How Do I Make My Photos Look Awesome?

Understanding Aperture

A lot of people ask me to explain how to take better photos. I'll attempt to cover core aspects to taking great photos in a few separate posts.  

Whether you're using a GoPro, iPhone, or a DSLR - you need to know what the difference is between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. These three core components all control the amount of light coming into the camera, and are essential to understanding how to manually control your camera.  The key is to understand what you want your photograph to look like in the end, and then balance out these 3 items to achieve your goal. 

What is Aperture?

Aperture is a mechanical component of the lens, which either opens or closes to let more or less light in, respectively. It works just like the pupil of your eye. There are two primary functions of the aperture. 

1. Let more or less light in, depending on how open or closed the mechanism is.

2. Change the depth of field

 

Regardless of your camera, aperture is represented by a number. These numbers are called f/stops. The f/stop number tells you how open or closed the aperture is. Some lenses, like the ones on cell phones and most consumer drones, have fixed apertures. This means that they do not have the capability of opening or closing. The picture below illustrates how different f/stop numbers correlate to the size of the aperture on the lens. The larger the number, the smaller the aperture will be. The smaller the number, the larger the aperture will be. It's a bit counterintuitive, but you'll get used to it. 

Aperture, showing largest to smallest (left to right)

Aperture, showing largest to smallest (left to right)

I mentioned before that the aperture works the same way as our pupils do. When someone shines a very bright light into your eyes, or you're out in direct sunlight, your pupils constrict. Your pupils would be somewhere on the right hand side of the above image. Your pupils constrict in order to prevent too much light from entering into your eye. If you are in a dimly lit restaurant, your pupils will dilate in order to allow more light into your eye. The aperture has the same function. A f/stop of 1.4 for example, will allow a lot of light in. A f/stop of 22 will allow a very small amount of light through. 

But wait! There's more!

Aperture's other function, aside from changing the amount of light that comes into the camera, is to change the depth of field.  The smaller the f/stop (f/22), the larger the depth of field will be. The larger the f/stop (f1.4), the shallower the depth of field will be.

camera-aperture.jpg

 

What is depth of field?

Depth of field refers to the nearest and farthest points of a subject that remain in focus. The image below best illustrates what effect aperture has on your photograph. 

A narrow, or shallow depth of field, means that there will be a large portion of your photograph that will appear blurry or out of focus. A shallow depth of field is generally used in portraits. A large depth of field is usually used in landscapes. This is important to take into consideration, because you may want or need a wide depth of field. 

TL;DR

  • Aperture controls the amount of light that comes into the camera
  • Aperture is mechanical component of the lens, not the camera
  • Aperture also changes the depth of field
  • f/1.4 allows a lot of light in, and creates a shallow depth of field
  • f/22 allows very little light in, and creates a large depth of field