Quick Guide to Understanding Aperture

Aperture Information
In the dictionary the term Aperture has this deIinition: "a usually adiustable opening in an optical
instrument, such as a camera or telescope, that limits the amount oI light passing through a

All lenses have an opening (Aperture) that allow light to pass through to the camera's image
sensor (digital) or Iilm. A larger aperture, (measured in Iractions: i.e. I/3.5) allows more light to
pass through while a smaller aperture (F/22) allows less light to pass through. The size oI the
aperture, or its range is determined by the lens itselI. II you look around the Iront oI the lens on
your camera you might see "I-stop" numbers listed. An example may be: F3.8 - 5.4. These
number tell you how large the opening oI the lens can get at wide angle (F3.8) and at the
telephoto setting (F5.4). In this example "zooming in" will allow less light to pass through
compared to shooting the same scene at wide angle.
The smaller the F-stop (Iraction) the larger the aperture (opening) oI the lens can be. An F-stop
oI F2.0 lets in more light than a setting oI F2.8, etc.. A lens with a maximum F-Stop oI F2.8,
F2.0, or F1.8 are considered Iast. Most consumer priced cameras usually oIIer a maximum
opening size oI F3.5 or F3.8 which are Iine Ior normal everyday shooting but not great when
trying to reduce motion blur in lower light situations (school plays, indoor sports).

A larger lens opening (brighter lens) oIIers the Iollowing advantages:
O ou'll be able to shoot more oIten with iust natural lighting. This helps to reduce harsh
shadows and red-eye caused by Ilash. A Ilash will still be needed when the scene is too
dark, even Ior the bright lens.
O y allowing more light to pass through, the camera will be able to choose a slightly
higher shutter speed which helps to reduce motion blur when shooting in less than ideal
lighting conditions.
O A larger aperture (F/5.6 in photo example) helps to reduce "depth-oI-Iield" (the amount
oI area Irom Iront to back that stays in Iocus) which makes Ior beautiIul portraits (sharp
subiect, blurred background).

Depth-of-field (DOF) is one of those things that can confuse a lot of new camera users. Yet,
it is very important!
Choosing the right combination of apertures and shutter speeds is initially hard to
comprehend. This article is written to help you understand those relationships to help you
control your image's look, while maintaining correct exposure.
I'm going to attempt to explain these concepts with pictures.
Lets say you are taking a picture of a friend, who is standing 2 meters (~6.6 feet) away
from you. About 2 meters behind your friend is another person. There is also a third person
standing about 2 meters behind the second person. Three people total - each about 2
meters apart - with your friend in front.
You are shooting with a 50mm lens. You focus on your red-shirted friend's face, and take a
picture. It looks like this:

50mm lens, Aperture: f/1.8, Shutter Speed: 1/6000th of a second
otice in the picture above that your friend (in red) is in good focus. The girl standing
behind her, to the right, is not in focus, nor is the young lad even farther away to the left.
This is the result of shooting with a big "aperture." The f/1.8 is a big opening in the front of
your lens. It also causes the depth-of-field, or "zone of sharp focus" to be shallow.
Only the girl in front is in focus at f/1.8. ot much else is in focus, so there is very little
depth-of-field. The depth-of-field in this picture is well less than one meter. Probably more
like 1/2 meter. (~1.5 feet) The zone of sharp focus is therefore only about 1/2 meter deep.
The f/1.8 is an "aperture" number. An aperture is simply an opening in the front of your
lens controlled by blades. If you divide the focal lenght of the lens into its aperture f-
number you get the diameter size of the effective aperure in the lens. In most cameras you
should see the f/number somewhere in your viewfinder display but you won't actually see
the effects of your aperture setting. This is because your auto single lens reflex (SLR)
camera with an auto lens allows you to focus with the aperture blades wide open and out of
the way. The aperture closes down to its selected setting when you press the shutter
release to take your picture.
Apertures on a typical zoom lens start at about f/3.5 (big aperture), and go to f/22 (small
aperture). The bigger the actual size of the aperture can get (the larger the opening) the
"faster" the lens is considered. When you hear about a "fast" lens, someone is talking about
a lens with a big maximum aperture opening. The 50mm f/1.8 lens I used for our example
photos is definitely considered fast!
So what would happen if we closed the aperture down (also referred to as stopped down")
to a medium-small aperture like f/8? The picture below shows what that will do to the

