When you begin shooting pictures with a D-SLR, or most point and shoot cameras, it’s okay to start with the automatic mode. The cameras are very smart, and can figure out the settings for you. But when you’ve gotten used to playing around in the shallow end of the pool, you’ll want to know how to give those photos your personal touch. Let’s start with the most basic concept:
Photography is the capture of light.
I’m as coordinated as an elephant with seven thumbs. I’ve never been able to catch a baseball or a football, or to shoot basketball with any degree of accuracy (probably why I no longer live in Indiana). But the one thing I could catch was light. I could catch it in a tiny box, and when I got it developed or printed, I could show everyone else. Not only could people see a detailed representation of what I had seen, but that image would spark their memories of places or people they had seen. It was incredible.
Eventually, I got to the point where I liked what the camera was doing, but in order to make the pictures my own, I could change the aperture, shutter speed, or add extra light (flash, for example).
What is the aperature? The aperature is the hole that the light passes through in the lens before it gets to the sensor or film. The aperature is rated in different sizes known as f-stops. Some camera lenses have an f-stop of 2 through 22. The smaller the f-stop number, the bigger the hole will be to let light into the camera. The bigger the f-stop number, the smaller the hole will be to let light into the camera. If you are shooting with a low aperature number, you will have what is known as a narrow depth of field. Depth of field is the part of the image that is in sharp focus, where you can see every little detail. How does that apply to f-stop?
Well, photographers change the way the picture looks by using different f-stops for different purposes. I have shot professional models with the wrong aperture setting and picked up every single little tiny detail on their skin. No matter how attractive the model, the wrong aperture setting will show every single tiny little bump on their skin. That is why modelling lenses have extremely low aperture settings like 2 to give you a very, very narrow depth of filed so the only part of the picture that’s in extremely sharp focus is their eyes.
In standard portrait photography, an aperature value of about 5.6 will give you a very sharp subject of your photo, and it will give you a somewhat less focused background, keeping your subject the center of attention.
If you are shooting landscape photography, you want all of the image to be as sharp as possible, so you use a setting of somewhere between f-stops 18 – 22. This will give you a very wide depth of field and will let you keep the grass in the foreground sharp, as well as those mountains a long way off. Most of the image will be sharp.
So to recap, with aperture settings, the bigger the number, the smaller the hole to let light in. The smaller the number or aperture value, the less background of the image will be in focus. The bigger the f-stop number, the more of the image will be in focus.