Aperture photography series


If you missed the Photography series you can start here:

  1. Basics to Photography
  2. Aperture Photography
  3. Learn about your ISO setting
  4. Shutter Speed Photography
  5. The Exposure Triangle
  6. Photo Composition
  7. Capturing the every day moments
  8. 10 Photography tips to help you edit your pictures
  9. Some more  Photography tips
  10. My Photography Tips

Hello there! I’m Jessica – a wife, mother, and the owner of Jessica Downey Photo.

aperature photography


{ Aperture Photography Series }

Please let me introduce you to the very interesting (and sometimes intimidating) topic of aperture. Most of this is for people who own a DSLR, but I’ll also let you know how it applies to point-and-shoot cameras as well!

The aperture refers to the adjustable size of the hole in your camera that lets in the light. It is measured in f-stops. The smaller the f-stop number, the larger the opening. I’m a visual person, so it always helps me to see a diagram…

Aperture is important because it determines your depth-of-field, or the portion of your photo that is in focus. A wide open aperture gives you a very shallow depth of field, so only a small portion of your photo will be in sharp focus, and everything in front or behind will be very blurry. A very small aperture will give you a much greater depth-of-field, so everything in your photo will be in focus, front to back. A good way to remember this: people squint (making their eye opening smaller) to see things in better focus, so therefore, you can remember that a smaller aperture gives you more of everything in focus from front to back.

Your own personal preference and artistic flair is what determines what aperture you should use! It totally depends on what you are trying to achieve with your photo. For instance, I love the beautiful blur in the first example. To me it looks more artistic, dramatic, and professional. But some people may opt for the second photo because you can clearly see all the details of the gorgeous vintage items on the table! Like I said, it just depends on you and what you are trying to accomplish with your photo.

Here are some more examples:
In the first photo you can see that it is a very wide open aperture at f/1.2 and the depth of field is very shallow. Only one bottle is in focus and the ones directly in front of it and behind it are already starting to blur a little. And the farther in front or in back you get, the blurrier things become.
aperture photography

In the next photo, the aperture is a little more closed up at f/4.0 and more of the bottles are in focus. But the bottles at the ends are still blurry.
aperture photography

In the last photo, the aperture is even smaller at f/9.0 and all the bottles are clear and sharp. The depth of field is even getting great enough that you can start to see the wall in the background coming into focus a bit, which in the other two photos was so blurred that you couldn’t tell what it was.
aperture photography

On an SLR camera you can choose your own aperture for your photos, but keep in mind that certain lenses can only open so wide. Some have only a maximum aperture opening of f/2.8 or even f/4.0, so those lenses wouldn’t be able to open as wide as others that can go all the way to f/1.2 (like my favorite lens)! So if you like the look of a shallow depth-of-field, you’ll want to look for a lens that has a very low aperture number. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 Lens  is a great lens for around $100.
Although I prefer shooting completely in manual mode, an easier way to begin experimenting with your aperture setting is to use the AV mode (aperture priority mode) on your SLR camera dial. In AV mode you can determine your own aperture, and the camera will automatically determine your shutter speed and ISO for you!
So… what if you have a point and shoot camera but you still want to get some background blur in your pictures? The good news is that you can, at least to a certain extent. Just set your dial to “portrait” mode, which has an icon that looks like a person’s head. This setting will tell your camera to open its aperture as wide as it is able to. Awesome

Thanks for joining me for this post! I was a teacher before I was a photographer, so besides my fresh, happy approach to photography, I’m also known for my easy-to-understand beginners DSLR workshops. I have so much fun sharing my love of photography with others and it’s great to see people get so excited to finally be able to take the kinds of pictures they’ve always wanted! I also offer long-distance mentoring for professional photographers who live outside of Arizona. I’d love to get to know each of you, so please stop by my blog or Facebook page every once in awhile to say hi and let me know what you think!

more by Jamielyn »

Jamielyn Nye

Creative director and founder of I Heart Naptime. Jamielyn aspires to reach women, get their creative juices flowing, and to genuinely inspire. When she’s not creating, Jamielyn loves to chase her three little monkeys and snuggle up on the couch with her man.

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  1. AmyD4Ellis@ovi.com posted on February 22, 2012 at 2:47 am (#

    I love how the image changes because of the adjustments of the lens. Nice photos.

  2. cherie posted on February 22, 2012 at 7:53 am (#

    best explanation yet! First one I’ve actually understood on the subject, thanks! I will forever be squinting my eyes to recall the info:-)

  3. Anngela posted on February 22, 2012 at 8:22 am (#

    I love this series! Yesterday’s composition post was very helpful but the aperture lesson was very informative!! It couldn’t have come at a better time since receiving my first SLR for the holidays. I am just now finally researching all the ‘how-to’s’ and this is truly a huge help!! Can’t wait to see what’s in store for tomorrow’s lesson!

  4. NICOLE posted on February 22, 2012 at 8:34 am (#

    this is great! thank you so much for the diagram!!

  5. Rachel - Haute Chocolate posted on February 22, 2012 at 10:57 am (#

    Thank you so much for an informative and easy to follow tutorial – not to mention some amazing photos! Going to play around with my camera now!

