Written By: Rachel @ Inscribed Photography
I’m taking you in a different direction today.
Instead of a post about pictures I’ve taken, I want to help YOU learn more about photography. I’m going to share a little series of photography tips that (I hope!) help explain the fundamentals of photography. Digital cameras have made it easier than ever to jump into the art of photography but there are still some basic techniques that will make you, as a photographer, even better. And let me say that I didn’t know any of what I am about to share with you until I took my first photography class in college – I was very much a beginner!
The first thing I want to share is the exposure triangle. The three ‘points’ of the triangle are aperture, shutter speed, and the ISO. This trio of settings determines your overall exposure; how bright or how dark the picture is. Each setting affects the other two, so learning about each of them and how they work together will help you to control your exposure.
In this first post, we’re going to focus (pun intended!) on the aperture ‘point’ of the triangle.
Aperture refers to how wide your camera’s lens is opening. In camera-lingo, this is called an ‘f/stop’. Your camera’s aperture setting will determine how much or how little light is coming into your camera, as well as how much or how little of the picture is in focus (depth-of-field).
A wide aperture would be a low f/stop like f/1.4 or f/3.5. Your camera’s lens opening is very wide (see the illustration above) which allows lots of light to come into your camera. A wide opening also makes your depth-of-field very shallow. So if we use a wide aperture, we’re going to let more light into the camera but less of our picture will be in focus.
In contrast, a narrow aperture would be a high f/stop like f/11 or f/16. The lens opening is narrower, which lets in less light. The depth-of-field would be larger, allowing more of the picture to be in focus. So if we use a narrow aperture, we’re letting less light into the camera but more of the picture will be in focus.
Confused yet? Stay with me! Let’s look at some examples.
Here we see five pictures of the same subject, all taken with a different aperture setting. On the very top the camera had a wide aperture. See how the book starts to get blurry and the wicker table is completely out of focus in the background? On the very bottom the camera had a narrow aperture. The book is completely in focus and we can see much more detail in the wicker table.
So how do you control aperture on a point-and-shoot camera? The landscape setting on your camera (usually shown by a mountain symbol) will give you a narrower aperture. Typically when you are shooting landscapes you want a lot of your picture to be in focus, so you want a higher f/stop. Even if you aren’t taking a picture of a landscape, you can use the landscape setting on your camera to get a narrower aperture and higher f/stop.
What about wider apertures? Look for the portrait setting on your camera – the little face symbol. The portrait setting is (obviously) designed for taking pictures of people. Generally when you are shooting portraits, you’ll want a shallow depth-of-field and a wide aperture. Just like the landscape setting though, you can use it whenever you want a lower f/stop.
Let’s review for a minute.
- Aperture is how wide or how narrow the lens opening of your camera is.
A wide opening allows more light into the camera and gives a shallow depth-of-field. A wide opening would be an f/stop such as f/1.4 or f/3.5.
A narrow opening allows less light into the camera and gives a wide depth-of-field. A narrow opening would be an f/stop such as f/8 or f/11.
- To get a narrow aperture (low f/stop number), look for the Portrait setting on your camera.
To get a wide aperture (high f/stop number), look for the Landscape setting on your camera.
- Aperture works together with the shutter speed and ISO settings to produce the exposure. This is called the exposure triangle.
- Check out the Digital Camera Simulator to learn even more about how aperture works.
I hope I didn’t lose you along the way. Please comment with any questions you might have! And stay tuned for the next part of this series. We’ll talk about shutter speed, the next point of the exposure triangle!