50mm lens, Aperture: f/8, Shutter Speed: 1/500th of a second
otice how the girl in front still looks sharp, and the girl to the right is now in focus too. You
still focused your camera on the girl in front but now the girl to the right is sharp too (even
though you did not change your focus point).
The depth-of-field, or zone of sharp focus, now extends past the girl in front and covers the
girl in back. But, also notice that the boy to the left is still not in focus. The background is
not in focus either. This image is the result of a medium aperture opening (f/8), not fast
(f/1.8), or slow (f/22). ow let's consider what happens if we "stop down" or close the
aperture to f/22:

50mm lens, Aperture: f/22, Shutter Speed: 1/40th of a second
Aha! ow everything in the picture is sharp. The smaller f/22 aperture makes it easier to
get sharp focus. Remember, you focused on the front girl's face in all these pictures. At first
only she was in focus (f/1.8), and as the aperture got smaller more and more of her
surroundings came into sharp focus (f/8 and f/22).
So, Depth-of-Field is simply the zone of sharp focus. It extends in front of and behind your
focused subject, and gets deeper in both directions as you "stop down¨ your lens. If you set
your camera to A mode, or Aperture Priority, you can adjust this powerful functionality to
control what is in focus in your pictures.

Wbat is Sbutt¢r Sp¢¢d?
As I`ve written elsewhere, deIined most basically shutter speed is the amount of time that
the shutter is open`.
In Iilm photography it was the length oI time that the Iilm was exposed to the scene you`re
photographing and similarly in digital photography shutter speed is the length oI time that your
image sensor `sees` the scene you`re attempting to capture.
Let me attempt to break down the topic oI 'Shutter Speed¨ into some bite sized pieces that
should help digital camera owners trying to get their head around shutter speed:
ÞhoLo bv konabov
O 5hutter speed |s measured |n seconds Ŷ or ln mosL cases fracLlons of secondsŦ 1he blaaer Lhe
denomlnaLor Lhe fasLer Lhe speed (le 1/1000 ls much fasLer Lhan 1/30)Ŧ
O n most cases you'|| probab|y be us|ng shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second or fasterŦ 1hls ls
because anvLhlna slower Lhan Lhls ls verv dlfflculL Lo use wlLhouL aeLLlna camera shakeŦ Camera
shake ls when vour camera ls movlna whlle Lhe shuLLer ls open and resulLs ln blur ln vour
O f you're us|ng a s|ow shutter speed (anyth|ng s|ower than 1/60) you w||| need to e|ther use a
tr|pod or some some Lvpe of lmaae sLablllzaLlon (more and more cameras are comlna wlLh Lhls
bullL ln)Ŧ
O 5hutter speeds ava||ab|e to you on your camera w||| usua||y doub|e (approx|mate|y) w|th each
sett|ngŦ As a resulL vou'll usuallv have Lhe opLlons for Lhe followlna shuLLer speeds Ŷ 1/300ţ
1/230ţ 1/123ţ 1/60ţ 1/30ţ 1/13ţ 1/8 eLcŦ 1hls 'doubllna' ls handv Lo keep ln mlnd as aperLure
seLLlnas also double Lhe amounL of llahL LhaL ls leL ln Ŷ as a resulL lncreaslna shuLLer speed bv
one sLop and decreaslna aperLure bv one sLop should alve vou slmllar exposure levels (buL we'll
Lalk more abouL Lhls ln a fuLure posL)Ŧ
O 5ome cameras a|so g|ve you the opt|on for very s|ow shutter speeds LhaL are noL fracLlons of
seconds buL are measured ln seconds (for example 1 secondţ 10 secondsţ 30 seconds eLc)Ŧ 1hese
are used ln verv low llahL slLuaLlonsţ when vou're aolna afLer speclal effecLs and/or when vou're
Lrvlna Lo capLure a loL of movemenL ln a shoL)Ŧ Some cameras also alve vou Lhe opLlon Lo shooL
ln '8' (or '8ulb') modeŦ 8ulb mode leLs vou keep Lhe shuLLer open for as lona as vou hold lL
O Jhen cons|der|ng what shutter speed to use |n an |mage you shou|d a|ways ask yourse|f
whether anyth|ng |n your scene |s mov|ng and how vou'd llke Lo capLure LhaL movemenLŦ lf
Lhere ls movemenL ln vour scene vou have Lhe cholce of elLher freezlna Lhe movemenL (so lL
looks sLlll) or leLLlna Lhe movlna ob[ecL lnLenLlonallv blur (alvlna lL a sense of movemenL)Ŧ
O @o freeze movement |n an |mage (llke ln Lhe surflna shoL above) vou'll wanL Lo choose a fasLer
shuLLer speed and Lo leL Lhe movemenL blur vou'll wanL Lo choose a slower shuLLer speedŦ 1he
acLual speeds vou should choose wlll varv dependlna upon Lhe speed of Lhe sub[ecL ln vour shoL
and how much vou wanL lL Lo be blurredŦ
ÞhoLo bv flamed
O ,ot|on |s not a|ways bad Ŷ l spoke Lo one dlalLal camera owner lasL week who Lold me LhaL he
alwavs used fasL shuLLer speeds and couldn'L undersLand whv anvone would wanL moLlon ln
Lhelr lmaaesŦ 1here are Llmes when moLlon ls aoodŦ lor example when vou're Laklna a phoLo of
a waLerfall and wanL Lo show how fasL Lhe waLer ls flowlnaţ or when vou're Laklna a shoL of a
raclna car and wanL Lo alve lL a feellna of speedţ or when vou're Laklna a shoL of a sLar scape and
wanL Lo show how Lhe sLars move over a lonaer perlod of Llme eLcŦ ln all of Lhese lnsLances
chooslna a lonaer shuLLer speed wlll be Lhe wav Lo aoŦ Powever ln all of Lhese cases vou need Lo
use a Lrlpod or vou'll run Lhe rlsk of rulnlna Lhe shoLs bv addlna camera movemenL (a dlfferenL
Lvpe of blur Lhan moLlon blur)Ŧ
O oca| Length and 5hutter 5peed Ŵ anoLher Lhlna Lo conslder when chooslna shuLLer speed ls Lhe
focal lenaLh of Lhe lens vou're uslnaŦ Lonaer focal lenaLhs wlll accenLuaLe Lhe amounL of camera
shake vou have and so vou'll need Lo choose a fasLer shuLLer speed (unless vou have lmaae
sLablllzaLlon ln vour lens or camera)Ŧ 1he 'rule' of Lhumb Lo use wlLh focal lenaLh ln non lmaae
sLablllzed slLuaLlons) ls Lo choose a shuLLer speed wlLh a denomlnaLor LhaL ls laraer Lhan Lhe
focal lenaLh of Lhe lensŦ lor example lf vou have a lens LhaL ls 30mm 1/60Lh ls probablv ok buL lf
vou have a 200mm lens vou'll probablv wanL Lo shooL aL around 1/230Ŧ
Sbutt¢r Sp¢¢d - Bringing it Tog¢tb¢r
#emember that thinking about Shutter Speed in isolation Irom the other two elements oI the
Exposure Triangle (aperture and ISO) is not really a good idea. As you change shutter speed
you`ll need to change one or both oI the other elements to compensate Ior it.
For example iI you speed up your shutter speed one stop (Ior example Irom 1/125th to 1/250th)
you`re eIIectively letting halI as much light into your camera. To compensate Ior this you`ll
probably need to increase your aperture one stop (Ior example Irom I16 to I11). The other
alternative would be to choose a Iaster ISO rating (you might want to move Irom ISO 100 to ISO
400 Ior example).