  6. Ashley posted on February 22, 2012 at 11:46 am (#

    My friend was just going over this with me. Thanks for this post!~

  7. Tish Orr posted on February 22, 2012 at 7:35 pm (#

    Jamielyn, Enjoyed your simple approach and clear examples look forward to more quick lessons.

  8. Ali Bee's Bake Shop posted on February 23, 2012 at 9:06 am (#

    Great post! I love how you describe things in “non photography” terms for a camera dummy like me :) Thank you! New follower

  9. Leah posted on February 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm (#

    This make so much more sense now! I’m getting ready to buy a good lens with a low aperture. I’ve looked at several but one thing I don’t’ understand is the mm. It seems like most bloggers use and recommend the 50mm. How is that different from the 35mm?

  10. Kathye (aka mommymelback) posted on March 2, 2012 at 7:45 pm (#

    Thank you Thank you Thanks you Love this lesson.

    • Jamielyn posted on March 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm (#

      So glad you enjoyed the series! Have a good weekend! xo

  11. Diana posted on June 1, 2013 at 12:41 am (#

    Thank you so much, this made it so easy to understand!

  12. Birgit posted on January 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm (#

    Last weekend I followed a photography workshop to learn a few tricks and to make better pictures for my blog. I just love your tips, they enlarge the knowledge ingot during the weekend, but I also realize I’ve got much more to learn

    • Jamielyn posted on January 8, 2014 at 3:09 pm (#

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Birgit! There really is always so much more to learn!

  13. Kara posted on March 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm (#

    Thank you so much for this great explanation! I will definitely be using the squinting hint, lol!

    • Jamielyn posted on April 9, 2014 at 4:53 pm (#

      You are so welcome! Thanks for dropping by Kara! :)

  14. Haley posted on March 31, 2014 at 10:42 pm (#

    Thank you so much for this, I just bough my first “real” camera and I have been messing with it and looking online for info. I kept seeing “aperture” and knew it had something to do with light and focusing but didn’t know how they correlated. So thanks again :) Happy Snapping!

    • Jamielyn posted on April 9, 2014 at 6:01 pm (#

      I’m glad this was helpful for you! Enjoy your new camera!! :)

  15. Meagan posted on June 12, 2014 at 1:17 am (#

    I never really understood “aperture” until I read this post! SUPER easy to understand and the pictures were extremely helpful!

    • Jamielyn posted on July 2, 2014 at 4:36 pm (#

      I’m glad this was helpful for you Meagan! I agree, aperture is a little confusing at first!

  16. Joni posted on July 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm (#

    Hi. I love photography, and being new to start, your blog post has been very helpful! Thank you soo much. I look forward to visiting your website for any photography help in the future. :)

    • Jamielyn posted on July 10, 2014 at 1:31 pm (#

      Hi Joni! I’m so glad this photography post has been helpful to you! I love photography too, it is such a fun hobby! :)

  17. Claire posted on October 25, 2014 at 12:22 am (#

    Great article! I actually get what aperture is now! I do have a question though. I’m looking to buy a DSLR camera hopefully in the next 6 months or so, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can and do my research before I purchase. If the camera (like http://www.amazon.ca/Nikon-COOLPIX-L830-Digital-Black/dp/B00HZAPGPM/ref=sr_1_12?s=photo&ie=UTF8&qid=1414176536&sr=1-12&keywords=nikon that one on amazon) doesn’t SAY what the aperture is… what is the aperture? 


    • Jamielyn posted on November 18, 2014 at 9:07 pm (#

      Hi Claire! I tried looking at the cameron on amazon and I can’t figure out the aperture either. Every camera is different, so I’m not sure!

  18. Elise Schon posted on February 13, 2015 at 9:13 am (#

    Thank you for doing this! Totally useful! 

  19. Barry posted on February 13, 2015 at 4:29 pm (#

    I have been given a Nikon D3200 as a retirement present and I have discovered that there is a lot to learn, but I ccan honestly say that I am thoroughly enjoying it. I can see that this  is going to be a fascinating hobby. I am finding your series extremely helpful and I absolutely love your Photos.  Thanks for all your help.

  20. Nicole posted on February 16, 2015 at 4:43 pm (#

    thank you, this helped a lot. just got my camera and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’m glad I came on this website

    • Jamielyn posted on February 18, 2015 at 10:33 pm (#

      I’m glad this was helpful for you Nicole! Have fun with your new camera! :)

  21. Amy posted on May 1, 2015 at 12:12 am (#

    Thank you for making this so incredibly easy to understand! For whatever reason, I have always had a problem comprehending aperture. Your guidance and illustrations made things click. Please know that your effort is truly appreciated!

    • Jamielyn posted on May 2, 2015 at 11:29 pm (#

      I’m so glad this was helpful to you! Good luck with all of your photography endeavors. :)

  22. Becca posted on April 26, 2016 at 8:48 am (#

    I love this explanation of aperture!  The diagrams really do make a difference.  I am trying to learn all I need to learn in order to start my Etsy shop and blog.  Thanks for the post!

  23. Amanda posted on October 17, 2016 at 5:17 am (#

    Thank you so much! I’m just starting to use Manual mode and it’s extremely overwhelming. This series has helped me understand it so much more clearly!