Photography Fundamentals | Aperture

This is part 4 of a 5 part series on the Exposure Triangle.

Understanding and learning to control your exposure through ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture is the foundation of photography. Consciously controlling your exposure opens up a world of creative possibility.

Today, we’re exploring my favorite aspect of the exposure triangle, Aperture.

Aperture refers to the opening in the lens through which light travels. (check out the video above to see changing aperture)

Aperture is similar to the pupil of your eye – in low light situations, the pupil opens wide to allow more light to get to the retina. In bright sunlight, the iris expands and pupil contracts to a tiny dot to let in less light.

Aperture controls the Depth of Field – the plane of focus in the image. Shallow depth of field means only a small slice is in focus, directing the eye of the viewer to exactly the spot in the photograph you choose. It’s very effective for capturing detail.

Depth Of Field - Shallow or deep, focuses the eye | Cheese Photography 101

Conversely, deep depth of field means the entirety of the photograph is in focus. Deep depth of field showcases many elements and can be more effective for wider shots that tell a story.

Aperture is represented by a numerical value preceded by f-number, or f/stop. f/stops with a small number like f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.8 create a wide opening and let in a lot of light. Small openings let in less light and are represented by higher numbers like f/11, f/16 and f/22.

Aperture - Full Stop diagram Every full stop up or down in aperture doubles or halves the amount of light reaching the sensor.

Wider apertures allow for lower light photography and produce a Shallow Depth of Field (DoF) or Bokeh. Bokeh is a photographic term that comes from the Japanese Boke meaning “haze” or “blur” and refers to the pleasant aesthetic quality of a very shallow plane of focus. Depth of Field Comparison To achieve Deep Depth of Field to see clearly to infinity, use tiny apertures like f/16 and f/22. Remember, these are small openings with very restricted light getting to the sensor. They require slower shutter speeds and/or bright light.

If your shutter speed is below about 1/80 sec. you’ll want a tripod to avoid camera shake. Most of my photographs are taken with a medium Depth of Field – f/5.6 or f/8. A few other things to know about aperture.

  • Aperture is controlled by your lens, with each lens having a maximum available aperture. Zoom lenses can have a range of aperture. For example 24mm-70mm f/2.8-f/5.6.
  • “Fast” lenses have wider maximum aperture (f/1.2, f/1.8 up to f/2.8) and are good for low light photography and lovely bokeh.
  • Shallow DoF can be disorienting. Deep DoF can be distracting.
  • Use Shallow Depth of Field to hide background elements or cheese imperfections.
  • Medium Depth of Field (f/4.0, f/5.6 or f/8) tend to be my favorite for cheese photography.

Aperture is one of the quirks of photography that can be difficult to wrap your brain around in the beginning. Good thing that this is the most interesting aspect of the Exposure Triangle and gives you the most creative control of your image. It’s so alluring, you’ll want to keep playing with it until you master it.

Once it clicks, your photography will jump by leaps and bounds, along with your confidence behind the lens. You will be able to take full creative control of your images and focus the viewers attention right where you want it to be. It’s a powerful creative tool that you’ll never get tired of exploring.

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Each article is digestible in one sitting and helps demystify your camera settings and what they do.

Bonus: Knowing your way around your camera will improve your all-around photography skills – whether you’re shooting family, landscape, documentary or food! More importantly, your confidence behind the lens will skyrocket and you’ll understand HOW to capture the shot you imagine!

When you’re ready to go deeper, I invite you to join my comprehensive, six week online workshop, Cheese Photography 101 for Makers Mongers & Bloggers where we explore the Exposure Triangle, Food Styling, Image Editing & Export in more detail.

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