How To Use Aperture In Photography – Simple Explanation For Beginners

If you list this post, you will learn everything you need to know about the bezels. In addition to the ISO value and the exposure time, it is one of the three most important camera settings in photography. As a beginner in photography, it is extremely important that you understand the function of the aperture and learn from the start how you can use it to design your pictures. We will help you get the most out of your camera!


Before we start: We have our own section with the best tips for everyone who wants to learn to take pictures. Here you will find an overview with all topics .

What does the aperture do?

The aperture primarily affects two aspects of an image. It adds dimension to your photos by blurring the background and changes the exposure by darkening or brightening shots. The following two pictures are exactly the same except for the background, which is once in focus and once out of focus. You can control this blur (also called depth of field) with the aperture by setting it in your camera. You can read about how this works here.

How does the aperture work?

To put it bluntly, the aperture is a hole in your lens through which light falls inside the camera. It works like an eye: your pupils get bigger or smaller depending on how much light there is. Transferred to photography, this means that the aperture is the pupil of your lens. It can also be enlarged or reduced as required. This allows you to control how much light hits the camera sensor. The interlocking “wings” or “leaves” form a kind of barrier to block light. This only comes in through the hole in the middle. The technical definition for the aperture is: “The opening in a lens through which light falls inside the camera.”


Influence of the aperture on the exposure

The aperture can have multiple effects on your pictures. The most important is the brightness, also called exposure. If you make the aperture larger (more open), more light comes in and your picture becomes brighter. If it is smaller, the picture will automatically darken. In a dark environment, you should use a wide-open aperture so that as much light as possible can be taken in. That makes sense, because for the same reason your pupils get bigger at night.


Depth of field: sharpness of the background

The sharpness or blur of the background is called depth of field and is also controlled by the aperture. It indicates from where to where your image is in depth. Some images have a “shallow” depth of field, which leads to a blurred background. Others have a high depth of field, with the focus running from front to back through the photo. Read our article on depth of field here. You will learn how to create great effects with it.

In the picture below, only the front bottle is sharp, which is due to the carefully chosen, wide-open aperture. I deliberately chose this one because it gives the image a nice shallow depth of field (also called shallow focus effect in English). If I had made them smaller here, all bottles would be sharp from front to back.


To remember the principle, think of the following: A large aperture leads to great blurring in depth. By the way, this effect is very popular for portrait shots , as well as generally for photos of objects where you want a blurred background. The photo above has a blurred background and a very pleasant bokeh , which makes it special. Conversely, a small aperture creates little blur. This is ideal, for example, for landscape photography or architectural pictures, where the foreground and background usually have to be in focus.


If an image is to be consistently sharp and an object is in the foreground (such as a stone), then other rules apply. If you are particularly interested in landscape photography, then I recommend reading all about the hyperfocal distance after this article .

What does the F number or F stop mean?

So far we have only used the terms “large” and “small” to describe the aperture. But the size of the aperture can also be given in numbers. This number is called the F number or F stop in English. The letter “f” is in front of each aperture value – for example f / 8. You have probably seen this on your camera before; maybe on the display or in the viewfinder. Some models do not use the slash, these numbers look like this: f2, f3.5, f8 etc.


Size vs. small aperture

What always confuses beginners is the fact that a small aperture stands for a large aperture and a large aperture for a small one. Aperture f / 4 is therefore larger (more open) than f / 8 and much larger than f / 13. Most find it strange because it should be the other way around. But this is not a typo: the aperture is a fraction or a fraction. You think oh-oh, is he really coming to me with math? Yes, but believe me, it makes it a lot easier. A value of f / 10 stands for a tenth. If you’ve paid a little attention at school, you know that a tenth is clearly smaller than a quarter. This is exactly why f / 10 is smaller than f / 4.

So if someone advises you to use a large aperture for a certain photo, then we mean f / 1.4, f / 2, f / 2.8 or similar. If you are advised to use a small aperture, use f / 8, f / 11 or f / 16.


Choose the right aperture

You now know what the different aperture values mean. But which one do you use and when? Here is a small graphic that shows the difference in brightness between some common aperture levels:


In a darker environment, you should use large apertures such as f / 2.8 so that the photo is bright enough. As already explained, the pupils of your eyes also open in the dark to capture even the smallest bit of light.

With regard to the depth of field, we would like to remind you again that an open aperture like f / 2.8 leads to too much blurring in the background. That would be great for portrait photos. Aperture levels such as f / 8, f / 11 or f / 16 in turn help you to focus your photo from front to back. This is good for landscape photos.

Do not worry if your photo is too bright or too dark with the aperture set. You can usually correct with the exposure time or the ISO if the aperture reaches its limits.

If you want to set your aperture manually (which we highly recommend), there are two camera modes . One is aperture priority mode and the other is manual mode. On most cameras the former is marked with “A” or “Av”, the latter with a simple “M”. You can find these letters on the camera’s mode wheel.

In aperture priority mode, you set the aperture yourself and the camera takes care of the exposure time. On Manual you can control everything yourself.


