Becoming a Manual Photographer: Aperture

Today is the day! Today you become one with your camera; you become a Manual Photographer! In short, I’d like to share my first beginners camera tutorial. If you still have your camera dial set to auto, read on. Believe it or not, this is the easy stuff. Anyone can learn how to operate a camera; true greatness lies in the photographer’s eye. Nonetheless, understanding apertures, shutter speeds, and ISO are essential. Together, those three factors make up the basis of how your camera captures a photo. Or what is known as the Exposure Triangle:


It’s time for you to switch your camera into manual mode and begin to understand the inner workings of your DSLR. I too found this intimidating at first. That’s why I am going to break down the concept of manual photography into a series of three posts. Today we are going to cover apertures or F-stops. Traditionally, aperture on a camera would be adjusted by turning an F-stop ring on the barrel of a lens. These days, DSLR allow you to digitally control aperture with a dial and digital display built into the camera body.

It doesn’t matter how you adjust the aperture on your camera, the same essential function occurs. Think about the aperture inside your camera lens like you would the human eye. Have you ever noticed when you walk out into the bright sun your pupils constrict? They shrink down to absorb less light, allowing your brain to process the image you are seeing. The moment you step into a dark room, your pupils dilate. They open wide to absorb more light when needed. The aperture inside of a camera lens functions much the same way. The difference is you control the aperture manually. As you can see below, F-stop numbers correlate inversely to the size of the aperture’s opening. The higher the number, the smaller the opening and the less light will make it to the camera’s sensor. Therefore the darker your image will be. The opposite is true lower F-stop values.


Additionally, the aperture setting you select will affect what’s known as depth of field. The best way to demonstrate depth of field is through focus. A small opening (High F-stop number) will generally keep your entire frame in focus (bottom right). The larger you open your aperture (Low F-stop number), the more targeted your focus becomes (bottom left). At a high F-stop setting, such as f/22, only your subject will remain in focus. The foreground and background of the image becomes blurred.


There are several other factors that affect your composition. In the coming weeks I will cover shutter speeds, ISO (also known as sensor sensitivity), and how you could utilize your camera’s internal light metering system to properly dial-in all of these confusing settings.

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