Continuing our how to shoot in manual series, today we’re talking about one component of exposure today. You’ll soon catch on, but everything we will talk about will revolve around light. Did you know that the word photography, originating with Greek roots, means drawing with light? From now on you’re going to be a student of light.
I’m doing my best to not go all art teacher on you. But, to be honest, I’m basically tearing a page out of my Photography II lesson book.
how to shoot in manual | aperture
Let’s talk about aperture, shall we? Aperture, which means opening, determines how small or wide your lens opens. It works similar to your iris, your eyes dilate to let in more or less light depending on how dark or bright it is. While our eyes do it automatically, we learn to read the light to determine how much light we want to let in our camera.
There are a couple things that aperture does that we want to talk about today: light and depth of field
aperture & light
Aperture can make an image brighter or darker. The lower the number, the more light, the higher the number, the less light and darker the image.
aperture & depth of field
Aperture also controls the depth of field. This is my favorite part of using aperture and maybe the sole reason I finally made the jump to shooting in manual. This is something your automatic setting can’t really do for you. It can’t say, “Hey, this is a portrait, we want a shallow depth of field to focus in on the person.” Or, “this is an amazing landscape, let’s capture every detail by narrowing in the depth of field.”
Here’s an illustration to help you understand aperture in terms of light and depth of field:Shooting wide open means that your aperture is set to the widest setting, or the lowest number, which is F/1.4. Your lens might not go this low. If you have the 50mm you can go to 1.8 or the typical kit lens, your aperture may only go as low as 3.5 (that’s why I suggest getting the 50mm lens or a lens that has a lower aperture).
For the next couple of weeks before we talk about shutter, I want you to get comfortable with using aperture. For your photo assignment (yes, there’s homework :)) you’re going to be focusing on the depth of field element.
So, it’s time to switch your camera out of automatic. We’re going to be in the Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av). This mode will allow you to adjust the aperture yourself. Everything else will be automatic, but go ahead and make sure. For my camera, I needed to switch the ISO to Auto myself.
aperture depth of field study
started top left with f/2 and increasing f-stop to f/22 bottom right (other settings in auto)
Explore the relationship between aperture and depth of field.
The objective of this assignment is to better understand aperture, so you are not required to shoot anything fancy. To make this project easier to understand, place your object on a table or the ground and make sure that there are no other objects close in proximity, but farther behind (this will help you focus on that one object)
- Set your camera to aperture priority (Av). Start by focusing on the object and take a picture with the widest or lowest number aperture you can (possibly f/2 or f/3.5). Use your lens to identify your lowest aperture setting and remember that you may need to change your zoom length to set it to the lowest possible aperture (try zooming all the way out)
- Document the aperture you used in each photo and take notes.
- Now without changing the focus select you smallest aperture or a larger number (like f/22) and take another picture. (Make sure to hold your camera steady, use a tripod, or rest it on something)
- Once you have two photos (one with your widest aperture possible and the next with the smallest aperture) and compare them. What happened to the background? Is it sharp? Blurry? Grainy? How did the focus change?
- Share your results in the comments below!
To make the assignment more interesting:
Add in more f/stops so that you can notice a more gradual change
Upload your photos to a place where you can view your setting used in the photos (sometimes just called info). Notice how the ISO and shutter speed change as you adjust the aperture. As you change your aperture, your camera is automatically adjusting those other elements of exposure.
Keep your camera in Av mode and continue learning about aperture and depth of field. Try taking a portrait with your widest aperture, it will help your subject stand out more. Try taking a landscape with the smallest aperture, it will help you capture as many details as possible.
Let me know if you have any questions & look for part 3 of the photo series in the next couple weeks!