What Is Aperture And How Do I Control It?

By Apr 21, 201710 Comments

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To start learning photography, mastering photography terminology is important. There are 3 pillars to photography – aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Understanding and practicing these pillars will go a long way to advancing your photography skills. For the purposes of this post we’ll focus on aperture.

Photography Terminology: Aperture

Aperture determines how clear and sharp the background of an image is when the shutter button is pressed. Depending upon the aperture setting, the camera will create a sharp and crisp background or blur the background focusing on the foreground subject.

Why would you want a blurry background? Depending upon the subject and scene, blurring the background creates an interesting element to the photography. It also focuses the eye on the foreground subject; almost bringing the subject forward and out of the photograph.

Creating Amazing Photographs

Humans are visual creatures thriving from the visual delights in our everyday existences. We naturally seek out images that delight, inspire, or for some, horrify. Regardless of the subject, we want to look at interesting images. This is never truer than in the world of blogging. Certainly blogging is about great content but the other just as crucial half is creating amazing visuals.

Our audiences desire, and almost demand, stunning and provocative images that grab their attention, hold it, and draw them into what we are offering in terms of content. Beyond understanding the importance of giving our audiences something amazing to view lies the challenge of meeting their expectations.

For many bloggers photography is intimidating and challenging. It need not be, for every blogger can take great photos and create enticing images for their audience.

What is aperture? Learn how to control the aperture on your camera to take your best pictures.

What Is Aperture?

In basic, easy terms, aperture is the opening in the lens. Don’t confuse aperture with shutter speed. Aperture only determines how large the lens opening is, not how fast the shutter closes.

The camera aperture settings determine how big the lens opening is to capture the image. The larger the hole the more light is allowed into the camera.

Aperture is measured in f-numbers (f-stops) such as f/2, f/5, and f/20. The smaller the number, the larger the aperture. For example, f/2 is the largest some lenses will open and is a big hole; f/22, on the other hand, is a very small hole in the lens.

Everything you need to know about aperture | photography tips

Depth Of Field And Aperture

Depth of field describes the scene in focus and is determined by aperture settings. For example, a large depth of field (aka small aperture using large numbers) means the scene will be in sharp focus regardless of where it is taken (zoom or close range). A shallow depth of field (aka large aperture using small numbers) means the background will be blurry but the foreground subject will be in focus.

The term “depth of field” is used often in photography to describe how much of the scene the photographer wants in focus and which aperture settings are appropriate to achieve the desired photo.

Low Aperture VS. High Aperture

These two photos are taken at the same time of day with the same subject. The difference is the aperture settings. In photo A the aperture setting is f/4.0 (the largest aperture setting on my camera). As you can see, the cherry tree leaves are crisp, clear, and much defined. The background, on the other hand, is very blurry and obscure. Photo B has an aperture setting of f/22. The difference is very noticeable. In photo B the background is just as sharp and detailed as the foreground. In fact, in photo B more detail is evident such as my daughter’s swing to the left of the tree.

Aperture comparison

How To Control Aperture

The aperture setting is basically the same for digital cameras such as Nikon and Cannon. Set the “Mode” dial (typically on the top right of the camera) to A for Nikon and AV for Cannon. This puts your camera into Aperture Priority mode. This mode allows you to adjust the aperture while the camera does the rest (shutter speed etc.).

Once in the Aperture Priority Mode you can now turn the dial (see your user’s manual for exact location if you are not familiar with this dial) to adjust the aperture or f/number. While turning the dial you should see the f/number go up or down.

Smartphone and point-and-shoot camera users have options too. For smartphones apps can help change the background from focuses to blurry. Point-and-shoot camera users are best advised to learn everything they can about the different camera modes and how to manipulate them to create a blurry background. A trick is to use the zoom to your advantage to achieve the blurry background of a small aperture setting on a digital camera. Another tip is to focus the camera on the foreground subject to create a blurry background.

A great example of manipulating focus without changing aperture is below. In photo A I focused my camera on the llama and the background is blurry (I used an aperture setting of f/4.0). In photo B I focused slightly beyond the llamas on the grapevines in the background and the photo is crisp (with the same aperture setting of f/4.0).

Aperture comparison with a llama

The best method to learning about aperture and backgrounds is to experiment. Take photos, change settings, point of focus, and notice how to manipulate the camera settings to create the best photos possible.


Looking for more photography tips?
Check out these posts about getting to know your dslr and which lens is right for you!

These are the terms you need to know to use your DSLR camera | photography tips for beginners
5 questions to help you determine which camera lens to buy for your DSLR. Plus a great overview of different lens types and terms.

About Tammi Young

Tammi was born and raised in Northern California as have her four children. She has owned and operated an internet service company for 13 years with her husband, working as the company accountant and human resources manager. She started her handmade jewelry business, French Robin Designs, in 2012 to work out her creativity and started blogging at French Robin not long after. She loves everything creative, especially DIY furniture renovation projects, fashion, and jewelry. You can always find Tammi visiting on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+.


  • I certainly agree to some points that you have discussed on this post. I appreciate that you have shared some reliable tips on this review.

  • I so needed this. Thank you very much.

    • Tammi Young says:

      I’m so glad you found it helpful, Karina! I recommend you take some time and experiment with different apertures. Practice and you will become more comfortable with your camera. Remember, if you don’t like the results – delete! Happy photography!

  • Tammi says:

    Marie, you are so kind! Thank you for the compliment. Photography vocabulary can be a challenge but once you know the terms it is much easier. The smaller the F # the larger the hole; the larger the F # the smaller the hole; i.e. more light = small F #; less light = large F #. Now go out and practice to your heart’s desire! Cheers!!

  • Heidi says:

    Tammi, I loved this! I have a Nikon D5100 and still don’t know how to use it properly. I’ve tried reading some photography books, but always get confused when I go to set my camera for a photo. This was so helpful and easy to follow. I had no idea you were such a great writer — in addition to all you other talents!

    • Tammi says:

      Thank you so much, Heidi! I covet your D5100 camera! I’m still learning too but there is so much fun in the learning process with photography. I think the most valuable skill is patience because with patience you give yourself time to learn and grow as a photographer. Good luck!

  • Thank you so much for this! I’m really trying to understand how my camera works and get off the automatic shooting mode.

    • Tammi says:

      Hi, Max. Take the plunge and move the dial to Aperture Mode! You can do it!! Since learning more about my camera I never place it in automatic. Take your time to learn how your camera works, practice, and be patient. You will get there!

  • This was the best aperture tutorial I’ve found yet. Finally those F numbers (and I mean that figuratively and literally) stuck in my brain and make sense! Thank you!