Episode 154: All About Aperture

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Greetings and welcome to the Liam Photography Podcast. In this episode I wanted to talk about a subject that new photographers and students ask me about all the time and that is Aperture and how it works and effects your photographs.

Many new photographers and students don’t quite understand how Aperture works or what it does for your images and I find the easiest way to explain it to them is to think of Aperture on your lens as the same thing as the pupil in your eye. He way your pupil works is when there is lots of light, especially sunlight on a summer day your pupil gets really small to reduce the amount of light coming in as you don’t need lots of light to see. How your pupil can only close down so small so when the summer sun is incredibly bright or your eyes are sensitive to bright light you need sunglasses to help cut that light more.

When you are in a dark environment, your pupil opens up wider and allows your eye to take in more light in order to see. If you’ve ever been to the eye doctor and had to have your eyes dilated for part of your annual exam you know the doctor puts in special drops that make your pupils open up all the way and then the light becomes overpowering and they give you some throw away sun glasses to wear home afterwards until the drops wear off and your pupils work normally again.

The Aperture on your lens works in this same way, the wider your lens aperture can open the more light gets to your camera’s sensor and the easier it is to make your image. So if you have say a 50mm F/1.2 lens, that lens can open extremely wide and gather tons of light from the available light in the environment you are shooting in. If it’s a really sunny day and you are shooting outside you might need to stop that aperture down to F/5.6 or maybe F/8 or F/11 to reduce the amount of light getting to your sensor so your image is not “blown out”.

If you are trying to shoot daytime long exposure to get that silky look to a waterfall or the calm glass like look on a lake, river or pond then your lens needs “sunglasses” or what’s known as a Neutral Density or ND filter to help cut the light even more, just like regular sunglasses do for your eyes.

Now, if you are a student or hobbyist photographer you might not have the money right away to buy a really wide aperture lens because those lenses are expensive and heavy so if the best you have is say an F/3.5-5.6 lens like a typical 18-55mm kit lens that comes with your camera, then you need to compensate by using a slower shutter speed and raise your ISO higher. But you want to use your shutter first as raising your ISO will start introducing “noise” or snow light artifacts into your images, which you don’t want. If you need a faster shutter but don’t have a really wide aperture lens then you might want to compensate for the low light by using a strobe or continuous light if the situation allows for either.

Now that we’ve explained Aperture and how it works and relates to the pupil in your eyes, hopefully you have a better understanding of why professional photographers like to use lenses with apertures of F/2.8 or F/1.4 or F/1.2, but there is another reason why they love those wide lenses and that is the effect Aperture has on Depth of Field.
If you are not sure what I mean by Depth of Field, that is the part of your image that is tack sharp in focus and how much of the background is out of focus. Both of these items are also affected by the Aperture of your lens.
If you are shooting a portrait, most photographers and clients want only the subject, which in this case is the person or couple in focus with all of the distracting background out of focus as much as possible so the focal point in the images is the people and not the trees and other items in the background. The shallow Depth of Field you get using a wider aperture like F/2.8 or F/2 or even F/1.2 is how we get that creamy background blur or Bokeh which is so pleasing in portraits.

However, if you are a landscape or architectural photographer where everything needs to be in focus for your work then you want to use a smaller Aperture to get those results, which is why when I shoot real estate or for my Forgotten Pieces series I use F/8 so that everything in the shot is in sharp focus and all the details are there and not lost. To better show how Aperture affects Depth of Field I have included an animated gif in the show notes that will allow you to see for yourself how the different Aperture settings affect how many little plastic people are in sharp focus. The toys are in a line and as the animation shows the changes in Aperture you can see that more and more of the toys come into focus.

So, hopefully after this episode all of my listeners have a better understanding of how Aperture works and how it affects your images when you capture them. Understanding your camera gear and how everything works will make you a better photographer whether you are a student, hobbyist or aspiring to be a professional someday. Knowledge is the most powerful tool in your journey as a photographer as I have said many times before and as the great Ansel Adams once said, “The most important part of the camera is the 12 inches behind it.”

This is going to wrap up Episode 154 of the Liam Photography Podcast, I want to thank you all for taking the time out of your busy schedules to listen to this and every episode. The best way to support the show is to Subscribe, Rate and Review in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or where you get your podcasts. I will see you all again on Sunday for the latest news and rumors!

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