What is Aperture and What Does It Do | Photography Basics

When we pick up a camera we want to do 3 things.  We want to stop time, tell a story and create something beautiful to keep foever. While every cell phone and most digital devices now have cameras built in, there’s really no substitute for a dSLR and knowing how to use it. Contrary to popular believe, many of the things that make a photo go and a photographer’s style unique happen in the camera, not in post processing.

The best way to find your style and make your images come out like you want them, is to learn your camera and the basics of photography.  This starts with knowing the exposure triangle: aperature, shutter speed & ISO.

Let’s start with aperature.

The aperture (Ap) is the hole in the camera’s lens that lets light in to hit the film or sensors on digital cameras.


Think of you camera as an eye.  The aperature would be the pupil.  When it’s bright outside the pupil is smaller, letting in less light.  When the lighting is dim the pupil dilates, widening so it can use the available light more effectively.  When your camera is in “Auto” mode, your camera decides how much light there is and how open the aperture should be.  


Aside from the amount of light that comes in, your aperture also effects your Depth of Field (DoF).  Depth of Field refers to how much of your picture is in focus.  

When your aperture is set at a lower number or “wide open” (f/1.2 to f/3.5) your DoF is shallower.  This means that you see what’s in focus and the rest of the photo is blurry.  

When you aperture is in a medium range (f/4 to f/11) your DoF will allow closer objects to be in focus, but keep objects in the background blurry.  

This is what your pictures usually look like in Auto mode.  When your aperture in high (very small opening, f/16 to f/22) most the picture will be in focus. This is closer to what we see with our eyes and is usually used in landscape photos where we want to see the whole scene.


While professional cameras have a full Manual mode, many consumer grade cameras do not.  They do however have “priority” modes.  These modes allow you to control a specific element  of the exposure triangle and let your camera decide what the other settings should be.  

To control the Aperture on your camera, turn the mode dial to “AP” mode.  You can then control your aperture and the Depth of Field.


Give it a shot!  Try taking a picture at a lower aperture, like f/3.5 then take the same picture at f/5.6 and f/16.  What did you notice? Which one did you like better? Leave a comment below and show me what you learned!


Make sure you check out my next post on Shutter Speed.





Want to go more in depth? Contact me today to set up your photography lessons with a Mentoring Session!  Island & Skagit county locals can do a one-on-session, complete with lunch/dinner and updated head shots!  Not in Washington?  We can do a Skype session, complete with notes and cheat sheets for you to reference later.  Email me to set up your Mentoring session today at amymichele.photographer@gmail.com

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