Aperture in Photography explained for Beginners

Michael • Updated June 30, 2022 • 8 min read

Aperture in Photography explained for Beginners- Image shows a graphic

Aperture is one of the most basic parts of photography. It is one of the three parts of the “Exposure Triangle,” along with ISO and shutter speed.

However, the aperture doesn’t just change the exposure; it also has a big impact on other parts of photography, like depth of field, sharpness, and the overall look of your photo.

This guide has everything you need to know about the basics of aperture in photography. It will help beginner photographers understand what an aperture is and how it affects your photos.


 

Aperture in Photography explained

The aperture is a hole in your lens via which light passes into the camera. It operates like an eye: your pupils become larger or smaller depending on how much light is there.

Translated to photography, this means that the aperture is the pupil of your lens. It, too, can be extended or shrunk at will.

This is how you adjust how much light reaches the camera sensor. The overlapping “blades” form some kind of barrier to block light and permit light to enter just through the hole in the middle.

The size of the aperture is represented by the f-number. When people talk about what f-stop number they utilized for a specific picture, they use values like f/1.8, f/2.8, f/5.6, f/16, and so on.

  • The larger the number behind the f/, the smaller the aperture size
  • The smaller the number behind the f/, the larger the aperture size.

What does the F-stop or F-number mean?

To define the aperture, we’ve simply used the adjectives “big” and “small” thus far. However, the aperture’s size can also be stated numerically. In English, this number is known as F-number or F-stop.

For example, the letter “f” precedes each aperture value, for example, f/4. This is most likely something you’ve seen on your camera, either on the display or in the viewfinder. Some models use numerals without the slash, such as f2, f3.5, f12, and so on.

What does aperture function?

The aperture is a hole in your lens that allows light to travel into the camera’s interior. It operates like an eye: depending on how much light is there, your pupils enlarge or contract.

When it comes to photography, this means that the aperture is your lens’s pupil. It, too, can be made larger or smaller at any time.

This is how you manage the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor. The overlapping “wings” or “blades” form a light-blocking barrier. Only the hole in the center allows light to pass through.

In technical terms, the aperture is “the hole in a lens through which light travels into the inside of the camera.”

Graphic shows a diagram showing the blades inside the lens
Blades inside the lens

What are lens blades?

The small aperture blades are located inside the lens and are used to generate a nearly circular aperture that allows light to enter through to the lens to the image sensor. The aperture blades and their position control the lens’s aperture setting (F-stop).

The number of aperture blades will affect the appearance of your bokeh, but so will their placement.

Graphic shows a diagram shows the relation between aperture settings and exposure
Diagram shows the relation between aperture settings and exposure

How does the aperture affect exposure?

Aperture has a variety of impacts on your photos. Brightness, often known as exposure, is by far the most significant factor. When you adjust the aperture wider (larger), more light enters the camera and the image becomes brighter. If it’s smaller, the image will be darker by default.

To capture as much light as possible in a dark area, utilize a wide-open aperture. This makes sense because your pupils enlarge at night for the same reason.

Photo with illustration shows the brightness difference between F-stops
Brightness difference between F-stops

How to select the correct aperture?

You now understand what the various aperture settings mean. But how can you know which one to use and when to use it? Here’s a graph showing the brightness differences between some common f-stops:

To ensure that the photo is bright enough in a dark situation, utilize high apertures such as f/2.8. As previously said, your pupils open in the dark to catch even the tiniest amount of light.

In terms of depth of field, keep in mind that a wide aperture, such as f/2.8, produces a lot of blur in the background. This would be ideal for portrait photography. Aperture stops such as f/8, f/11, or f/16, on the other hand, will keep your photo sharp from front to back. This works well for landscape photography.

Don’t worry if the aperture you chose makes your photo too bright or too dark. If the aperture is too small or too big, you can usually make up for it by increasing the shutter speed or the ISO.

Image shows a camera lens wide open at F1.8
Camera lens wide open at F1.8

Apertures of lenses’ maximum and lowest apertures

The aperture of each lens has a limit on how big or small it can be. This info is available in your lens’ technical specifications. The greatest size is probably the most crucial. It indicates how much light the lens can take in and whether or not you can take nice shots with it in low light.

A lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.8 is considered “fast” because more light passes through.

Fast lenses are frequently much more expensive than slow lenses. On the other hand, because most current lenses go down to f/16 or smaller normally, the minimum aperture isn’t as crucial.

In normal life, a smaller aperture is rarely required. For example, we usually shoot our images with F-stops between 1.8 and 11.

