Photo Basics: Aperture

 If you would also like to see a video I made on this topic, click here to go to my YouTube channel.

   Ever seen those beautiful images with a very strong subject in the foreground, and a nice dreamy out of focus background? I am sure that at some point you have tried to replicate that in some way. With the advent of digital photography it has become a lot easier to fake this look, but it still does not look the same. The reason being is that it is actually something that happens as a natural flaw of photography lenses. The reason it seems most appealing to us is because our human eye does not have this flaw. Actually it sort of does, just not so pronounced. Today I want to talk a little bit about what causes this look, how to create it, how to use it tastefully, and I will help you understand your camera a little better so that you can take this technique and apply it (again TASTEFULLY) to your images.

Example of overlapping blades at the smallest aperture f/16
   So aperture, what is aperture? Inside your lens there are a number of blades that overlap each other. When moved they will make a small hole, or a large one to allow more or less light in.

   On your lens there will be a number that will tell you just how large those blades can open. This is called the "f stop" and usually looks like f/1.8 f/2.8 something like that. On the lens it will likely show something like 1:1.8.

My favorite lens at it's largest aperture f/1.8
   This number can get a little bit confusing because it is kind of backwards. The lower the f number the larger the blades are opened. The higher the number, the smaller the blades are open. Take a look at both of my examples to the right. I show the lens at f/16 and also at f/1.8. Which do you think will allow the most light into your camera? If you chose f1.8 you would be correct.

   So going back to what I was saying earlier, when you want to really isolate your subject from the background, you use a large aperture (low f number) to cause the background, or foreground, to become highly out of focus but keeping the subject sharp. This out of focus area is called "bokeh" and comes from the Japanese word for "out of focus." Using the largest aperture also allows the most light through your lens and into your camera. So what if it is a really bright sunny day? Well, along with shutter speed which I will make the topic of my next post, you can simply use a smaller aperture.

Example of "bokeh" at f1.8
Example of "bokeh" at f16
   Using a smaller aperture has two effects on a photograph. One you allow less light into your camera causing the photo to be darker. This is good if all you are getting is a really bright image with no colors or contrast. Likewise if you are getting too dark of an image, try opening the aperture up a little. Second, using a smaller aperture will cause more of the background to appear in focus. This is good for not only allowing less light into your image but also getting large areas in focus. There are times when you need to document a whole scene like, say, a large crowd or a far stretching landscape. Having more in focus, with a smaller aperture, is the way to achieve this.

   That's really the big secret to those types of photos. Easy right? Remember though, this is a tool and as with any tool, there really is no one size fits all. There are times when you need a large wrench and times when you need a small wrench. It's the same with photography. There are times when you need to have a lot of nice dreamy "bokeh." Likewise there are times when you need to show everything and showing a lot of bokeh can actually hurt an image. Many beginning photographers and, in my opinion, even some professionals over use bokeh and really kill an image. This is where the artistry comes into photography. An artist knows when a certain technique must be applied to a painting and when it must not be applied.
   This is part of the reason why I stress that you can buy all the gear in the world, master that gear, and never truly become a photographer. Myself and no one else can ever teach what it is to be an artist and in fact there are very few photographers I would ever label as a true artist professional or amateur. To develop an artists eye is a real gift that takes time, patience, practice, and a small pinch of magic fairy dust to achieve. Unfortunately my shipment of magic fairy dust has failed to arrive as of writing this blog post, sorry guys.
   With that said, I do not want to discourage anyone from taking this knowledge and running with it. Use it, play with it, over use the hell out of it while you are learning how aperture works. It will indeed improve your images. When you have really got it down packed you will know what it means to make a great image.

   On that note, I will point out one more thing. This is not the end of learning photography. Learning aperture will mean nothing without learning how it works in tandem with other basics like shutter speed, ISO, composition, and so on. Because of that, please be on the look out for my future posts on Photo Basics. There is a lot to learn and I hope I can help you whip out your camera and make a scene!

If you would also like to see a video I made on this topic, click here to go to my YouTube channel.

   Have you read my other blog posts yet? Check them out! I'm sure there will be something for everyone. If this blog post helped you in any way, or you know someone who will find it interesting, please remember to share it with everyone you know. Also leave a comment if you have questions, comments, find any mistakes, or just want to tell me how cool and absolutely beautiful I am.