Aperture – The Basics

What Is Aperture or F Stop?
Understanding aperture or f stop is extremely important to shooting on manual mode.  We touched on aperture in the How to Shoot on Manual Mode post but let’s explore it a little more.  According to Wikipedia, aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels. 

Shooting “Wide Open”
Another thing to keep in mind about when people talk about aperture or f stops is they say they their aperture is “wide open” or a “narrow” or “smaller aperture”. When people say they are wide open or to “open up your aperture” they mean to lower your number. For example, if you are shooting at f3.5 and you open up your aperture you would change it to maybe f2.8 and if you want to shoot wide open you would change it to the lowest number possible depending on your lens.

How Your Lens Opens
Basically, the wider your aperture is the more light that will come in. This diagram helps you understand how the smaller number brings in more light and why people call it “wide open”. This shows you how open your lens is at each setting.

Creating Blurry Backgrounds
The thing I love most about setting my aperture is creating those blurry backgrounds that look so professional :O) Plus, if you are shooting in your house and have your aperture wide open it helps to hide the mess that may be in the background :O) That is one of my favorite tricks :O) Here are a few examples of what a picture will look like using different aperture settings. Notice how in the ones where my aperture was wider there is some great bokeh and as my aperture was more closed up you can see all the details in the background.

Here is another example for you (you know how much I love picture examples :O) 

Did you notice in the first one there is a huge tree that is coming out of her head?? Nope! Thank you aperture!!

As if you didn’t have enough examples of the blurry backgrounds, I wanted to show you another example but with flowers :O)

Thanks to my friend, Trisha, for being such a great model :O)

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  1. Great examples! I’ve been telling lots of my friends about your blog…it is SO helpful! Thanks for starting it.

  2. OK this helps a lot! I didn’t understand about the “wide open” thing.
    And the tree-head is hilarious.

  3. LOVE these pics of Trisha! She looks like a model. I wish I had an adult to practice my photography on. haha.

  4. Wow, there is another Amber!!!

    I think changing the day and the theme is a great idea. I had no idea there were so many photo challenges out there, but I have learned there is far less participation on Friday’s. My Journey of Faith would probably be better if I would change the days.

    did you get my email?

  5. Stop, Janell, stop. You are always way cuter than me. :))

  6. this was extremely helpful! your blog has really helped me change the way i take pictures. thank you!

  7. Hi!! Just dropping a note to tell you I LOVE your blog, and I totally appreciate all the tips and tricks! I’m new at this, and I linked to you in my most recent post about shooting in Manual! Hope you check it out!!


  8. avatar Tina Carlson :

    I love the different examples…I am a visual person, like most of us and this is very useful!
    Thanks again

  9. avatar Leann Thompson :

    This was so awesome. I need help shooting inside I totally struggle with getting it right.. I’m shooting in aperture mode with a speed light but I just can’t get it. Help????

    • Leann,

      I wish I could help you but I have never shot in aperture mode or used a speed light. What lens are you using? Are you shooting with your lens wide open (lowest number). Low lighting inside is a challenge but the speed light should help you with your exposure. I would suggest setting your aperture as wide as it can go. Good luck! Sorry I’m not much help on this one!

  10. Hi! I’m an Italian blogger and photographer. This is one of the best blog about photography that I found! It’s clear and well explained!
    DcSutherland recently posted..Summer.

  11. Thanks for the post. Has me wanting to learn to shoot in manual.You explain it so simple that I may be able to do some of this.

  12. Love you blog, i have been so addictive to all of your posts, keep up cheers to a wonderful work. And thanks for sharing with us all of your knowledge!!!!!

  13. I have been practicing with wide open apertures (f/1.8, f/2.2) on a canon 50mm 1.8 lens but noticed that the subject in the pictures always seems “soft” when I use them. The model is in focus in comparison to the blurred background, but I have to bump up the clarity in post processing to make it look sharp. Am I missing something in terms of shutter speed or ISO that would help this problem?

  14. Great post–the examples are so helpful. Thanks!!

  15. Thanks! I’m so glad I found your blog. It has helped me so much!

  16. I love the bokeh effect from using smaller apertures. What I hate is that in getting that lovely bokeh, it is a constant struggle with how much depth of field I can get. It’s a rare day that I can get everything I want in focus because I have such a small depth of field when opening up the aperture. Very frustrating to me. I shoot in manual now, but this is something that hurts every macro I shoot.

  17. I love shooting in AV mode! ever since I have discovered how beautiful bokehs are, I have been shooting in AV. Now, I am loving Manual. You tutorial is awesome especially picture tutorials. Made it easy to understand and apply.
    Thank you!

  18. My problem with shooting wide open is my focus. I’ll get half of my daughter in focus and half of her still blurred. Sometimes I feel like I may be standing too close to her and should back up a few steps. I also toggle one single focus point, which may also be one of my issues. Do you recommend an autofocus setting that would capture more of my subject than just a single point focus?

  19. Thank you for this website! I just got a nikon D3200 for Christmas and was overwhelmed by it. I read the manual and was even more overwhelmed. Your website breaks it down so simply. I finally feel like I am beginning to grasp the manual mode. Up until now I have just been doing the point and shoot. But this isn’t why I got the camera. I have always wanted to explore and learn more about photography. Again thanks!
    Jeanne Rush recently posted..I am switching over to tumblr from another blog.  I am doing a…

  20. so glad i found your website! i’m new here and i love it! thanks!!

  21. avatar Theresa Weiss :

    Great examples! Those really help clear aperture up for me!


  22. Nice examples.

  23. avatar Carole Botha :

    Thank you for this website and all your information. It is great that you take such trouble to take shots to demonstrate to us the difference in apetures. I have learned much from your site and look forward to your emails to find out more.

  24. I love shooting “wide open” when I have one subject, but every time I have two subjects I have a hard time getting them both clear, while not closing up all the way. How do you find the perfect number without trying every one? It’s nice to still have some background blur…

    • Amber, one rule of thumb is to have your number at the same number of people are in the photo but I would say close down even more. If I’m photographing 2 of my daughters I may shoot at f/4. It also depends on what plane they are on. If they are on the same plane you are more likely to get them in focus than if they are on different planes in the image.

  25. Hey Courtney.. love the picture examples! quick question..
    i have a 50mm 1.4 lens and when i shoot my kids from far away and then zoom in on the photo i just took of them they aren’t clear. my question is when i shoot from far away (like 10+ feet away) with this lens should my aperture number be higher? thanks for your help!!

    • Hey Megan,
      Their faces will not be as tack sharp if you are further away than if you were closer. It has something to do with the amount of pixels in the image. So I wouldn’t worry too much about that. :)

  26. Great examples! Thanks!!!

  27. Great examples, thank you so much

  28. As you changed the aperture you also change the ss, but you didn’t write the example for that

  29. avatar charles barnabas okhipo :

    Hi my name is Charles, i am based in Nigeria and have been gathering e books and videos on DSLRs so far yours is the most helpful ever. It is so easy to understand and guides properly. Thank you for this assistance.

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