture-priority mode (A or AV), so you don’t have to worry about any other settings for now and can entirely focus on aperture.

I hope you’ve learned something today – see you next time when we’ll have a look at ISO. :)

Helena Mueller is a photographer & blogger based in London who loves arts, sweets, and dreaming of pretty places. She shares photography tips in story form for the Zoom In column.
  1. Shelly says:

    Thanks for the lesson!

    I do food photography for my blog and have just started branching out into manual mode…cannot wait to experiment with the aperture now that I have a better understanding!

  2. anto says:

    wow, what a fantastic lesson! Thank you very much. it’s so helpful and makes me want to grab my camera right now.

  3. Oh, man, but your colors are so true! My reds always end up looking pink, or orange, blues go too bright…it is a long list of ever-different color problems. And then, sometimes, all of the colors in a photo will seem OK…except one. I hope you’ll do a post on achieving vibrant and real color!

  4. joy says:

    Thanks for the tips here! I second Judy’s comment by the way.

  5. Helena says:

    Thanks everyone! Glad this helps. :) + it’s really good to know what you’re struggling with, so I can come up with content that’s relevant to you. Will keep the ‘colour’ thing in mind.

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