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APERTURE 101

For DSLR users, this is one of my favorite subjects. Why? Because changing the aperture in your lens can totally change how your photo will look. And there will be photos in this article to show you just how much this change will do. But, I like what the changes do vs. changing shutter speeds. Changing shutter speeds in your camera are meant for certain types of photos for sure, but, changing your aperture settings in your camera can significantly change the outcome of your photo.

To explain this, I have found a couple of good articles how exactly the aperture works and how it changes your photo’s outcome.

The first article is from PICTURE /CORRECT, and was written by: Tiffany Mueller:

Photographers use aperture for a multitude of things from getting the proper exposure to creating a specific depth of field. Understanding how it works is essential to being able to use aperture to your advantage and taking the photographs you envision in your mind.

Photographers use aperture for a multitude of things from getting the proper exposure to creating a specific depth of field. Understanding how it works is essential to being able to use aperture to your advantage and taking the photographs you envision in your mind. In this quick primer, John Cripps breaks down the ins and outs of aperture and lets us know what it’s all about:

WHAT IS AN APERTURE?

Simply put, an aperture is the opening in a lens that allows light to enter and, conversely, blocks light from coming in depending on which setting it is on. If you hold a lens up to the light and move the aperture ring (or arm depending on your lens) you will see the aperture diaphragm opening up and closing down. That is your aperture.

Aperture is the hole that lets light into your lens.

HOW CAN YOU USE APERTURE?

Let’s say you want to take a photo of a tree, but the tree you want to photograph is surrounded by a bunch of other trees. How do you isolate the chosen tree from the others to draw the viewers eye to it? Simple. Just adjust your aperture. Look at the two photographs below. They were taken using Aperture Priority Mode, which locks your aperture to a setting that you control and automatically adjusts the ISO and shutter speed to get the proper exposure.

At f/4, a narrow aperture, the depth of field is shallow, effectively isolating the tree in the foreground
At f/22, a lot more of the trees are in focus, making it harder to decide which is the subject.

WHAT DOES THE F NUMBER MEAN?

The F number (i.e. f/4, f/8, f/22, etc.) represents the ratio between the focal length of your lens and the diaphragm of your lens. But there’s no need to memorize any complicated formula. Just remember, the bigger your F number, the more depth of field you will have, even though it’s actually a smaller sized aperture opening. A wider aperture (small f number) lets in more light and results in a more shallow depth of field. Think of it this way:

“Say you have a horde of screaming tweens at a Justing Beiber concert trying to get backstage. If you only have 2.8 security guards holding them back, well, there’s a lot space in between them for those teeny boppers to get through, but if you have 22 guards holding rank, there’s a lot less space for those Beliebers to make it past.”

Justin Beiber, huh? Well, I like that analogy.

Here is another article that gives just a little bit more detail about how the aperture works depending on what lens you use. Check this out:

This article was written by Lee Johnson for PICTURE / CORRECT:

Depth of field is a photography term that refers to the selective focus of the camera lens along a certain plane. This creates a sharp focus for any objects at a specific distance from the lens, while objects further away from that specific distance become increasingly blurry. The more shallow your depth of field is, the more precise your focus becomes, thus leaving objects in front of or behind your subject more blurry. A deep depth of field is the opposite, and all objects are sharper.

Photo by Cam Miller; ISO 100, f/3.2, 1/100-second exposure.

There are four main factors that affect the depth of field:

  1. Format or frame size. The area of light captured by a camera (signified by the type of sensor in digital photography (i.e. 2/3 CCD, APS-C, etc.).
  2. Aperture. The lower the F-stop number, the more shallow your depth of field will be. Be aware that for video, you may need neutral density filters to help compensate. For still photography, you can usually compensate by increasing the shutter speed.
  3. Lens length (zoom). The longer your lens length (the closer you zoom in), the shallower your depth of field will be.
  4. Physical distance from the lens itself. The closer your subject is to the lens, the shallower your depth of field will be. This is because the depth of field is not linear and becomes more shallow quicker as you get closer to the lens. For example, if your subject is 10 meters away, objects at 15 meters away will appear sharper than objects 5 meters away, even though they are both 5 meters away from your focal point.

As you might guess from these factors, this makes getting clear pictures in macro photography very challenging.

Photo by Bernd Thaller; ISO 3200, f/18.0, 1/25-second exposure.

In macro photography, the lens is usually either very close to the subject, at a longer zoom length, or both. To mitigate this, there is a technique called “stacking,” in which a subject is shot from the same angle multiple times, each with a different focal point, and the images are digitally combined to create one smooth shot that’s completely in focus.

So, with all that information in mind, I hope you can take that and go practice with your DSLR, and discover what you can do with your aperture setting. It will amaze you. You too, will find joy in realizing how you can change the outcome of your photos.

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Here are some more creative ideas of how to use your aperture:

Photo by Valiphotos on Pexels.com


Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com


Photo by Alex Andrews on Pexels.com


Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com
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