Aperture Explained – Photography for Beginners

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These days, photography is a lot more complicated than pointing and shooting. In fact, if you look at a DSLR camera for the first time, chances are your head will start spinning from all the unfamiliar buttons and functions. Why are they all even necessary to take a photo? If you’re interested in pursuing photography and looking for the first steps to understand your camera, there are three important exposure settings you should know about first. They are: aperture, ISO and shutter speed. In this article, we shed some light on what aperture is and how to use it.

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What is aperture?

Aperture is explained as follows: it is the opening in your lens that allows light from the scene you’re photographing to enter your camera. The width of the aperture is measured in f-stops. “F” stands for “focal length” – but all you really need to remember, for now, is f-stop. The higher your f-stop, the more your lens opening shrinks. See the chart below if this seems confusing.

Why is aperture important?

Your aperture controls the amount of light entering your lens. Therefore, it adjusts the brightness of your image. Lower f-stop = brighter image. In addition, the aperture affects your photo’s depth of field. This is where the “focal length” comes in. In short, your depth of field determines how many objects in front of the camera appears in focus. If your aperture (f-stop) is low, the objects in the immediate foreground are in focus and the background objects are more blurry. This means your depth of field only stretches to the main focus point: the one closest to the camera. If you make the f-stop higher, more and more of the background will come into focus and the depth of field is shifted backwards. 

What should I do with it?

Changing your depth of field for different scenes makes for visually appealing compositions. By adjusting the aperture, you can decide how much of the scene in front of your lens should be in focus. When shooting, you also need to take note of the light conditions in order to see how much light you need to allow through your lens. You can also apply depth of field in a more artistic way, especially when shooting macro photography or wildlife photos. 

How do I apply it correctly?

You can adjust your camera’s aperture when you’re shooting in Manual mode (marked as M on your top dial), or in Aperture priority (Av or A, depending on which camera you have). In low light, you should have a lower f-stop as it will make your photograph brighter and clearer. This is because you’re allowing more light to come through the lens. On the other hand, if you’re shooting in bright daylight, you’ll want to push your aperture up so the lens opening shrinks and allows less light through. This ensures that your photos aren’t overexposed.

Once you’ve got these principles down, you can apply them more creatively. For example, you might want to use a shallow depth of field to photograph a single blossom on a tree, so that all the attention is placed on the blossom as the main focal point. In wildlife photography, this is a really helpful feature if you want only an animal’s face to be in focus. 

We hope you enjoyed this article on aperture, explained in a way that will hopefully help you to finally understand your camera better. Check out our other articles in the “Photography for beginners” series, where we shed some more light on the camera functions of ISO and shutter speed. Aperture, ISO and shutter speed all contribute to the photograph’s exposure, and being able to use all three effectively takes a lot of practice. But if you get it right, you can start building an amazing photography portfolio. 

Apply your new photography skills to an exciting new field! Take a look at our Wildlife and Travel Photography program, as well as Underwater Photography

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Rouxne van der Westhuizen profile

Blogger Profile - Rouxne van der Westhuizen

Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She is the course director for the Travel and Environmental Journalism and specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.

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