3 Things Aperture Mode is Perfect For in Photography

Many new photographers are overwhelmed by all the settings on their camera. But what if you could ignore most of the settings on your camera and just choose one to experiment with? Where would you begin?

I suggest you begin by experimenting with the aperture because this setting has a huge effect on your photos.

Once you know the things Aperture Mode (or Aperture Priority) is perfect for, you’ll have increased your creative possibilities and simplified the camera setting problem.

Here are three things you can do with Aperture Mode.

But first, how to put your camera on Aperture Mode

For most cameras, to put your camera on Aperture Mode you need to turn the dial to A in order to take control of your aperture (Av for Canon).

This is a Nikon camera. On Canon, you’re looking for Av

When you look at the screen on your camera, you’ll notice a number with an F beside it. This is your aperture value. Use the scroller on your camera to change that number. Experiment and see how high and how low you can make that number go.

When that number is smaller (1.8, 3.5, 5.6) the aperture is wider or more open.

When the number is larger (11, 16, 22) the aperture is narrower or more closed.

As we move through the tips, you’ll see how opening or closing your aperture affects your photo. When you’re intentional about setting your aperture, it will drastically change your photo.

1. How to create background blur (or keep the background in focus if you prefer)

Think in terms of opposites for a moment.

Normally, when we take a portrait, we only want the person to be in focus. But when we photograph a landscape, we want the whole photo to be in focus.

I’ll show you how you can use aperture to create background blur for portraits. I’ll also show you the opposite; how to keep the whole scene in focus for landscapes.

The principle is as simple as this: open your aperture for portraits, close it for landscapes.

PS – the technical term for background blur is bokeh (like a bouquet of flowers).

Remember to open your aperture to create background blur in your portraits. Opening your aperture means setting it to the smallest number possible (probably 1.8 or 3.5 or 5.6). I set the aperture to F/2.5 for this portrait.
F/1.2 using the 56mm Fuji prime lens
Remember to close your aperture to keep the whole scene in focus for landscape photos. Closing your aperture means setting it to a larger number such as 11, 16, or 22. I set the aperture to F/11 for this landscape photo.
The aperture is set to F/11 for this landscape photo.

How to achieve better bokeh (background blur)

The first thing I told you about bokeh is that you need to open your aperture all the way. That means that you need to set it to the smallest number possible. That number might be 5.6, 3.5, or even 1.8, depending on your lens.

However, opening your aperture all the way isn’t always enough. So I’ll show you a formula for getting an even better bokeh.

My goal for the following portrait of Batman is to have him in focus with a nice blurry background.

There are four simple steps involved; let’s look at them one at a time.

1. Open the aperture

The aperture is set to 3.5

Now, I opened the aperture all the way, but the building isn’t really out of focus. The back part of the building is out of focus, but the part directly behind Batman is still pretty crisp.

The biggest problem is that he is too close to the background, so the second step will make a huge difference.

2. Bring Batman away from the background

Batman has been moved away from the background.

Now the building is out of focus, but let’s make it even more out of focus.

3. Zoom in

So far, I set my lens to its widest angle of 18mm. When I zoom all the way to 55mm, the background will go more out of focus.

The aperture has closed a little bit to f/5.6 because I zoomed in. This will happen with most lenses.

As well as blurring the background, zooming in also gave the photo a more compressed look.

Would you like the background to be even more blurry? Is it even possible?

4. Get closer

Yes, it is!

The closer you get to Batman, the more out of focus the background becomes.

I used my Olympus Tough TG-6 for this photo. The microscope mode allows me to get very close. The aperture is set to f/6.3 because I zoomed in.

For great bokeh just remember:

  • Open your aperture
  • Step away from the background
  • Zoom in
  • Get closer

Controlling your background blur is just one of the things Aperture Mode is perfect for. Now let’s see what else it can do.

2. Starburst effect

The starburst effect adds interest to your photos because we don’t normally see this with our eye.

To achieve the starburst effect, it’s as easy as closing your aperture.

For this landscape photo, I closed the aperture to F/8.
For this photo, I set the aperture to F/8. I thought that it would be interesting to capture this bridge using the starburst effect. But I’m disappointed with the angle or perspective. When the river freezes over, I’m going to come back and photograph the bridge from a different perspective. I consider this to be a “sketch shot.” I tried it out, and I know that it’s worth pursuing another photo later on.

The starburst effect is one of the more creative things Aperture Mode is perfect for. Now let’s see one of the biggest problems that Aperture Mode will help solve.

3. Low light photography

One of the biggest problems with dim light is that your photos become blurry from motion.

A typical blurry photo caused by dim light and a slow shutter speed.

Photos become blurry because there is not enough light and the camera takes more time to capture the photo. Technically, it’s a slow shutter speed issue.

The important thing to know is that you need to get more light into the camera. You can get more light in by opening your aperture all the way.

You should also raise your ISO higher (1600, 3200, or 6400).

Your shutter speed may still be a little bit slow, which could lead to motion blur in your photos. But if you hold still while taking the photo, and wait for your subject to hold still, you’ll get a pretty crisp photo.

I captured this candlelight portrait at F/2.0, ISO 4000, shutter speed 1/60 sec

F/2.0, ISO 2500, shutter speed 1/60 sec

An extreme low light photo captured at f/2.0, ISO 5000, shutter speed 1/15 sec

Sometimes you have no choice but to have a slow shutter speed. Why not get creative and make the most of it?

You’ve increased your skill as a photographer!

You’ve learned four things aperture mode is perfect for. These creative effects are achieved by simply opening or closing your aperture:

  • Blur your background by opening the aperture
  • Keep a landscape in focus by closing your aperture
  • Create a starburst effect by closing your aperture
  • Improve dim light photos by opening your aperture

Focusing on this one camera setting will help improve your photography and simplify camera setting confusion.

The post 3 Things Aperture Mode is Perfect For in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mat Coker.

Here are some other great examples of how the aperture setting benefited the photos:

Photo by Lanny Cottrell

Photo by Lanny Cottrell

Photo by Lanny Cottrell

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