If you know how to adjust your aperture on your digital camera, you’re much closer to mastering lighting and nailing the right exposure for your shots. Without knowing how to use aperture, and how it works with other camera settings, you could be at a real disadvantage when it comes to creating quality images and video. So what is aperture? And how do you use it?
What’s a camera’s aperture?
While aperture is considered a camera setting, it’s really a lens adjustment. As we’ll learn, its function affects two critical components of taking a great photo — light and focus.
The road to creating better quality photos and footage starts with an understanding of the mechanisms at play. Before we get into some examples and techniques, let's begin with a definition.
What is aperture?
Aperture is the opening of the lens through which light passes. When you hit the shutter release button to take the picture, the aperture opens to the predetermined width letting a specific amount of light through. The larger the opening, the more light gets in, and vice versa. Aperture is calibrated in f/stops, written in numbers like 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11 and 16. The larger the number, the narrower the aperture.
Think of the f/stop number as the radius between the rim and the hole. A higher f/stop like f/16 would measure all the space between the rim and the hole, and thus, a smaller aperture. Take a quick look at the visual below to understand the basic idea.
Before we go a little deeper into how aperture can be adjusted to create different aesthetic qualities to your images, let's get a better grasp on how it functions.
Aperture is an integral part of photography that is implemented with shutter speed and ISO in mind. The three camera settings affect each other. This is true for photography and videography.
Aperture and exposure
Remember, the size of the aperture will dictate how much light gets in, and how exposed your shot will be. Naturally, the more light that comes through the lens, the brighter the image will be.
If you’re in a room with a lot of natural light, a smaller aperture may suffice. It all depends on the light you need. Think about the human eye. When the room gets dark, your pupils get bigger, and they shrink when you’re in a bright, well-lit room.
Learn more about how all three work together:
It's important to understand the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed. They work together to create a wide range of images and when you master these combinations, your portfolio can be more versatile and exciting.
Aperture and depth of field
Of course, light exposure isn’t the only result of adjusting aperture. When you change your f/stop, you’re also affecting the depth of field.
The depth of field is an area of acceptable sharpness from foreground to background. Put simply, depth of field is how blurry or sharp the area is in front of or behind your subject.
This video will go over this simple relationship and some strategies on how to keep the elements in mind when you're shooting in the field and need to make adjustments.
The larger the aperture (a low f/stop), the blurrier the background, or the less depth of field. A “thin” or “shallow” depth of field are common terms to use for this.
If you have a small aperture (a high f/stop), the greater the depth of field, and the sharper the background. This is often referred to as a “deep” or “large” depth of field.
Aperture Examples for Depth of Field
A low f/stop creates larger foreground and background blur. This is ideal for portraits, or any photo or camera shot where you want to isolate the subject.
Remember this would be a small number like a f/1.8 or f/2.8
Conversely, a large f/stop will create a sharper image, which is ideal if you're shooting landscapes with a large depth of field. The image below would have to have been shot in a larger f/stop number like f/16 or f/22.
Now that you have more of a clear understanding of how aperture affects the brightness and sharpness of an image, let’s go deeper in the next point on the exposure triangle. ISO. Read more below.
Now that you know aperture, and hopefully you read our shutter speed article, you can move along to the third point of the exposure triangle. ISO. What is it and how can you use it to take professional level photos and shots? ISO is just as important in crafting quality images, making this information every image maker needs to know.