Understanding Aperture, and why it is important?

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

Aperture can be defined as the opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera. It is an easy concept to understand if you just think about how your eyes work. As you move between bright and dark environments, the iris in your eyes either expands or shrinks, controlling the size of your pupil.

It is calibrated in f/stops and is generally written as numbers such as 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11 and 16. Lower f/stops give more exposure because they represent the larger apertures, while the higher f/stops give less exposure because they represent smaller apertures.

Large vs Small Aperture

There’s a catch – one important part of aperture that confuses beginning photographers more than anything else. This is something you really need to pay attention to and get correct: Small numbers represent large, whereas large numbers represent small apertures.

That’s not a typo. For example, f/2.8 is larger than f/4 and much larger than f/11. Most people find this awkward, since we are used to having larger numbers represent larger values. Nevertheless, this is a basic fact of photography. Take a look at this chart:

Aperture is like the “pupil” for your camera system, which can open and close to change the amount of light that passes through.

So, if photographers recommend a large aperture for a particular type of photography, they’re telling you to use something like f/1.4, f/2, or f/2.8. And if they suggest a small aperture for one of your photos, they’re recommending that you use something like f/8, f/11, or f/16.

Aperture affects Exposure

Aperture has several effects on your photographs. One of the most important is the brightness, or exposure, of your images. As aperture changes in size, it alters the overall amount of light that reaches your camera sensor – and therefore the brightness of your image.

A large aperture will pass a lot of light, resulting in a brighter photograph. A small aperture does just the opposite, making a photo darker. In a dark environment – indoors, or at night – you will probably want to select a large aperture to capture as much light as possible. This is the same reason why your pupils dilate when it starts to get dark.

Aperture affects Depth of Field

The other critical effect of aperture is depth of field. Depth of field is the amount of your photograph that appears sharp from front to back. Some images have a “thin” or “shallow” depth of field, where the background is completely out of focus. Other images have a “large” or “deep” depth of field, where both the foreground and background are sharp.

A large aperture results in a large amount of both foreground and background blur. This is often desirable for portraits, or general photos of objects where you want to isolate the subject. Sometimes you can frame your subject with foreground objects, which will also look blurred relative to the subject.

On the other hand, a small aperture results in a small amount of background blur, which is typically ideal for some types of photography such as landscape and architecture.

Suitable Aperture for proper event

Here’s a quick list of everything aperture affects in photography:

  1. The brightness / exposure of your photos

  2. Depth of field

  3. Sharpness loss due to diffraction

  4. Sharpness loss due to lens quality

  5. Starburst effects on bright lights

  6. Visibility of camera sensor dust specks

  7. The quality of background highlights (bokeh)

  8. Focus shift on some lenses

  9. Ability to focus in low light (under some conditions)

  10. Control amount of light from flash

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