The three things you can control

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.

Normal aperature

Larger aperture

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.

Digital Photography Basics , , ,

19 comments


  1. Aperture is one of those things that seems really complicated, but isn’t. I love using low f-stops, because it just makes your subject pop. It is an easy way to take your photography up a notch.

    Do you have other tips for shooting landscapes like you have above? It is always a challenge to have everything in focus with such a large depth to the scene.

    Michelle
    Fun and Free Activities

    • Dewayne

      Hey Michelle,

      The best tip I’ve found came from Digital Photgraphy a month or so back. If you select an aperature that’s just short of being the smallest available for your lens and set your aperature value to approx. f16, or f18, then select a focal point (the sharpest part of the picture) about 1/3 into the picture, you should get amazing results. I’ve been happy with it. I think you will be too.

  2. Thank you Dewayne for explaining this is a very easy to understand manner! I have both a point and shoot and SLR, but other photographers I know talk over my head regarding settings… Looking forward to learning more!!!

    Mark
    Direct Selling Advice, Leveraging Relationships for Long-term Profit

  3. Hi Dewayne,

    I love how you simply the concept of what photography is down to the easy-to-grasp concept of capturing light. Indeed, it is like the human eye like that. Cameras mimic our eyes – apeture. perception. reflecting image/light/absence of light onto a surface. Very cool.

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell
    Single Boomer Dating Expert

  4. Wow! I like how you showed the two different pictures of the dog. This demonstrated what you were saying perfectly and made it easier to understand. I don’t know a thing about photography but I wish I did . I’d love to take some classes in photography just so I could be better at picture taking. I just don’t have time. But thanks for the mini-lesson!

    Lisa McLellan
    Babysitting Services, Nanny Services, and Nanny agencies

  5. The demonstration with the dogs really made a difference in understanding what you meant. I think the lamen, me, has gotten used to the idiot camera that does everything for you. Problem is that doesn’t always work and then you’re stuck. Good having you explain it.
    Thanks
    Jen B
    The Harwood Group – Tinnitus, Chronic Illness, Fears, and Anxiety

  6. I know its bad but I use mine in the automatic mode all the time. The settings in a camera totally confuse me. I woould screw the pictures all up if I tried anything but automatic.

    Mike
    http://www.ColumbiaSafetyProducts.com

  7. Thanks for illustrating the point with pictures. Please do more of that. Makes it soooo easy to understand.
    Sonya Lenzo
    http://www.yourchanceforromance.com

  8. These are very good tips. I can really see the difference in the dog picture with different apertures.

    I’m going to see if I can figure out how to change the aperture on my camera!

    Sabrina Peterson, NASM CPT,CES
    Corrective Exercise for Every Body

  9. I have always wanted to know what the f-stop does for a camera, thanks for the explanation.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    http://www.scottbellconsultant.com
    Now go implement!

  10. Thanks for your easy to understand explanation of f-stops.
    I now have a much better understanding of how to use them.
    And the comparison photos of the German Shepherd really made the point perfectly clear.

    Michael
    The Success Secrets

  11. With digital cameras it is so much easier to play around with f-stop and see the effects immediately, as compared with the film. You have made me want to start experimenting again…

    Seize the Day,
    Rob

    Simple Family Survival Tips For Disasters and Emergencies

  12. My daughter was reading this post over my shoulder, and said “Daddy, will my digital camera take those kind of pictures?” I think you’ve created another shutter bug. Thanks.

    Tim Van Milligan, helping you Make Money Online, God’s Way!

  13. Hey, I could learn from you how to take better photos of my quilts! And you talk in plain language I can understand. Thanks. I look forward to my lessons!

    I love the picture on your front page!

    Peggy Larson
    Quilting – Colors and Fun!

  14. With your mentor ship I might just be able to take some pictures that will come out good. Over the years I have bought different cameras and thougt that I would learn how to use them and ended up just leaving them in the closet.
    I can even mess up point and shoot.

  15. I am enjoying your blog as I know nothing about photography.

    Robert Kaufer
    Law and Health with Robert Kaufer

  16. I don’t think most people realize just how many options modern technology places at their fingertips. The tips you give in this post were valuable to me cause I can put them to use immediately.

    Steve Chambers
    Body Language Expert

  17. Shane Kester

    I love the convenience of a point and click camera but there is no comparison when you have that kind of control over the picture.

    Shane
    Hypnosis – Change Your Thoughts and Change Your Life –

  18. Beautiful picture of the mountains.

    I had no idea how to use that function on my camera.

    i ususally just use the Auto Mode

    That explains the difference between the great shot in my mind and actually seeing it in print.

    Really beautiful picture of the mountains, too. Where was that?

    i have tried taking pictures in the snow but everything looked so grey and dreary. What could be the cause of that? Or is that an effect that you would want?

    Michael
    http://datingguruhq.com