Image shows a zoom lens with fixed aperture
Zoom lens, @www_slon_pics

The aperture of some zoom lenses can change as you zoom in or out. Even when zooming in, more expensive lenses may keep the aperture open.

Fixed aperture lenses, on the other hand, frequently have the greatest fixed aperture (e.g. 50mm), giving them an edge over zoom lenses.

The maximum aperture of a lens is so significant that it is written in the name or product identifier. This is often written with a colon rather than a slash, but the meaning is the same. The smallest aperture, referred to as the “open aperture,” has a theoretical value of f1. But because of how the cameras and lenses are built, this is almost impossible to do in real life.

Aperture and shutter speed control brightness

As previously stated, the exposure time is inextricably linked to the aperture. It tells you how long it takes for light to get through the lens and onto the sensor.

A large aperture (low light transmission) necessitates a longer exposure time or shutter speed to achieve the same quantity of light falling on the sensor as a tiny aperture (large light transmission).

Image shows a camera mounted on a tripod
Camera mounted on a tripod to avoid unsharp images, @juergen-polle

A tripod may be required for extended exposure times. A tripod should be used from roughly 1/15 second exposure time onward, according to a rule of thumb, to avoid blurring the image.

If you merely choose a bigger aperture and leave the exposure time alone, the image will quickly become too dark.

The brightness of the image is thus influenced solely by the aperture setting rather than the exposure duration. The exposure period is chosen automatically by the camera in our example with the “AV” mode. When you switch to “M” mode, you can change any setting by hand, including the time the camera is exposed to light.

Aperture size: large vs. small

Beginners are frequently perplexed by the fact that a small aperture number denotes a large aperture, while a large aperture number denotes a small aperture. As a result, the aperture of f/4 is wider (more open) than that of f/8 and much larger than that of f/13.

The majority of people find this odd, as it should be the other way around. But that isn’t a typo: the aperture is a fraction of a fraction, respectively.

Graphic shows Aperture diagram showing large aperture vs small aperture
Aperture diagram showing large aperture vs small aperture

Is he really going to give me math now, you think? Yes, but believe me when I say it makes things a lot easier. One-tenth is represented by the value f/10. You may recall from elementary school that a tenth is visibly smaller than a quarter. Because of this, f/10 is smaller than f/4.

When someone says to use a large aperture for a specific photo, they’re referring to an f-stop of f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, or something like that. If a tiny aperture is recommended, you should use f/8, f/11, or f/16.

Practical examples of various apertures

Now that we’ve gone through a full explanation of how aperture works and how it affects your photographs, let’s have a look at examples at different aperture settings.

  • F-stop f/0.95 – f/1.4
    Such “rapid” maximum open apertures are only available on fixed focal length lenses. These can let in a lot of light in a short length of time.

    This makes them excellent for any low-light photography, such as shooting indoors, weddings in dark halls, night sky photography, portraits in poorly lit rooms, business events, etc.

    With such deep aperture stops, you get a very shallow depth of field, making the subject appear divorced from the background.

  • F-stop f/1.8 – f/2.0
    Some prime fixed focal lengths are limited to f/1.8 and have slightly weaker low-light capabilities. Still, if your goal is to produce aesthetically beautiful photographs, these lenses are of immense value.

    Shooting between f/1.8 and f/2, you can still best distinguish the subject from the background and also get gorgeous bokeh at close range.

  • F-stop f/2.8 – f/4
    Most professional zoom lenses are limited to an aperture range of 2.8 to 4 stops. While not as capable as f/1.4 lenses in terms of light capture, they frequently offer image stabilization advantages that make them flexible for low-light shooting.

    Shooting with apertures in the f/2.8 – f/4 range frequently gives an appropriate depth of field for most subjects and delivers outstanding sharpness. Such apertures are perfect for travel, sports, and wildlife, among others.

  • F-stop f/5.6 – f/8
    This is the best aperture for landscape and architectural photography. This aperture range is also suitable for group photographs.

    Opening the aperture to the f/5.6 range frequently delivers the optimum overall sharpness for most lenses. f/8 is used when the extra depth of field is required.

  • F-stop f/11 – f/16
    It is Often used for landscape, architectural, and macro photography where the most consistent depth of field is necessary. Take care when going over f/10 as you will steadily lose sharpness due to lens diffraction.
  • F-stop f/22
    You should only use f/22 or smaller if you know exactly what you are doing. You get less image sharpness at f/22 and smaller apertures, you may avoid them if if not necessary.

