Aperture Settings and Techniques Part I

One of the most important things in photography is having a strong knowledge of the basic techniques. That is why we have chosen to approach the use of aperture settings for various types of photographic results, from expressive portraits to beautiful landscape pictures. This post reflects the first part of our promise and focuses mainly on the meaning and importance of aperture techniques. The second part of this topic will show you how you can experiment with different aperture settings for different photography niches. Stay with us to learn more about choosing the aperture and using your digital camera to the fullest. First, let’s start with what aperture means in photography and how it can affect the quality of your pics.

What is Aperture in Photography?

Aperture refers to the opening of lenses which allows light pass through them and hit the camera sensor. The aperture settings are sequenced as f/stops and you will see them written as numbers like f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and so on. The way we refer to aperture might be a bit confusing as a lower f/stop or f/number stands for a wider aperture. In other words, the lowest the f number is, the wider the exposure. For instance, if you set an aperture of f/1.4, the opening of lenses is bigger and more light is allowed to pass through them.

To put it simple, a lower f/ number means a wider aperture, while a higher f/ number stands for a smaller aperture.

useful aperture scale for aperture photography techniques

Once you get to experiment with different settings, everything will look less contradictory.  We recommend using your digital camera in Manual Mode. As we have already brought up in our articles on ISO settings and shutter speed photography techniques, these aspects greatly influence one another. For this reason, it is essential to adjust all three settings according to their value.

How Does Aperture Affect the Quality of Your Images?

Not only that aperture is strongly connected to the way shutter speed and ISO work, but is also affects a few particular aspects of your images’ sharpness. The first thing to mention here is the depth of field. The depth of field (DOF) practically refers to how sharp both the foreground and background elements are reflected in your photo. Here is how aperture photography techniques and depth of filed are linked:

  • A greater depth of field means a sharper background or a background in focus. This implies a smaller opening of the lenses, so a higher aperture number.

Note: bigger f numbers provide the photo with a bigger depth of filed which translates into a smaller aperture.

  • Conversely, a shallow depth of field implies a wider aperture (lower f number) and a blurrier background.

Note: small f numbers provide the image with a small depth of field which translates into a wider aperture.

To resume:

  • f/2.8 translates into a large aperture and a shallow DOF.
  • f/8 stands for a medium aperture and a medium DOF.
  • f/22 means a small aperture and a great DOF.

As regards the time of exposure (shutter speed), if your aperture is wider and more light passes through the lenses, a faster shutter speed is needed. For the other way around, when using a smaller aperture, the shutter speed needs to be slower.

There are other factors that influence the way you use the aperture like focus length, type of lenses and the distance between your camera and your subject.

photographic lenses aperture

Let’s assume you want to take a close-up photo of a flower, by focusing only on the subject. Instead of using your zoom lenses and set a higher aperture number, it is desirable to get closer to your model and choose a slightly lower f number. Otherwise you will have to deal with photo aberrations and unwanted effects like vignetting. Getting closer to your subject instead of using the zoom lenses will result in a better exposed picture.

How to Set the Aperture?

There is always an easier way to deal with things. As regards aperture settings and techniques there’s Aperture Priority Mode you can use. Before setting your camera on Aperture Priority, though, you should be able to recognize the effects of different apertures on your images. The good part is that once you have chosen the aperture value for the results you wish to achieve, this camera function will adjust the shutter speed automatically.

Setting the aperture depends on what area of the photograph you want to have in focus. There are no specific rules on how exactly to choose the aperture, so it is a matter of choices and creativity. If, for instance, you want your subject to be in focus and achieve a blurrier background at the same time, you should choose a wider aperture – set a low f/ number. This way you will be in control of the depth of field. Make sure you don’t limit it too much though. Play with settings before you take the final shot. An aperture between f/1.4 and f/2, for example will result in an image with an out-of-focus background, while an aperture of f/22 will have both the subject and the background in focus.

Quick Aperture Tips:

  • Experiment with aperture settings in Manual Mode and learn how to adjust the shutter speed according to the f number.
  • Shoot in RAW format to avoid a reduction of the image’s saturation.
  • Don’t use zoom lenses too much.

Image Sources: 1, 2

Use Your Camera’s Depth of Field Better

The manual settings on your camera, if used right, can lead to far more marvelous photos than those done with the auto settings. It’s really quite unfortunate that most DLSR cameras come today with advanced auto settings, because it enables most users to postpone actually learning a thing or two about what the manual settings actually do and how they can be aligned to work together for perfect results. Don’t be one of those lazy would-be photographers who stick to the predefined options, as that will never lead to better than average photos. One of the first things you should learn to use better is the so-called triangle of camera exposure, composed of ISO, shutter speed and aperture. It can truly make the difference between average photos at best and good photos at least. But after learning more about those basics, the next thing which can influence your final photos for the better is your camera’s depth of field variable, a sub-setting within the aperture setting.

What is the Depth of Field?

The depth of field, usually abbreviated with an f-number, is something directly derived from the aperture of your camera. As a reminder, your camera’s aperture is the size of the hole within the lens, through which light travels to the inside of the camera. Considering that cameras are made following the model of the human eye, you could say that the aperture corresponds to the eye’s pupil, since they serve the same purpose of allowing light in. A bigger camera usually has a larger hole, and a smaller camera usually has a smaller hole. A larger hole equals a bigger aperture, while a smaller hole equals a lower aperture. The aperture of a camera is also expressed through an f number, with a higher number signifying a smaller aperture and vice-versa. This might seem counter-intuitive to some of you, but it can be easier sunk in if you look at this chart (pictured below). The white circles in it represent the size of the lens aperture, while the f numbers written below them illustrate the rule: the larger the number, the smaller the aperture signified will be.

1

The depth of field is the size of the field that looks sharp in a photograph, and it is directly dependent on the aperture.  A large depth of field number (like f/28) will bring all the foreground and background objects into focus equally, while a smaller number (signifying a larger aperture) will bring only the foreground objects into focus, making the background of the photo appear blurry. A good illustration of this effect can be observed in the picture below. As you might have guessed, this is how those wonderful photos with faded backgrounds are made with, and it is indeed a wonderful effect to use. A skilled manipulation of a camera’s depth of field allows the photographer to emphasize whatever their heart’s desire is within a photo, and to make sure the viewers “see” the same thing the photographer has seen when they look at the image.

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Even though a camera’s aperture sounds like more or less of a hardware property, since it depends on the size of the hole and the lens, the aperture can be somewhat manipulated, within a minimum and maximum limit. Each camera comes with these min and max values stated in the manual or in the specifications of your lens, if you bought yours separately from the camera. The depth of field can be thus adjusted by adjusting the camera’s aperture, and you should play with it as often as possible to obtain better or more creative photos on the long run. Don’t be afraid to experiment, after a while you’ll get the feel of it and you’ll be able to employ the depth of field to create beautiful images seamlessly, just by following your gut. Good luck and have fun.