Chapter 3: What Is Aperture? – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide

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Welcome to the third chapter of Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide.

As I mentioned in Chapter 1: Introduction To Photography there are three most important and fundamental camera settings every photographer should know. One of which is Aperture and the other two are Shutter Speed and ISO.

In the previous Chapter 2: What Is Shutter Speed? – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide we covered everything about shutter speed. So, in this Chapter 3 as you may already know by looking at the heading of this article that we will go in depth detailed information on Aperture. In the next Chapter 4 we will take a look at ISO. So, stay tuned for that. Now, let’s get started.

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Table Of Contents For Chapter 3

  • What Is Aperture?
  • Large Aperture VS Small Aperture
  • What Is F-Stop And F-Number?
  • Relation Between Aperture And Exposure
  • Relation Between Aperture And Depth Of Field (DOF)
  • How Does Aperture Effects Your Photos?
  • How To Set Aperture?
  • Minimum And Maximum Aperture Of Lenses
  • How To Choose The Right Aperture?
  • Summary Of Chapter 3: Aperture
  • Self Assesment Questions (SAQ’s)

What Is Aperture?

Aperture can be defined as an opening, hole, gap or a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, especially the variable opening by which light enters a camera. In simple words, An aperture is a hole in front of your camera lens through which light enters into the camera.

Either it’s your eye’s retina or the image sensor, light is very important for the formation of an image. If you can relate this concept with our eyes, it would become much easier to understand.

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As pupil controls the amount of light enters into our eyes, the aperture does the same thing in working of a camera. In photography, the “pupil” of your lens is called aperture. You can shrink or enlarge the size of the aperture to allow more or less light to reach your camera sensor. Below image is an example of the opening of the lens:

An aperture is a hole in front of your camera lens through which light enters into the camera.

As mentioned at the start of this chapter Aperture is one of the three fundamental settings every photographer should know. According to experts, Aperture is one of the three pillars of photography. The other two are ISO and Shutter speed.

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Large Aperture VS Small Aperture

There’s a catch – one important part of aperture that confuses beginner photographers more than anything else. This is something you really need to pay attention to and get correct: Small numbers represent large, whereas large numbers represent small apertures.

That’s not a typo. For example, f/2.8 is larger than f/4 and much larger than f/11. Most people find this awkward, since we are used to having larger numbers represent larger values. Nevertheless, this is a basic fact of photography.

This causes a huge amount of confusion among photographers, because it’s completely the reverse of what you would expect at first. However, as strange as it may sound, there is a reasonable and simple explanation that should make it much clearer to you: Aperture is a fraction.

When you are dealing with an f-stop of f/16, for example, you can think of it like the fraction 1/16th. Hopefully, you already know that a fraction like 1/16 is clearly much smaller than 1/4. For this exact reason, an aperture of f/16 is smaller than f/4.

So, if photographers recommend a large aperture for a particular type of photography, they’re telling you to use something like f/1.4, f/2, or f/2.8. And if they suggest a small aperture for one of your photos, they’re recommending that you use something like f/8, f/11, or f/16.

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Still confused between numbers. Here is a simple explanation with examples: A smaller f-stop means a larger aperture while a larger f-stop means a smaller aperture.

The smaller the number of aperture the lens is wide open and the larger the number of aperture the opening of the lens is small. Below is an example of this:

Left lens aperture: f/1.7 and right lens aperture f/2.8.

As you can see in the above image, the lens at the left is at f/1.7 aperture and is wide open compared to the lens at the right which is at f/2.8 aperture and is not as wide opened as the f/1.7 lens.

What Is F-Stop And F-Number?

The F- Stop which is also known as the F-Number. In simple words, F-Stop and F-Number are the same thing. The F-Stop is a value which is used to calibrate the aperture. Where F represents the focal length.

In simple words, it is the measurement used for aperture. Aperture can be expressed in f-numbers. These f-numbers are known as f-stops and used to describe the size of the aperture or how much open or close the aperture is.

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As mentioned above aperture is calibrated in f/stops and is generally written as numbers such as 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11 and 16. To be precise it is written as f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and so on. So, f-stops are a way of describing the size of the aperture for a particular photo.

Below image is an example of it:

As you can see the Aperture is set to f/8.0.

Relation Between Aperture And Exposure

Apperture has several effects on your photograph one of which is the exposure of the image. Aperture is one of the three important settings which controls the overall exposure of your image the other two being Shutter Speed and ISO.

