4/02/2010

Learn How to Set Aperture Effectively




There are 2 settings in photo that could scare a beginner photographer or appear too complicated to even try to comprehend. They are Shutter speed and Aperture

Knowing how to use the aperture setting on your camera will help transform your photos and increase your skills. Although it may at first appear to be very technical it isn’t, and, by taking just a little time you’ll master it quickly.
So what is aperture? It’s the size of the opening in a lens. 

Your second question may be, “What does it do?” It regulates the amount of light entering the lens and reaching the camera’s sensor. Let’s make it more simple. Imagine a tap with water flowing into a bucket. Open the tap a little and a small amount of water comes out and then open it all the way and a lot comes out. This is the same with aperture. Open it a little a small amount of light reaches the sensor. 

Are you getting the picture? Pardon the pun. I must add a note about shutter speed here. The shutter speed would be the length of time you leave the tap open for.

This is where the magic begins to happen. With your newfound ability to control the light the world is your oyster. 
Let’s jump ahead and let me explain a few things.

Aperture is measured in f-stops represented by f-numbers. The usual range extends from f-2.8 all the way through to f-22. Moving up through the f-stops halves the amount of light allowed through and therefore moving down doubles it. Now there is something you should be aware of. A small number does not mean a small aperture, quite the opposite. The smallest aperture f-number has the largest aperture while the largest number represents the smallest aperture.

Now, what is this all about? How does knowing all about aperture help my photography. It’s very simple and is called ‘depth of field’ or to make it even simpler ‘depth of focus’. Depth of field is the part of the image that is in focus or out of focus. Have you ever seen a portrait of a person where the face is in focus but the background is blurred? That’s a shallow or narrow depth of field. It’s the opposite with a landscape photo which has a wide depth of field. It’s in focus from the foreground all the way back to the background.

Knowing how to use your aperture gives your complete control over your photographs and you are now able to choose how your photo will look. There are some creative settings that you can use on your camera that will bring you close to this control. But, being able to take full control will help you take great photos.

Ah! I nearly forgot. Which f-stops control a narrow depth of field and which control a wide depth of field? An f-stop of f22 will give a very wide depth of field while f2.8 will give a very shallow depth of field. Photographers who shoot a lot of macro photography will concentrate on wide open apertures of 2.8 or less, blurring the background and focusing on the subject. Landscape photographers will use f-22 and smaller apertures all the way up to f32 to get as much of the landscape in focus.

Compact cameras tend to have apertures that are very wide such as f2 or f2.8. This is wonderful for macro or portraits, but, on the other hand they don’t have very small apertures. Usually they only go to about f8 or f11. With digital SLRs it’s completely different because it’s the lens that determines the aperture. Here you’ll find the more affordable lenses only open up to f4 or f5.6. Lenses that go to f2.8 or bigger are a lot more expensive or with some, very expensive. But on the other hand many affordable lenses close all the way down to f32 giving a wide depth of field.

Getting an understanding of aperture does take a little time and effort. But, the best way to get your head around understanding aperture is to experiment. Go out and find a subject and focus on a part of it while setting your aperture to f2.8. Then change it to your largest f-stop and shoot it again. You’ll see just how aperture works. Practise makes perfect as the old adage goes. So, keep on practising. 

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