Before diving into more complex subjects, I want to make sure to cover all the basics. This is a three part series in which I’ll discuss the three basic camera settings, which together comprise your final exposure. Those settings are Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. Without a solid understand of how these settings work, you will not be able to accurately shoot in manual mode. The key to getting the most out of any camera is being able to use it in manual mode. Today I’ll introduce you to the Aperture setting.
Aperture basics –
Aperture is the setting that controls how much light is allowed to hit the camera’s sensor, or film, through the lens. Have you ever noticed when you are changing your camera’s settings that some numbers look like fractions? For instance, 1.4, 2.8, 5.6… all the way up to 16 or 22? This is the F-stop your camera is set to. A calculation determining the size of the opening in your lens vs. the length of your lens is where F-numbers comes from.
A higher number allows less light into your camera. The blades in your lens close down tighter and produce a sharper image. I like to use the example of squinting your eyes. When we can’t see something clearly, or it’s too far away, we tend to squint our eyes. By closing our eyelids tighter, we are able to see more clearly. Do you ever find yourself doing this?
A wide aperture is the other extreme. A lower number means your lens is more open, allowing more light to hit your camera’s sensor. This can really help your exposure, but just like squinting helped us see sharper, having the lens (or your eyes) wide open, produces a smaller area of focus. You will continue to have an area of focus, but it will be much smaller than what’s produced at a higher aperture.
As for everything in between, I would encourage you to play with your lens! Try different apertures and have fun with it. Every lens is said to have a “sweet spot” for where it performs best and is at it’s sharpest. A simple Google search with your lens and the phrase “sweet spot” will get you tons of articles and opinions on that lens’s best performance. I always thought this was a fun way to start. You can check the capabilities of your lens at its max & min apertures, but it’s fun to see where others love the lens and try it out for yourself! If you’re not loving the results at the suggested sweet spot, go up and down from there. It will be fun, I promise 😉
Below are some photos I took of one of my lenses for reference. This was my first lens and the lens I learned film photography on almost 20 years ago! I love this lens because it is fully manual! Unlike most lenses today, I can move the aperture ring and set it to the F-stop I want. The cool thing about this is I can actually show you what I am talking about. When you are looking at these pictures, think about how your pupils work. If you have a lot of light around you, your pupil gets very small. If there is dim light around you, your pupil gets larger to allow more light into your eye.
I would love for you to click these images and notice the differences. Do you see how soft the first image is? Just the tiny tip of the eucalyptus is in focus. Everything behind that starts to blur out. The next image has about half of the eucalyptus in focus before it starts to blur out. Notice how you can tell now that I’ve set it on a window sill? In the final image, almost all leaves way to the back are sharp. The lines of the window sill are much sharper too, you can even see where I need to clean the window a bit 😉 woops!
Notice any other differences? There are a few more, I’d love to see what you notice in the comments. Some of these differences will be the topic of future posts. Let me know what you think!