For most newbie photographers that are crossing over from the automatic to the manual option, Aperture is one of the most important settings that need to be properly understood. As the owner of one of Cape Towns most established photography schools, I often find that Aperture is an obstacle that requires more attention and practice in the overall learning process in our beginner 121 photography workshops to the students whose intention is learning the manual camera settings. Taking pictures using your manual camera settings is the only way you get the most out of your DSLR camera. The opportunities are endless when opening up that creative side to your brain. Understanding that the settings need to work together, will allow you to explore and different combinations, that will in turn, have different visual results and meanings to meet your intended goal. This applies to the creative hobbyist, as well as to the professional photographer taking instruction from the client.

Please note, that my intention in this article, is not to say, don’t shoot with your camera on automatic, or with your mobile device, as both sometimes work well to meet your expectations. This is an article for those wanting the “more factor of control” from your photography.

The Meaning of Aperture made Simple

Okay, take the photography out of your mind for a moment and imagine the following… You are in a very bright environment, such as on the beach on a sunny day, then suddenly, you are able to sky port yourself to the movie cinema, but the movie has begun, and you are late when you enter the cinema. First question is… can you see anything, or is everything in complete darkness for a few short seconds. We all know the answer to this. It is those few short seconds that the brain tells the eye that it is too dark and needs to adjust the pupil to allow in more light to improve the visibility, better referred to as the correct compensation. So, the pupil gets bigger and allows the necessary amount of light in through the eye until you can see clearly and make your way to your seat for the movie. The opposite will occur when you leave the cinema and return back to the bright sunshine on the beach.

Align this so-called pupil movement of expansion and contraction to Aperture. Every movement of the pupil is an aperture setting (f – stop number), that you, as the photographer will need to set. This will be dependent on the lighting of the subject, and what you want to compose and compensate for, to get the desired photograph. The f stop number is set and controlled using a dial on the camera, or on some camera brands, the setting is on the actual lens. You will then either open or close the aperture accordingly.

This is where the quality of the lens normally comes into play… very important to note. A prime lens, a fixed lens, or a professional lens will allow you to open up the aperture/ ” pupil” more than an entry level lens and be able to have a fixed aperture on a lens than has range (meaning that when you zoom in or out, the aperture, f-stop remains constant as per your setting). These lenses unfortunately are costlier, but worth every penny when it comes to the final result.

How to use the Aperture Settings on your camera in Manual

There are 2 disciplines that may be applied. These will depend on your preference and genre of photography. When shooting in manual, the aperture may be set for the purposes of establishing your depth of field (DOF), or alternatively, just used as determining the correct compensation and light from your readings on the light meter. The choice is yours. You will just need to be aware that you work with the other settings, that being the ISO and the shutter speed to ensure you achieve the desired result. It is imperative that you understand the other two settings and you are able to work within the exposure triangle. My suggestion is that you attend a short photography course or beginners’ workshop that is practical and tailored to your genre, and possibly on a 121 basis. Over the past 12 years, I have discovered, that by providing a student with sound advice on which camera gear to consider, their knowledge and confidence quickly aligned to their photography results. On a final note regarding courses and workshops, try find a photography school that provides cameras, so you are able to make the correct choice once you have completed the course, this will definitely save you the anxiety or doubt in buying the wrong gear.

Hope you know have a clear understanding of how aperture works, very simple hey!