Aperture – Summer Photography Series

In my ongoing quest to become a better photographer, I have found that one of the key steps to getting better results (whether you have a simple point and shoot or an expensive SLR) is understanding how cameras work.

Summer Photography Series at 5 Minutes for Mom

The key to becoming a better photographer

When I understand why or how a certain result happens, I suddenly find myself more in control. Instead of leaving everything up to fate, I chose when I want a specific result….Or at least I know what I did wrong or right when a picture turns out a certain way.

One of the concepts that took a while to “click” with me was APERTURE. My problem was that I was reading books with technical explanations. I read numbers and terms like f/11 and f/2.8, large and small. All I wanted to know (at least in the beginning) was how to get the background blurry while keeping the main subject in focus.

Aperture analogy

Honestly, it wasn’t until I thought of an analogy of sorts and created a picture in my mind that the concept finally solidified in my mind. I have heard and seen better explanations, and -remember- I have never professed to be an expert on this or any photography subject. But since this is my post, I figured I’d share with you how it made sense to me.

Imagine that am opening my eyes really wide–as wide as they will go. My kids call this look “scary eyes.” Try it. Open your eyes wide. What do you notice?

First of all, things are pretty bright – as bright as they’ll get with your current setting’s light. Slowly close your eyes and watch as your light fades little by little.

Back to those wide open eyes. Another thing you’ll probably notice is that not a lot of what is in your field of vision is in focus. It’s hard to focus on much when your eyes are wide open.

Now squint your eyes (don’t forget to wrinkle your nose up while you’re at it). What do you notice now? First of all, it will seem darker. Not as much light is getting through to your eyes.

Think about this: When do you squint? I typically squint for one of two reasons. Either when it’s too bright and my eyes are too sensitive to the light, or when my natural, un-aided vision is not sufficient and I can’t see far away. I squint to see the distance.

What is Aperture?

So let’s translate that into camera language.

First, you need to understand that the aperture is the circular opening in the lens that determines how much light passes through to the camera’s sensor. The f-numbers refer to the diameter of that circular opening. The smaller the number, the more light there will be that passes through (think wide open eyes). The larger the number, the less light (think squinting eyes to see the distance).

Large aperture (small f-number)

Aperture closed down

Small aperture (large f-number)

Which aperture should I use?

The first thing I do when I am deciding which aperture to use is to look at my available lighting. Are you indoors with limited lighting and no flash? In that case, you’ll want to choose a large aperture (small number). Remember, the larger the aperture the more light you are letting in.

If you are outdoors or in a well lit area, you can vary your aperture for different effects. When you make adjustments to your aperture you are also going to effect the depth of field in your picture. We will be explaining depth of field in greater detail in another tutorial.

A large aperture will give your picture a shallow depth of field. The point that you focus your camera on will be in focus and the area around it will be blurry.

The smaller you make your aperture, the more the individual details of your picture come into focus. Sometimes you want more of your picture in focus, such as in a photo with several people in it.

Compare these apertures

Notice the difference that adjusting the aperture made in these two shots. The first has a shallow depth of field (the background is nicely blurred). The second has a deep depth of field and more of the background detail is visible.

Shallow depth of field shot at f/1.6 on an 85mm lens

Deep depth of field shot at f/6.3 on an 85mm lens

Tip: By controlling the aperture, you can control how much of your photo is in focus (among other things!). If you have a camera with AV or A priority mode, switch to that and try some test shots using different apertures. If your camera does not have AV priority, use the Portrait mode (which looks like a lady’s head profile.


Large aperture (small number) –> more light –> smaller area of focus

Small aperture (larger number)–> less light –> larger area of focus

This week’s photo challenge

Try taking a picture with a large aperture, pick your focus carefully, and blur the background.

If you have any questions during the week, feel free to ask. I’m always here to help!

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Written by 5 Minutes for Mom managing editor Lolli. You can find Lolli blogging at Better in Bulk and tweeting at @1momof5.

Photos of Lolli’s daughter in this post were taken by Lolli’s amazing sister, Andrea, owner of Andrea Marie Photography and author of the blog DAVE family.


  1. says

    Stopping by and following from Blog Frog. Thank-you, Susan, for your comments on the $1000.00 speeding ticket (I had no idea the discussion would become so heated).

    Your blog is full of “goodies!” I especially like the photography tips. I got a new Nikon last summer for a trip to Ecuador, but I still have much to learn. Your pictures are very beautiful btw.

    Looking forward to the fellowship. Would love for you to stop by Me, You, and Creamed corn and join us if you’d like.


  2. says

    I just found your post and series through Twitter and so glad that I did. I was looking for photography inspiration yesterday, and couldn’t find anything that worked for me.

    I liked the look of the 1st picture because it put the focus on the girl. I’ll try this today when I’m at Morris Arboretum with my 5 kids and post the results later.

  3. says

    I’m really enjoying this series. Thank you! So far the biggest challenge is finding time to shot, upload, edit and post! I’m glad you have the linky set for an extended time 😉 Looking forward to seeing more shots from other bloggers.


  4. says

    I did a photo shoot at a local college/arboretum on Sunday. I didn’t exactly focus on using the aperature, though I played around with the background in a few shots. Can’t wait for the next challenge!

  5. says

    Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog shine. Please let me know where you got your theme. Cheers

  6. says

    I liked the look of the 1st picture because it put the focus on the girl. I’ll try this today when I’m at Morris Arboretum with my 5 kids and post the results later.


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