As mentioned above, the smaller the number the larger the aperture, which means the lens is wide open and the larger the aperture the more light enters the camera through the lens and hits the cameras digital sensor or recording medium.

As the amount of light entering the camera is more when the aperture is large, this results in more exposure. In simple words, the larger the aperture the brighter your photograph will be, which means your photograph will have high exposure. Below image is an example of it:

This image was captured at f/1.8. Even taking a picture in dark room the image is still bright and has high exposure.

The larger the number the smaller the aperture is, which means the lens is not wide open and the smaller the aperture the less light enters the camera through the lens and hits the cameras digital sensor or recording medium.

As the amount of light entering the camera is less when the aperture is small, this results in less exposure. In simple words, the smaller the aperture the darker or less bright your photograph will be, which means your photograph will have low exposure. Below image is an example of it:

This image was captured at f/6.3 aperture, hence, it is not as bright as above image which was captured at f/1.7 aperture.
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Relation Between Aperture And Depth Of Field (DOF)

Aperture is not just a hole, it’s also responsible for some major things like blurring the background or focusing something. Depth of field is the zone of acceptable sharpness in front of and behind the subject on which the lens is focused. Simply put: how sharp or blurry is the area behind your subject.

The other critical effect of aperture is depth of field. Depth of field is the amount of your photograph that appears sharp from front to back. Some images have a “thin” or “shallow” depth of field, where the background is completely out of focus. Other images have a “large” or “deep” depth of field, where both the foreground and background are sharp.

The lower the f/stop is the larger the aperture is which results in larger opening in the lens which ultimately results in less depth of field or some may call it thin or shallow depth of field. What I mean by that is, the larger the aperture is the blurrier the background in your photograph will be.

Below image is an example of shallow depth of field achieved by using larger aperture:

This image was captured at f/1.8. As you can see the child is in focus and the background has a shallow depth of field.

The higher the f/stop is the smaller the aperture is which results in less opening in the lens which ultimately results in greater depth of field or some may call it large or deep depth of field. What I mean by this is the smaller your apertur is the sharper the background of your photography will be.

Below image is an example of deep depth of field achieve by using smaller aperture:

This image was captured at f/8.0 aperture. As you can see the tree is the subject and the background is sharper than the above image which was captured at f/1.8.

How Does Aperture Effects Your Photos?

We saw two of the major effects of the aperture in your image but there are many different effects an aperture can do to your image. Although there are many effects an aperture can do to your image I am not going to burden you with this much information all at once as it can be very overwhelming for a beginner photographer I will make a different dedicated post to it. I will just give you a quick list of those things.

There are many different effects of aperture in your photograph of which we have seen two of the most important ones which is exposure and depth of field. Here, is a quick list of everything aperture affects in photography:

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  • The brightness / exposure of your photos
  • Depth of field
  • Sharpness loss due to diffraction
  • Sharpness loss due to lens quality
  • Starburst effects on bright lights
  • Visibility of camera sensor dust specks
  • The quality of background highlights (bokeh)
  • Focus shift on some lenses
  • Ability to focus in low light (under some conditions)
  • Control amount of light from flash

Don’t worry, you don’t have to know all those right off the bat as you are just a beginner. So, right now my recommendation to you will be just keep in mind the two major effects as explained above which are exposure and depth of field.

How To Set Aperture?

If you want to select your aperture manually in your camera for a photo, there are two modes which work: aperture-priority mode and manual mode. Aperture-priority mode is written as “A” or “Av” on most cameras, while manual is written as “M.” Usually, you can find these on the top dial of your camera.

In aperture-priority mode, you select the desired aperture, and the camera automatically selects your shutter speed. In manual mode, you select both aperture and shutter speed manually.

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Minimum And Maximum Aperture Of Lenses

Each and every lens has a different minimum and maximum aperture limit. If you take a look at the specifications of the lens you can find the minimum and maximum value of your lens. For almost everyone, the maximum aperture will be more important, because it tells you how much light the lens can gather at its maximum (basically, how dark of an environment you can take photos).

A lens that has a maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.8 is considered to be a “fast” lens, because it can pass through more light than, for example, a lens with a “slow” maximum aperture of f/4.0. That’s why lenses with large apertures usually cost more.

In contrast, the minimum aperture is not that important, because almost all modern lenses can provide at least f/16 at the minimum. You will rarely need anything smaller than that for day-to-day photography.

