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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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