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A Beginner's Photography Guide To Understanding Apertures & F-Stops

Learn what an aperture is in photography and, more importantly, how you can control them to create beautiful blurry backgrounds.

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If you've looked at a photo with a lovely out of focus background and thought 'I want to learn how to do that' then you've come to the right tutorial as it's all about understanding how to use the tools you need to be able to do just that. 

The above video tutorial has been put together by our friends The School of Photography and it's a great tutorial for beginners who are trying to get to grips with apertures/f-stops and how they work. They've also got a brilliant guide to apertures over on their website which you can read by clicking the link. 

 

What Is An Aperture?

Aperture Priority

 

The aperture is the name used to describe the size of the diaphragm (the opening, or hole, which allows light through to the sensor). Apertures are measured in F-stops.  F-stops are measured in incremental, numerical steps but to make things a little more confusing, the higher you go, the smaller the hole that lets the light through. Which, even though it may seem a little odd, means by selecting a higher numberless light will be let through onto the sensor.

 

How Apertures Work

Out of focus background

 

If you choose to use a smaller aperture (the higher numbers), the subject and background will come more into focus and it will help your image have a long depth of field.

What's depth of field? Well, when you take a photograph sometimes you'll notice only parts of the subject you focused on are sharp. This area of sharpness is called the depth of field, and this area extends behind and in front of your subject. When most of the picture is sharp, we say there's lots of depth of field. When only part is sharp, we say the depth of field is shallow.

The depth of field is determined by three key factors - the aperture of the lens, the focal length of the lens used, and the distance you are from the subject. Changing these three elements allows you almost complete control over the depth of field in a picture.

There's a simple, direct relationship between aperture and depth of field - the smaller the aperture, the more extensive the depth of field is. So if you want to keep as much as possible sharp, you should set as small an aperture as possible. If you choose a larger aperture (lower number, bigger hole) the background can blur and the focus will be left on the subject.

 

When Would I Use Different Apertures?

Statues

 

Well with subjects such as landscapes, groups, interiors and travel you'll usually want to keep everything sharp so a smaller aperture (higher number) is best. When you use a smaller aperture there's less light going into the lens so the camera's shutter will stay open for longer which can cause camera shake and as a result, your image will blur. Having your camera on a tripod and using the self-timer option can help reduce shake.

For general picture-taking, when you want most of the picture to be in focus, you might want to set an aperture of around f/8 to f/11.

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