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When you take a photograph the lens of your camera has to open to allow the light to pass through it to be recorded as a photo. The aperture is the opening of the lens and is measured in terms of how much it does so.
In a very practical sense you can think of the aperture of your camera as being analogous to the pupils in your eyes. When you are in a bright environment the pupils in your eyes will naturally shrink because they don’t need to be so wide to take in enough light to form a clear image. Conversely, when you are in a darker environment your pupils will open up much wider in order to take in as much light as possible! Fundamentally, your camera works in the same way.
In terms of photography, the light that passes through the aperture of your lens is captured on film, a digital sensor or even on a glass plate. In the modern world, the vast majority of cameras are digital and so the light hits a digital sensor which saves the data and creates a photograph.
Aperture is an important part of photography that must be understood to make the most of your camera’s capabilities. It can seem confusing at first and even some of the terms might not seem clear, but once you practice a little bit it will quickly become second nature to you!
The Aperture is Your Camera’s Window Onto The World.
When you take a photo the shutter of the camera opens briefly to allow the light in. As the shutter opens the light passes through the aperture and is captured by your camera’s digital sensor. To put it simply, the larger the aperture is the more light will be allowed to enter for any given shutter speed.
Each f-stop represents a particular size of aperture. There is often confusion about this because when you refer to a large aperture it actually means a lower f-stop number, and similarly, a small aperture means a higher f-stop number!
For instance, an f-stop number of f/2.8 is actually a larger physical aperture than an f-stop number of f/22! When you move the f-stop number up or down a stop, it doubles or halves the size of the aperture, which determines how much light can enter your camera’s lens.
What is the Importance of Aperture?
Aperture is fundamental to photography and impacts massively on the final exposure that you’re able to create. A larger aperture will give you a brighter exposure while a smaller one will darken the image. In dimly lit environments you’ll be better served with a larger aperture because more light will be allowed to reach your camera’s sensor.
Why Does Aperture Matter?
As well as allowing you to control the amount of light that enters your camera you can use the aperture settings to determine the depth of field in your photographs. Depth of field is the distance between the nearest objects and the most distant objects in the frame which are still in crystal clear focus.
Depth of field can either be shallow or deep – although you can also refer to them as small and large. A shallow depth of field will mean that there is only a very short distance between the nearest and most distant objects that are in focus in the photo. Conversely, a deeper depth of field will keep things both near and far in good focus.
How Do You Set The Aperture On Your Camera?
On modern DSLR cameras it’s very easy to set the aperture to what you want. You need to select either the Aperture Priority or Manual mode on your camera. Once you have, you simply dial along until you get the setting you want. The aperture setting will be shown in one of two ways; either as, for example, ‘f/2.8’ or ‘F2.8’. Both of these mean the same thing.
If you’re using an older lens on your camera then you’ll see that there is an aperture ring near the base of it. To change the aperture you just need to turn the dial to the setting you want.
Manually setting the aperture on your camera gives you a great deal of control and will let you express your creative vision much more accurately. It may seem a little daunting at first, especially since the f-stop numbers are big for small apertures and visa versa, but it soon becomes easy to understand and use effectively!
If you’re working with the Aperture Priority mode then you just need to set the aperture and your camera will set the other settings for you but in manual mode you’ll have to set the shutter speed and ISO as well.
How Does Aperture Relate to Shutter Speed And ISO?
Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all interconnected and need to be understood together. As we have said, the aperture is the size of the opening in your lens through which light can pass.
The shutter speed refers to how long the aperture is exposed to the light for. A faster shutter speed means that light will be allowed to pass through to the camera’s light sensor for a shorter amount of time whereas a slower shutter speed will let light in for longer. Shutter speeds are measured in terms of seconds and fractions of a second, so a shutter speed of 1/8 means that the shutter will be open for one eighth of a second.
The ISO number of your camera is how sensitive your camera is to the light. A higher ISO number, such as 800, is more sensitive than a lower number such as 200. An ISO number of 800 is half as sensitive to light as a 1600 setting. By changing the ISO setting you can either brighten or darken your photo by raising it or lowering it. In poorly lit environments you should be using an ISO of at least 400 or above.
There is an important relationship between the three elements, aperture, shutter speed and ISO, that make up the exposure of your photos. You can actually get the same amount of light into your camera using different shutter speeds and aperture settings. For instance, if you use a slow shutter speed and a small aperture setting you can get the same amount of light as if you use a fast shutter speed and a large aperture! So if you use a shutter speed of 1/8 and an aperture setting of f/11 you’d get exactly the same amount of light as if you were using a shutter speed of 1/30 and an aperture of f/5.6!
When you’re shooting with a small aperture (high number) then you may need to adjust your ISO to a higher number so that your camera’s image sensor is more sensitive to light.
It may also be necessary to use a higher ISO setting when shooting with a narrow aperture or high shutter speed – since a narrow aperture and high shutter speed reduce the amount of light that strikes the image sensor.
Selecting The Right Aperture For Different Types of Photography.
To get a professional looking photo you’ll have to learn to use the right aperture settings in different situations.
If you’re shooting a portrait then you will want to use a large aperture of between f/2.8 and f/5.6. This gives you a shallow depth of field but it’s perfect for a portrait because their face will stand out more against the background than with a smaller aperture and broader depth of field.
For landscape photography you need to use a higher aperture of f/8 to about f/16 because you need to have a large depth of field, especially if you want the sky and clouds to be sharply in focus.
When taking photos in the street you generally want the foreground and most of the midground of the shot to be in focus. To get this type of result you should be using an aperture of about f/8.
Aperture in Photography Unlocks Depth of Field and New Possibilities.
It will take a little while to get used to working with the aperture when you first get started but with practise you’ll soon get the hang of it. A good way to practise is to take photos of the same view while clicking through every single aperture setting on your camera. Keep a note of what the aperture setting was for each picture, and if you can, print out the photos and lay them side by side so you can see how the different settings impacted the pictures.
It’s vital to learn how to use the aperture on your camera to your advantage so you can take the best photographs in any situation. As you learn to use the different aperture settings on your camera you’ll quickly see your photography improve and as your confidence grows you can begin experimenting with even more creative uses of it!
Do you take photos primarily in aperture priority mode?
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