Want to move beyond taking point-and-shoot snaps? Trying to figure out how to recreate some of your favorite photos? Pick up your camera because in this series, we’re introducing you to some essential elements of photography that will make your snaps picture perfect. 

LESSON ONE: APERTURE

Aperture is the opening in a lens that can be adjusted from a tiny hole to a gaping one.

Aperture controls the amount of light that passes through the lens. That light is absorbed by the sensor of a digital camera (or film, for film fanatics), and will influence the look of the photo — everything from the amount of light in the image to the focus and depth of the objects is influenced by the amount of light registered by the camera’s sensor.

Photo by Rachel Gulotta

If you’re interested in photography, you’ve probably heard the term “f-stop” before, or simply seen the letter “f” on a camera lens. F-stops refer to the increments in which an aperture can open.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, smaller f-stops (f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4) are actually larger openings that let in more light. So as you look at f-stops such as f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22, remember that these increments represent smaller openings, and therefore let in less light.

To keep everything straight, just remember: the larger the number, the smaller the opening. And vice versa: the smaller the number, the larger the opening.

Photo by David Muñiz

Aperture (and the amount of light in a photo) also influences an image’s focus and depth of field. You’ve likely seen photos that feature only a few — or even a single object — in focus (i.e. a portrait or a still life). This is often referred to as a “shallow” or “small” depth of field.

Alternatively, there are images where many of the elements in the photo are in focus (i.e. a landscape or city scene). These are examples of a “deep” depth of field. Although aperture isn’t the only element involved in influencing depth of field (lens focal length and the photographer’s physical proximity to the subject matter will, too), it’s certainly an important one.

Photo by Roman Koenigshofer

To understand depth of field, check out the two photos below. The image on the left features a deep depth of field, so everything is in focus. But the image on the right features a shallow depth of field, so only the OBJECT is in focus.

Photo by Gizem Toker
Photo by Michelle Halpern

To manipulate depth of field, change the aperture. For deep depth of field, you’ll want a smaller aperture (a larger number), while for a shallow depth of field you’ll want a larger aperture (a smaller number).

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Aperture controls the amount of light in a photo.
  • F-stops are increments of aperture.
  • The smaller the number, the larger the opening; the larger the number, the smaller the opening.
  • Deep depth of field means that all objects in a frame are in focus, and is achieved by using a smaller aperture.
  • Shallow depth of field means that only one (or a few) objects in a frame are in focus, and is achieved by using a larger aperture.
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Camille Danielich
Camille is a writer, traveler, and visual storyteller from New Jersey. She has lived in the Czech Republic, Thailand and in New York. She's always looking forward to her next adventure and probably won't stop instagramming her food anytime soon. Follow along on instagram