Beginner Photography Class Day 1: Understand Camera Aperture

The purpose of this class is to boil down once-complicated concepts into something a beginner can understand.

The best way I can think to understand camera APERTURE is to think about a pirate’s eye-patch.

I read somewhere that pirates wear eye-patches not because they lost or injured an eye in a fight. But because they’re constantly going above and below deck.

The patch keeps one eye adjusted to the dark. So when they go below deck, they can simply switch the patch to the other eye or flip it up and they don’t have to wait for their pupils to adjust. They can see in the dark right away.

The aperture setting on your camera is a lot like the pupil in your eye. Below deck, in the dark, your camera aperture needs to be wide open to let in as much light as possible. But above deck, in the brighter light, your aperture should be smaller so as not to let in too much light.

If you set your camera to Auto or Program mode, it will automatically make these adjustments for you (along with adjusting other settings) just as your eyes automatically adjust to the light when you go above and below deck (or inside and outside of the house or shade).

But unlike your eyes, your camera can’t manage scenes with both extreme light and extreme dark. A simple shadow on an otherwise bright day or light from a window pouring into a dark room can trick your camera into thinking the scene is darker or lighter than it really is.

Since they don’t make pirate eye-patches for cameras, you’ll sometimes need to manually adjust your camera to compensate for times like this.

Here’s today’s video lesson, with an explanation of how aperture affects the light in your photograph and also how aperture affects your depth of field (i.e., how much of your photo is in or out of focus):


** Aperture is like the pupil in your eye. It controls how much light is let in and on to your camera’s sensor.

** Aperture is measured in f-stops:
f1.0 f1.4 f2.0 f2.8 f4 f5.6 f8 f11 f16 f22.

** F-stops are essentially the size of the hole in the lens that lets light in. The “2” in f2 is really the bottom of a fraction. When a lens is set to f2, the hole in the lens is 1/2 as big as the lens is long. F4 is ¼ as big as the lens is long. And f22 is 1/22 as big as the lens is long.

** When thinking about which f-stop lets in more light, it might help to think about measuring-cups. Do you want a hole big enough to let in a half cup of light or 1/8 cup of light? Which f-stop lets in more light, f2 or f8?

** Aperture also affects depth of field.

** The wider (larger) the hole the fewer things will be in focus. F2 will give you an image with fewer things in focus than f22.

** One way to help remember your f-stops is to think about the number of things you want in focus. Just two petals on a flower in focus – think f2 or another small f-stop number. Twenty-two flowers in a field in focus – think f22 or a large f-stop number. This might be easier for you to remember than thinking: First, I want only a little in focus, so that means I need a small opening which means a large f-stop number because 1/22 is smaller than ½.

** Remember, 90% of the time, your camera will make a better decision for you than you can make yourself. Put your camera in Program mode so that the flash stays off when you turn it off (flash can often ruin an otherwise saleable shot), and let the camera decide your aperture. The other 10% of the time, know that aperture controls how much light gets into your lens and on to your camera’s sensor and it affects your depth of field – how much of your photo is in sharp focus.


** Correct Blurry Photos

** What it Means if You Have a Fast Lens

** How to Make Your Subjects Pop

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]

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