Back to Basics - Sbutt¢r Sp¢¢d
In the previous article, I talked about exposure, and how it aIIects the Iinal image. I mentioned
that there are three controls the one can use to change the outcome oI the clicking the shutter
button: ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed. This article will Iocus on $hutter $peed. As I said,
$hutter $peed is one oI the three exposure controls. Luckily Ior this article, it is the easiest to
understand. It simply controls the amount oI time the shutter is leIt open Ior light to come in and
hit the sensor.
I am saying sensor, but the old experienced Iolks may remember a time when the light was
actually hitting Iilm. oth the sensor and Iilm collect light. The longer the shutter is open, they
see more light - so the longer the shutter is leIt open the brighter your image will be. ut shutter
speed also aIIects other aspect oI your image. Let's try and have a look, but Iirst let's set the
groundwork so we better understand each other. (Shutter image by brighterworlds)
When one is describing the technical setting of a picture, they note the shutter speed in
seconds - they'll write 3 or 1/100 or 1/60. Inside the camera view Iinder you'll sometimes Iind a
shorter Iorm oI display where the "1/" is assumed and only 100 or 60 will display. In that case,
when you are setting the camera Ior one second or more you'll see two small lines next to the
shutter speed setting: 2". To sum it up, 1/100 is like 100 and is Iaster the 1/30 (or 30); both are
Iaster than 30".
Most cameras that oIIer minimal manual control will let you set the shutter speed in steps
that double - i.e. 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125 and so on. Each step will open the shutter Ior
double the time Irom the previous step. (To compensate Ior the extra light, you will have to close
the aperture one stop down, but I'll talk about that later).
The natural question that pops to mind is "What shutter speed do I need to use?" The answer
to this is both simple and complex, and mostly depends on what you are shooting. The Iollowing
Iew points will help you to determine the right shutter speed Ior your picture:
Am I shooting a still or moving object? II you want to Ireeze your obiect and have it look
sharp, you will need to assess its speed. The Iaster your obiect moves, the Iaster you need to set
your shutter speed. II your obiect is moving toward/away Irom you, its speed has less eIIect then
iI it is moving Irom side to side.
It took a shutter speed oI 1/1000 to Ireeze those storks (image by Amir Taran)