Maximum and minimum aperture of lenses

Each lens has a limit on how large or small the aperture can be. You can find this information in the technical data of your lens. The most important thing is the maximum size. It tells you how much light the lens can absorb and whether you can use it to take good photos even in the dark. A maximum aperture of f / 1.4 or f / 1.8 indicates a very “fast” lens because more light comes through. For example, f / 4 is considered “slow”. Fast lenses usually cost a lot more than slow ones.

The minimum aperture, on the other hand, is not so important because most modern lenses go to f / 16 or smaller anyway. You will rarely need a smaller aperture in everyday life.

With some zoom lenses, the aperture can change when you zoom in or out. When Nikon 18-55mm f / 3.5-5.6 , for example, the largest aperture is f / 3.5. But if you zoom in closer, it will zoom out automatically. More expensive lenses, such as the Nikon 24-70mm f / 2.8 , can maintain the aperture even when zooming. The largest fixed apertures often have lenses with a fixed focal length (e.g. 50mm), so they have an advantage over zoom lenses.


The maximum aperture of a lens is so important that the value even in the name, resp. the product name. This is often written with a colon instead of a slash – but it means the same thing. The smallest aperture, or the “open aperture” theoretically has a value of f1. In practice, this is hardly possible physically due to the design of the cameras and lenses .

Zoom and aperture levels

When you zoom, you change the focal length . The zoom setting influences the possible aperture values that can be set on the camera. If a subject is “brought closer” with an optical zoom, the lowest aperture levels can no longer be set. With a small zoom, the minimum value, depending on the lens, is f / 2.8, for example, when the zoom is active, it is f5.6. Your camera is not broken when you can no longer adjust the values – but with the zoom active, the aperture must be closed increasingly. The same principle applies here as well. When you look into the distance, you narrow your eyes.

Control brightness with aperture or shutter speed

As mentioned briefly, the exposure time is very closely related to the aperture. It indicates how many seconds of light fall through the lens onto the sensor. With a large aperture (small light transmission), the exposure time or shutter speed must be correspondingly longer so that the same amount of light falls on the sensor as with a small aperture (large light transmission). The following graphic shows you the connections:


A tripod may have to be used for longer exposure times. A rule of thumb says that a tripod should be used from about 1/15 second exposure time so that the image does not blur. The image can quickly become too dark if you only choose a larger aperture and do not adjust the exposure time. The brightness of the image is therefore not influenced by the setting of the aperture, but only by the exposure time. In our example with the “AV” mode, the exposure time is determined automatically by the camera. If you switch to “M” mode, each setting can be adjusted manually, including the exposure time.

Practical examples of various panels

Now that we’ve gone through a thorough explanation of how the bezel works and how it affects your images, let’s take a look at examples at different aperture levels.

  • f / 0.95 – f / 1.4 – such “fast” maximum open apertures are only available with fixed focal length lenses . These can let in a lot of light in little time. This makes them ideal for any type of low-light photography, for example for indoor photography, weddings in dark rooms, night sky shots, portraits in dimly lit rooms, company events, etc. Background appears detached.
  • f / 1.8 – f / 2.0 – some still prime prime lenses are limited to f / 1.8 and offer slightly poorer low light capabilities. Still, if your goal is to photograph aesthetically pleasing images, these lenses are of tremendous value. When shooting between f / 1.8 and f / 2, you can still distinguish the subject from the background and also achieve a beautiful bokeh from a short distance.
  • f / 2.8 – f / 4 – most professional zoom lenses are limited to an aperture range of 2.8 to 4 stops. Although they are not as powerful in terms of light recording as f / 1.4 lenses, they often offer advantages in image stabilization, which make them versatile even when taking pictures under poor lighting conditions. Photography with apertures in the range f / 2.8 – f / 4 often still offers adequate depth of field for most objects and provides excellent sharpness . Such panels are ideal for travel , sports and wildlife.
  • f / 5.6 – f / 8 – this is the ideal aperture for landscape and architectural photography. This aperture area is also suitable for group photos . Opening the aperture to the f / 5.6 range often offers the best overall sharpness for most lenses. f / 8 is used when more depth of field is required.
  • f / 11 – f / 16 – typically used for landscape, architecture and macro shots , where the depth of field must be as continuous as possible. Be careful if you go beyond f / 8 as you lose focus due to lens diffraction.
  • You should only use f / 22 and smaller if you know exactly what you are doing. The sharpness of the image suffers a lot with f / 22 and smaller openings, so you should avoid it if possible. If you need constant depth of field, it’s best to move away from the subject or use a focusing technique instead. You can find the various options in our article on hyperfocal distance.

A small task for you

Now that you know what the bezel is doing and how to adjust it, it’s time to train. Look at the following picture. You see the same motif twice, but with different perspectives and apertures. This practically results in two completely different photos. With a simple object in your household or outdoors, try to take two similar pictures.


Abstract aperture

The aperture is an essential, if not the most important, setting in photography. It affects both depth of field and exposure. There are actually no more important elements for a photo.

Now that you know how important the aperture is, it should come as no surprise that at pixolum we only take photos in aperture priority mode or on manual. The fact that the camera selects this setting itself does not come into the bag. It is just too important! Every beginner and every professional has to master them so that the best can be obtained from the pictures.

We hope that in this article we were able to give you the basic knowledge about the subject of apertures in an understandable and clear manner.

Do you have any questions? Then put it in the comment box below.


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