Sunday, January 24, 2010

Photo blogging #2: aperture/f stop

I'm finding that I'm a pretty slow learner when it comes to my camera. I have sat down numerous times with the camera in one hand and the manual in the other, working through what the different settings do. I always "get it" at the time, but a week later, it's gone. Swoosh! The information leaves my brain like my parents leaving Washington for Arizona in October. It's a quick exit.

After looking through a few photography web sites, I have decided that maybe I'm taking the wrong approach. Instead of trying to digest everything for one photograph, I need to focus on one thing at a time. Isn't that how I learned violin? math? writing? Focus on one aspect, then when I'm ready, I'll move to the next. So, that's the new approach. Baby steps to good photography... baby steps to good photography... (Have you seen What About Bob?)

Okay. Baby step #1... aperture. It's one of those pieces of my camera that has been a bit of a mystery to me, but it's referenced so often that I figured it's a basic piece of photography. Bear with me as I write this all out. I'm blogging this stuff because then when I forget it, I can look back and see what I wrote! Also, maybe just writing it out will help the info stick into my brain.

After a little internet digging, here's what I found out about aperture:

1. Aperture is not a camera setting at all. It's actually a setting of the lens. On older cameras it was an adjustment made on the lens, but with the modern digital SLR cameras, the makers decided it would be handy for people to have the setting actually sit on the camera instead of the lens. No wonder I've been confused! There. I can blame my confusion on the people who make the cameras. *whew*

2. Aperture is a like the pupil in your eyeball; it controls how much light is allowed to come into the camera.

3. Contrary to logic, the larger the aperture setting, the smaller the lens or "pupil". A big f number lets in less light.

4. Conversely, the smaller the aperture setting, the more wide open the lens. A smaller f number lets in more light.

5. The big deal about aperture? It can control the depth of focus. It reminds me a little of having my eyes dialated at the eye doctor. I leave with wide open pupils, and only things up close have a chance of being clear. The background is very blurry. Same with aperture. A high aperture setting means the lens opening is small, and background is more clearly captured. The depth of focus is greater. A low aperture setting lets more light in, like the dialated pupil, and background blurs.

This bluring or depth of focus has made me crazy in the past. For instance, I take a picture of the 3 kids, and only the one in the front is really clear; the 2 in the back are blurry. Depth of focus problem. Aperture problem. Now I know!!!

The fun of this will be when I want to create a blurry background. I've managed in the past to get a soft, blurry background, but I think it was by random accident and messing with camera buttons without knowing what I was doing. Now, I will at least have a clue of where to begin!

Look at the photos below. For lack of a better subject, I grabbed the AAA Northern California. I promise to get better subjects in the future, but we're excited about planning a trip to the Bay Area. We are thinking we will drive down. Have you ever driven 12 hours... in a row... with kids?  I'll take any tips on this topic, as well as tips on aperture. Okay. Enough about all that.

Can you see which has the more blurry background? To take these, I set my camera to AV (aperture priority... the other settings adjust to what I set for aperture).

f/3.5 (low setting, aperture quite open)

f/10 (higher setting, aperture moderately open)

Isn't this cool? I can see it coming in handy when I want to get something like this on purpose, instead of by accident:

a beautiful huckleberry with a nicely blurred background, f/4.5


  1. I especially like the Cougar mug in the background!