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Understanding Aperture Part 1 | Day 5

Now that we’ve tackled shutter speed and ISO, it’s time to tackle the 3rd part of the exposure equation.

I told the story about living in Italy on Day 1, and I think this part of the equation is easier if you ever studied a romance language. In Spanish, you say abierto. Ouvert in French, aperto in portuguese… and in Italian it’s aperta.

Aperture means opening.

It’s the size of the opening of the lens. When we learned about shutter speed and ISO – we learned those are controlled by your camera. Aperture isn’t determined by the camera, instead, aperture is determined by the lens. Aperture is measured in f-stops, and is usually written as a number with an f/ before it.

f/11 – is said “eff eleven.”

I’ll spare you all some birth story analogy for the men in the crowd, but I’ll say this – it’s counter intuitive for anyone who has given birth. In the delivery room 10 means push… in camera talk – f/1.2 means push.

darcys graphic about aperture

Things to Know About Aperture

Small number = Big Opening = Allows in more light = Less time required for correct exposure = shallow depth of field.
Big number = Small Opening = Reduces amount of light in = More time required for the same exposure = wider depth of field.

Wait, um, what’s that “depth of field” stuff mean?

You cannot learn about aperture and ignore depth of field. These two are always partners. Changing one changes the other. Like Tom and Jerry, Romeo and Juliet, me and coffee… err, I mean me and my HandyMan.

Depth of field (“DOF”) means the distance or depth of the portion of your photo that will be in focus.

understanding focus and aperture

ISO 160 f/4 1/500s 200mm | Subject distance is 6.3m. Shot with a 70-200 f/2.8 lens.

In the above photo, the aperture is f/4 – this is a smallish-medium sized opening. The focal point is at the lowest arrow. Everything on that plane and very near it is in focus. Everything in front of or behind it will blur out of focus. Since our eyes will always focus on what’s sharp, DOF allows us to call attention to the part of the photo we want, as artists, and pull the eye away from parts of the photo we don’t want to emphasize. Here’s the same photo without the distracting notes:

field of grain - shallow depth of field -  aperture

Understanding DOF requires you to think in planes or depths.

Larger Aperture: When you have a large aperture, indicated with a low number like f/1.4 or f/2, the amount of your subject that will be in focus is narrow. Most of your photo will be soft and blurry because very few planes will be in focus. You have a narrow or shallow DOF.

Smaller Aperture: When you have a smaller aperture, indicated with a number like f/16 or f/22, most of your photo will be in focus. Instead of isolating a subject, you can bring many subjects or entire landscapes in focus. Many planes are in focus; you have a wide DOF.

aperture comparisons

In each of these images, I focused on the number 8 on the measuring tape – shown with the red arrow. These were shot with a 50mm f/1.4 lens. The aperture range for this lens is 1.4 – 16. It cannot open more than f/1.4 and it cannot close smaller than f/16. As my aperture gets smaller, more ticks on the measuring tape and more of the environment it’s in become clearer.

Please come back tomorrow for more about aperture. Soon comes the fun part – putting it all together!

Don’t forget about my girls who are sharing this 31 Days journey with us:

31 Days of Grace :: Chatting at the Sky
31 Days to an Inspired Table :: My First Kitchen
31 Days to a Less Messy Nest :: Nesting Place
31 Days of Living Simply :: Remodeling This Life
31 Days of Autumn Bliss :: The Inspired Room
31 Days to More. . .With Less :: Beauty and Bedlam
31 Days to a Better Photo :: My 3 Boybarians
31 Days to Stress Free Entertaining :: Reluctant Entertainer


  1. I am absolutely loving this series! You have a great way of breaking everything down so that it makes perfect sense. THANK YOU!

  2. It changed my camera life when I finally learned about aperture. And I think this is the best tutorial I’ve ever seen on it. I can’t believe you’re doing so much work for free, my friend. This stuff is worth it’s weight in a Nikon d5000.

  3. In the delivery room 10 means push… in camera talk – f/1.2 means push.

    Love it!

  4. Thank you so much for this series! I am learning so much and using camera settings I didn’t know were there. Well, I knew something was there; I just didn’t know what they were! I had a good time yesterday playing with the white balance setting and got some great sunrise shots. It was so neat to see the color in my images match the color in the sky!

  5. This information is fantastic and so timely for me! Very easy to understand–maybe it will finally “stick” with me. My photography issues are pretty specific to close-up shots (beads and jewelry), but a sound understanding of the basics is so essential. You are so generous!

  6. Girl, you are brilliant! I know this will help so many!


  7. I wish manuals were written so simply!! Thank you it makes everything so much clearer

  8. I love the photo illustration with the tape measure — it really makes the whole aperature thing much clearer. Thank you for doing this series : )

  9. I first learned about aperture way back in the dark ages (60’s) when I was taking a film (b&w) photography class in college. And I learned to take my cameras off ‘auto’ last year when I took four online workshops. Your explanations are fabulous because they are visual, and I am soooooo visual. I really need to SEE what I should be learning, and you show it. Thanks! It’s great following this series.

  10. This is one of the BEST tutorials I have seen thus far! Only on day 5 but I’ve already learned more than I did in an attire year! Thank you!!

  11. Ok I am so super excited about this series because I am learning so much – thank you!

    I was going to ask yesterday about the Fstop and Aperture stuff, and then you wrote about it – love it!

    1 – So LESS light (small aperture) means that your focus area is farther back (deeper, longer – meaning you can see more stuff in the picture?) – that feels so counter intuitive to my brain

    2 – So how does the shutter speed and the aperture and all that interact together? It seems like there is so much to know…

    • Gotta write in small chunks or everyone’s eyes will glaze over. It’s hard to write about technical stuff in large chunks.

      Please come back – I hope I address this in future installments. 🙂

  12. Very useful information – great for helping grandparents take better pictures of their grandkids – even with easy to use digital cameras. Thank you for this series – just tweeted it as well. 🙂

  13. You are doing a great job taking the mystery out of a lot of photography terms and use of camera! I am thoroughly enjoying your series on this and have been practicing with my camera at home. Looking forward to tomorrows post.

  14. Thank you for being so detailed, even though it may seem easy peasy to you. I appreciate it!!! I’m learning so much and will be referencing these posts in the future. Again and again. Also, thanks for being a woman. Somehow learning from a woman is so much easier (especially when she uses birth analogies). Perfect.

  15. I didn’t even know what aperture was. I’m happy to say, I actually understand it and know what it is and does. Yeah!

  16. This is such a wonderful series. I have been studying this stuff ever since I got my DSLR in December and have been trying to shoot in manual mode. Your explanations are the best i’ve read. I feel like I can really understand what I am doing with each setting. This series will be bookmarked forever on my computer. Thank you.

  17. THANK you thank you thank you. I am LOVING this series. I love taking pictures and have muddled my way through, but now I’m starting to feel all knowledgable n’ stuff. 😉

  18. great great stuff here!

  19. Thanks Darcy for visiting me and replying back . I’m glad you enjoyed Puerto Rico! You are so right, that’s a great place to be with a camera on hand. 🙂
    I also want to thank you so much for these series. The way you explaine everything makes lots of sence compared to some of the books I have read. I’m constantly looking for ways on improving myself on taking better pictures. Looking forward to learn something new every day with your wonderful series. 🙂

    Thanks again,


  20. I am buying my new canon rebel t2i today and am going to have soooo much fun going around and putting your knowledge to use!

    I am going to practice and let you know how it goes!!!

    You are an amazing teacher… if you are ever bored or broke you should start a photography class you could make some big bucks you do it so well! I would come to you and learn!!

  21. I have been trying and trying to learn more about taking good pictures. Thanks so much for teaching me how!!!

  22. i never knew aperture meant opening. that makes it easier to remember! i also love the birthing analogy. totally what you see in pregnancy books.

  23. got that part {love that part}!
    off to make chocolate truffles now… more to read later! 🙂

  24. Birth analogy cracked me up! For any of your readers that are wondering, your lens focal lenght and distance from your subject also have an effect on how out of focus the background is.

  25. Just wanted to say thank you for this series…I finally understand Aperture!!! 🙂

  26. Darcy,

    I’ve got over 40 years of photo experience, I’ve heard and seen and explained DOF in a multitude of ways. I honestly have to say that your tape measure is the most unique and “BEST” way I’ve ever seen. Congratulations that was outstanding.

  27. Technically I’m still on Day 2 – I’m halfway through my manual. It’s taken me a few weeks because I’m experimenting with each different setting and learning so much about my camera. ‘Read the Manual’ is such a simple simple simple piece of advice, but it’s so obvious, and for me, so helpful.

    Thanks for the push in the right direction, and for making it seem so digestible with amazing analogies and wonderful visual examples – so often I see this medium communicated in text, but you do it beautifully with images. Thank you.

  28. i’ve actually been trying to take my own photos of my landscaping jobs but they never turn out good enough to use for marketing purposes. i’m at the point i may end up hiring someone.

  29. This whole series is great!! I’ve reviewed them all. Thank you so much for writing all of this down in such a clear and concise manner.

  30. So I am on Day 5, and I cannot believe that in 5 DAYS I learned more about my camera than in the entire year that I’ve owned it (and used it on full Auto the entire year). After trying to read the (very-technical and boring) user manual and some other confusing books, this tutorial is the BEST thing I’ve seen out there. I am LOVING learning how to use my camera (I have always dreaded it). Darcy, thanks for breaking it down the way you have and making it so easy and understandable. I’ve had lots of A-HA!! moments when following your tutorial (oohhh that’s why THAT happens…) and it is all making sense now. Thank you- I’m looking forward to the next 26 days!!

  31. Great lessons, I am learning a lot now that I just got myself a new DSLR for the first time. I am a bit confused however about aperture. In your pic that shows lens openings, f/2 shows a large opening. Yet, you say f/4 is a small to medium opening under the first grass pic. Shouldn’t f/4 be very close to f/2 i.e. it’s a fairly large opening? May be I am just confused!

  32. Your series make DSLRs less intimidating for all. Thank you.


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