When it comes to learning photography, there are a myriad of approaches that a person can take. Some people prefer to jump right into the practical part and learn on the go. Others prefer a more methodical approach. No matter what method you prefer, it will always benefit you to learn about the basic concepts surrounding photography. One such concept is called the aperture.
Why is it important to learn about aperture?
If you want to become a serious photographer, having full creative control over your photography is very important. No matter how great your ideas are, there’s no point if you can’t execute them in real life.
Learning about how aperture works and how you can use it to control your images will allow you to take the guesswork out of shooting. While experimentation will always be present in photography, you definitely want to reach a point where you know what aperture, shutter speed, and exposure settings you need to solidify the image you have in your head.
First things first: what exactly is the aperture?
The aperture pertains to the hole or opening in your camera lens that controls how much light gets into the camera. It is usually expressed by ‘f.’ + a number, more commonly known as the ‘f-stop’. Each lens has a certain range of aperture sizes. One key thing to remember is that the larger the number or f-stop, the smaller the aperture. The smaller the aperture, the less light your lens lets in.
For example: an aperture of f/1.4 means that the hole in your lens is opened extremely wide to let plenty of light in, while an aperture of f/16 pertains to a very small opening.
Okay, so now you know what a different aperture means for your camera. But what does it mean for your photographs?
F-stops and depth of field
In photography, there’s a concept called ‘depth of field’ which basically refers to how much of your image is in focus. This is very important to know, because changing your aperture directly affects the depth of field.
A small f-stop, say f/1.4, allows you to make a very specific point in your photograph (the subject of your picture) sharp and the rest of the image blurry. This is why lenses with a very wide aperture (f/1.8 or Voigtlander lenses that reach an outstanding f/0.95) are perfect for portrait photography. They allow you to keep your subject, the person, sharp and generate amazing bokeh for the background.
On the other end of the spectrum, a large f-stop, say f/32, allows you to keep almost the entire frame in focus. If you want to produce gorgeous landscape photos, large f-stops are your friends.
Lenses and apertures
When choosing lenses, aside from looking at the focal length, it’s also very important to check the maximum aperture. In general, lenses with bigger maximum apertures, say f/1.8 or f/2.8, are more expensive than lenses with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 or f/4.5. If you have the budget though, go for lenses with bigger maximum apertures especially if you’re likely to shoot in low-light scenarios.
Apart from producing outstanding bokeh, wide aperture lenses also allow super-fast shooting and focusing. This is why many photographers would consider wide aperture lenses as worthy investments.
Whether you’re using a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, an action camera, or even a basic point-and-shoot camera, learning about apertures is helpful. Once you’ve mastered apertures, don’t forget to take the time to learn all about the other pillars of photography as well: shutter speed and exposure.
With what aperture setting do you like shooting with?
George Finlayson is an educator and professional writer with a BA in Creative Writing. He was born in London, England but currently resides in Shanghai, China. He has recently developed a great interest in photography and has began a new venture into writing about photography and videography for beginners, and related topics. With so many technical details in digital photography, George likes to keep things simple so that everyone can understand and feel a part of the ever-growing global photography community.