All You Need to Know About Aperture in Photography
Any photographer needs to know how to use their camera’s manual mode, even if you are a beginner. Knowing how to choose the settings is crucial for having full control of the outcome of the image. Aperture is one of the basic settings you need to pay attention to when you shoot, and it’s an important part of exposure. With this article, you will learn the definition of aperture in photography, its influence on how your background will look like, its role for exposure, and how to choose the right aperture number for different genres.
What is aperture?
Aperture is the opening in a camera’s lens. It lets the light through the lens to expose sensors. The more open your aperture is, the more light your camera’s sensor will receive. Aperture, which sometimes is called a diaphragm, looks like a hole and works similarly to a human eye. When you are in a dark room, your pupils will be very wide to receive more light in dim lighting. On a bright sunny day, your pupils will shrink and become really small not to receive too much light. The same way with aperture. You will want to set it narrower or smaller for bright lighting conditions so as not to overexpose your photos, and when you shoot at night, your aperture needs to be wide open. However, keep in mind that aperture influences other aspects of your photos apart from light reception, such as the depth of field and overall exposure. We’ll explain these aspects later in this article.
In your camera’s settings, an aperture is marked with f-numbers. Also called f-stops, these numbers indicate how open your lens aperture is. If you are a beginner photographer, grasping aperture might be quite hard as wide apertures are marked with smaller f-numbers, and narrow apertures are marked with bigger f-numbers. This might be confusing, but f-stops that mark aperture size are actually fractions of the focal length of a lens, meaning that f/8 is 1/8 and f/2 is 1/2. Keep this in mind when you set the aperture number.
Aperture in the exposure triangle
Exposure, arguably the most important aspect of photography, indicates how bright or how dark your image will be. It consists of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, which together are called the exposure triangle. If you want to capture things with the perfect exposure, it’s a must to know how these three settings work together. That’s because you can’t simply adjust the aperture number and think that everything else will work just fine (unless you are using the aperture priority mode).When you adjust one of the settings responsible for the exposure in your manual mode, you will have to change other settings as well. Wide-open apertures let a lot of light through the lens, which means you will be able to shoot with a fast shutter speed and lower ISO. Small apertures limit the light that comes through, so you will have to opt for a slower shutter speed or make your ISO level higher. To learn more about how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO work together, read our guide on the exposure triangle. You can also check our article on shutter speed.
How aperture influences the depth of field
Aperture directly influences how sharp and focused your objects will look in your frame both in the background and foreground. This effect is called the depth of field. When you shoot with a wide-open aperture and a small aperture number, you will get a shallow depth of field, which means your background (or foreground) will appear blurry and out of focus and your focal point will look sharp.On the contrary, small apertures marked with higher f-numbers are able to capture the whole scene sharp. They create a large depth of field, which means both foreground and background are equally visible. You can use this when you want all of the objects and subjects within your frame to be in focus.
Setting aperture for different photography genres
Some would argue that aperture is the most important photography setting responsible for exposure exactly because it influences the depth of field, which can radically change the outcome of your image. Learn how to use wide and narrow apertures in your photoshoots.
As mentioned above, wide apertures tend to blur parts of your frame that you don’t focus on. The background blur caused by the shallow depth of field is called the bokeh effect. Many portrait shots are taken with wide-open apertures simply because photographers want to blur the background to create a sense of layers within the frame. With bokeh, a subject visually stands out because there is a contrast between the focused and blurry parts of the shot.Apart from portrait photography, wide apertures are often used in still life photography for the same purposes. What’s more, most macro photography is taken with wide apertures, especially when artists shoot greenery or insects.
Small apertures allow photographers to capture more details within a scene with the help of a large depth of field. This is highly useful in landscape photography when you rarely have a particular subject on your foreground to focus on and don’t want to separate the visual layers of your shot. Architectural photography in general is also shot with small apertures unless you want to capture a small detail of a building.
Understanding how to work with aperture is crucial for any photographer who wants to stop relying on their camera’s auto mode. Apart from reading dedicated photography articles, you should take your gear and experiment with different aperture settings yourself to understand how it works. Even a beginner can quickly understand exposure topics with the right balance of theory and practice.