In zoom lenses, you will get different maximum aperture value for different focal length. For example: Sony E-Mount 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 Telephoto Lens, you will get F/4.5 at 55mm focal length and as you zoom in the maximum focal length will change and you will get F/6.3 at 210mm focal length.

There are also zoom lenses which can maintain same maximum aperture value even when you are fully zoomed in which usually costs more. For example: Sony SELP18105G E Mount APS-C 18-105 mm F4.0 Zoom G Lens, you will get F4.0 at any focal length you choose to shoot your photograph on.

On the more expensive side, prime lense can go at high maximum aperture as compared to zoom lenses. For Example: Sony SEL50F18F E Mount Full Frame 50 mm F1.8 Prime Lens, you can go upto F/1.8 as compared to the normal zoom lenses which can go only upto F/3.5 or F/4 but there are also some zoom lens which can go upto F/2.8 like for example: Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR Zoom Lens by Fujifilm.

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How To Choose The Right Aperture?

Now, that you have learnt many things about aperture you might already have a general idea of what apperture should be best for you. The best aperture for any photographer depends on what you are shooting in what situation.

Here, I will list some great examples of aperture values most common in photography with their reasons:

  • f/0.95 – f/1.4 – such “fast” maximum apertures are only available on premium prime lenses, allowing them to gather as much light as possible. This makes them ideal for any kind of low-light photography when photographing indoors (such as photographing the night sky, wedding receptions, portraits in dimly-lit rooms, corporate events, etc). With such wide f-stops, you will get very shallow depth of field at close distances, where the subject will appear separated from the background.
  • f/1.8 – f/2.0 – some enthusiast-grade prime lenses are limited to f/1.8 and offer slightly inferior low-light capabilities. Still, if your purpose is to yield aesthetically-pleasing images, these lenses be of tremendous value. Shooting between f/1.8 and f/2 typically gets adequate depth of field for subjects at close distances while still yielding pleasant bokeh.
  • f/2.8 – f/4 – most enthusiast and professional-grade zoom lenses are limited to f/2.8 to f/4 f-stop range. While they are not as capable as f/1.4 lenses in terms of light-gathering capabilities, they often provide image stabilization benefits that can make them versatile, even when shooting in low-light conditions. Stopping down to the f/2.8 – f/4 range often provides adequate depth of field for most subjects and yields superb sharpness. Such apertures are great for travel, sports, wildlife, as well as other types of photography.
  • f/5.6 – f/8 – this is the ideal range for landscape and architecture photography. It could also be a good range for photographing large groups of people. Stopping down lenses to the f/5.6 range often provides the best overall sharpness for most lenses and f/8 is used if more depth of field is required.
  • f/11 – f/16 – typically used for photographing landscape, architecture and macro photography where as much depth of field as possible is needed. Be careful when stopping down beyond f/8, as you will start losing sharpness due to the effect of lens diffraction.
  • f/22 and Smaller – only shoot at such small f-stops if you know what you are doing. Sharpness suffers greatly at f/22 and smaller apertures, so you should avoid using them when possible. If you need to get more depth of field, it is best to move away from your subject or use a focus stacking technique instead.
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Summary Of Chapter 3: Aperture

Aperture is the opening of in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera. Aperture is one of the three pillars of photography which controls the overall exposure of an image, the othere two being Shutter Speed and ISO.

Aperture has many different effects from which two of the most important effects are exposure and depth of field with large aperture you will get high exposure and a shallow or thin depth of field basically bright image with blurred background and with smaller aperture you will get low exposure and a deep or large depth of field basically dark image with sharp background.

Aperture is measure with F/Numbers also known as F/Stops. It is written as f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and so on. So, f-stops are a way of describing the size of the aperture for a particular photo.

Self Assesment Questions (SAQ’s)

  1. What Is Aperture?
  2. What Is F-stop and F-number?
  3. Large aperture will give you high exposure. (True or False)
  4. Which is larger F/1.8 or F/22.
  5. With large aperture we get sharp background (deep or large depth of field). (True or False)

This is the end of Chapter 3: What Is Aperture? of the Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginner Photography Guide. Here are the links for my previous Chapter 1: Introduction To Photography – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide and Chapter 2: What Is Shutter Speed? – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide. You can subscribe to The Black Light Studios to get notifications for new upcoming chapters.

This is it for this post. Thank You! for visiting The Black Light Studios, I hope you find this article helpful to you and got the information you were looking for. Stay tuned for more posts like these by subscribing to The Black Light Studios website. If you have any suggestion or feedback comment down below or contact us through the contact form via contact menu.

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