If you need depth of field throughout, it’s advisable to walk away from the subject or utilize a focusing technique instead. You may find numerous ways to do this in our article on hyperfocal distance.

Aperture and depth of field (DOF)

Depth of field refers to the sharpness or blur of the backdrop, which is also affected by the aperture. It represents the depth of your image, from where it is sharp to where it is not sharp.

A “shallow” depth of field is used in some pictures, resulting in a blurred background. Others have a wide depth of field, with sharpness reaching from the front to the rear of the image.

Grahic shows Aperture diagram showing how aperture and depth of field are related
Aperture diagram showing how aperture and depth of field are related

Only the person appears sharp in the shot below, which is owing to the deliberately chosen wide-open aperture. The photographer purposefully chose this for this photograph to create a lovely shallow depth of field (also called the Shallow Focus Effect).

All the grass and trees in the background would be sharp if a small aperture had been used.

Image shows a Portrait taken with a wide aperture of f/1.8
Portrait taken with a wide aperture of f/1.8 isolates the person, @wflwong

Consider this to recall the principle: A big aperture causes a lot of depth blur. By the way, this effect is quite popular for portraits and shots of items in general where a blurred background is desired.

The shot above has a blurred background and a beautiful bokeh, making it unique.

A small aperture, on the other hand, generates little blur. This is perfect for landscape or architectural photography, for example, where the foreground and background must be sharp.

Image shows a mountain landscape captured with f11 to keep all sharp
For a sharp image, this landscape has been captured with a small aperture of f/11

Different restrictions apply if an image must be in focus throughout and there is an object in the foreground (such as a rock). If you’re interested in landscape photography.

The relationship between aperture and bokeh

Here’s a basic rundown: The hole in your lens that enables light to enter your camera is referred to as the aperture. Aperture blades create this opening.

The “depth-of-field,” or the area of the photo that appears in focus, is affected by the size of this opening. Outside of this (the “out-of-focus area”), the image is blurred in a way that is different from motion blur or camera wobble. This smooth blurring effect is referred to as “bokeh.”

Here’s how they’re linked:

  • A larger opening results in a shallower depth-of-field and greater bokeh.
    Smaller opening = greater depth-of-field = less or no noticeable bokeh.
    Learn more about bokeh at What is bokeh in photography?

 

Frequently asked questions


How can I change the aperture on my camera?

The way you set the aperture is usually determined by the type of camera you have. On entry-level versions, the aperture is often configured using the device’s touchscreen or buttons.

To modify the aperture on a more advanced camera, switch to AV mode (Canon) or A mode (Nikon, Sony). Turn the control dial on top of the camera to select the appropriate setting.

The camera automatically adapts the other settings to the aperture you choose in this mode. If your camera doesn’t have this option, you can use M mode to set everything up by hand.

How can I choose the best aperture for my photograph?

To establish which aperture you require, analyze the topic you want to capture first. When photographing a landscape, use a small aperture.

A big aperture is used while taking a portrait photograph. A tiny aperture is symbolized by a high number, while a big aperture is stated by a low number.

Aperture values are represented by an ‘f’ followed by a number. Typically, the numbers range from 1 to 22.

What is the ideal aperture for sharp photos?

The sweet spot, or sharpest aperture, of your lens is two to three f/stops from the maximum aperture. As a result, the sharpest aperture on a telephoto lens with a 16-35mm f/4 is somewhere between f/8 and f/11.

A faster lens, such as the 14-24mm f/2.8, has an aperture range of f/5.6 to f/8.

Which aperture is optimal for portrait photography?

For portrait photography, a lens with a large aperture (f2.8 or f4) is ideal. It will keep your topic in sharp focus while slowly fading away from the backdrop.

What exactly is aperture priority?

It’s common on any digital camera with a mode dial. When aperture priority is activated, your camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed.

You will still be able to manage the aperture, ISO, and all other settings manually.

As you change the aperture, the camera will choose the best shutter speed based on how much light it sees coming through the lens.


Summary

Small aperture blades are located inside the lens and are used to generate a nearly circular aperture that allows light to enter through the lens to the image sensor.

The aperture blades and their position control the lens’s aperture setting (F-stop). Beginners are frequently perplexed by the fact that a small aperture number denotes a large aperture, while a large number labels a small aperture.

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By Furoore team member Michael
Furoore Team is here to assist you in capturing the most significant moments in your life. To create exciting photographs, discover photography guides, find unique photo ideas, and limitless image inspiration.

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