Photography Basics: Learning Aperture

Posted by Brittany Shinn on

Photography Basics: Learning Aperture

Learning to use your DSLR in manual mode can be extremely intimidating. There are just so many adjustments to make. Professional photographers sometimes forget to drop the industries jargon when talking to new users, completely oblivious to the other person’s eyes starting to glaze over.

That's where I come in.

I'm here to go over the basics of using your DSLR in layman's terms. Simple. Easy. Broken down into small enough chunks to digest. Today, I want to go over the ever important basics aperture.

In short, aperture is how much light your camera lens is letting in and is measured in "f-stops". The larger the number, the less light it lets in. The smaller the number, the more light it lets in. But most importantly, aperture is also how much of the shot is in focus.


Low f-stop = Less in focus

High f-stop = More in focus


The lens you have on your camera determines your aperture (or f-stop) range.

When purchasing a lens, the maximum aperture (the smallest f stop number) will be listed in the title of the lens. It's also traditionally marked on the lens itself, if you need to go through your lenses at home. Look for the "f/" or "f" followed by a number to determine its maximum aperture.

Nikon Lenses

Sometimes the word "maximum" throws me off because I automatically think "largest number". But the word "maximum" here is referring to how wide your lens is opening to let in the light. So remember what we learned above? The more light needed, the lower the number, which is the maximum the lens will be opening to achieve that.

How to Adjust Aperture

Now each Nikon body style is a bit different, so yours may not be exactly the same as the photos below. This is my Nikon D70, a lower-range model of Nikon that was my trusty sidekick for my first year as an Etsy Shop Owner (I now work with a Nikon D7000). If you're thinking about buying a DSLR, I'd highly recommend starting with this one.

On my cameras, the aperture adjustment wheel is on the front, just below the shutter button.

Aperture Wheel

You'll need to be shooting in P, S, A or M modes to be able to use this feature.

You can determine what aperture setting you're on by A) looking through the viewfinder or B) looking at the control panel (as pictured below).

Aperture Window

*As you adjust the aperture in your camera, you will also have to adjust your ISO (when shooting in manual "M" mode). This is because as you use a higher f-stop, your camera is using less and less available light. Don’t know how to adjust your ISO? We’ll be discussing that in another blog post.

 Try it out. The easiest way I've found to learn aperture is to line up a group of objects (I’m using these macarons as an example). Make sure they're at an angle so you can see all of them in your photo. I like using a tripod, or setting my camera on something, so I can get the same photo each time to compare them side by side:

Aperture Example

 f/1.8 - Only the front macaron is in focus.

f/5.6 - The back macarons are blurry, the next set is slightly in focus, with the front macaroon the sharpest of them all.

f/16 - All objects are in focus.

Not so bad, right?

Now, to take your photos to the next level, try using a lower aperture to really bring the subject into focus.

Here's an example:

Aperture Example

Like these light pink tear drop earrings? They're available here.

While the photo on the left is still pretty, your eyes are drawn to the flowers first. On the right, your eyes instantly go to the macaron and earrings up front. This is especially important when shooting product photography. We want to subtly guide the viewer's eyes to the product you're selling.

If you're shooting portrait's and want that nice blurry background, the same rule applies. Use a lower aperture to get your subject in focus, and the background a nice blur.

Now you try! I'd love to see your handiwork. Tag me in your photos, or send them in at!

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