What focal length (zoom) am I using? So, Iocal length eIIects something called blur. lur is
the name Ior those Iuzzy images you see when your hand is moving while the shutter is open.
The longer the shutter is open the steadier your hand should be to avoid blur. The rule oI thumb
is that the shutter speed should be 1/|Focal Length|. So iI you are shooting with a 500mm lens,
you should set your shutter speed to 1/500 or higher. II you are using a DSL# that has a crop
Iactor you have to multiply by the crop Iactor. For example most Nikon SL#s has a 1.5 crop
Iactor - Ior the example above you will to set the shutter speed to 1/(500*1.5) ÷ 1/750.
Am I using a tripod or an Image stabilizer? oth a Tripod and an image stabilizer will help
you reduce or even eliminate blur. When using a tripod, you can set your shutter speed to
virtually anything. A good image stabilizer will let you set a shutter speed about eight times
slower than the rule oI thumb previously discussed. Another option to reduce camera share is to
use a cable release.
Do I want my picture to look dynamic or static? Including both blurred obiects and still
obiects is a good recipe Ior making a dynamic looking image. The Iollowing image has the biker
still, while the road looks blurry and contributes to the Iill oI speed.

Image by Itai elson (shutter speed - 1/100)
Here are some more interesting / creative uses Ior diIIerent settings oI shutter speeds:
$hooting $tars - Shooting nightscapes is one oI the more interesting ways to utilize the shutter
speed control. y setting your shutter at a really low shutter speed (tens oI minutes), you can see
how the earth movement reIlects in the starts positions. II you include both static obiects (house,
tree) and the sky, you will a wonderIul star "line" contrasted by your static obiect.

Image by belial (shutter speed - 1 hour)
$hooting Waterfalls - When shooting a waterIall, set your shutter speed to a slow setting to get
that silky look.

Image by Tony~M (shutter speed - 2.5 sec)
$hooting water - when shooting water in high speed, you can make the water look Irozen. It will
take a shutter speed oI 1/500 or Iaster to make this magic Happen. Another option to Ireeze
water, is to use high speed Ilash photography.

Image by Jon radley (shutter speed - 1/1000)
Flash Rear $ync - this is when you set your Ilash to pop at the end oI the exposure (Also known
as Ilash second curtain sync). The burst oI light coming Irom the Ilash will Ireeze the action,
while the long exposure will give nice blurry trails.

Image by anker12 (shutter speed - 1/125)
!anning: Panning is a photography technique where your camera Iollows a moving obiect at a
relatively low shutter speed (1/30 to 1/60 are the usual panning values). The eIIect that you get is
a sharp obiect against a blurred background.

Image by WisDoc (shutter speed - 1/30)
One oI the key Iactors to understanding photography in general and shutter speed in particular is
practice, trial and error, so go out and take some shots. Try something diIIerent every time. Try
long exposures, short exposures, moving obiects, night photography. Then go back home and
analyze your pictures. Is a picture blurry? Is it sharp? Does it show motion? Action? The more
you will ask yourselI those questions, the better grasp you will have over the shutter speed
To make this happen - here is a little photography assignment. Since shutter speed eIIects
movement perception most oI all, your simple assignment is to shoot something that is in
constant movement - cars.
Stand on a sidewalk and take pictures oI cars in varying shutter speed settings. Start with a Iast
shutter speed and slowly go down. Keep your zoom unchanged. Do this on a shady day so you
can explore both Iast and slow shutter speeds. When you analyze the pictures look Ior motion
blur on the passing cars. See when other obiect become blurred due to your camera shake.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful