Moving Toward Manual Settings: Understanding Aperture (a beginner's guide)

Moving Toward Manual Settings: Understanding Aperture (a beginner’s guide)

ApertureIn this tutorial Natalie Norton explores the topic of Aperture.

A few months back I wrote an article here at DPS that created a bit of a stir:

4 Reasons Not to Write Off Shooting in Automatic.

I expected to get a lot of naysayers scolding me up and down and all around. I did get a few of those, but what I didn’t expect were the literally dozens of emails (not to mention comments on the post itself) from people sincerely thanking me for taking the pressure off, for helping them see that great photography is great no matter how it’s captured.

I stand by everything that I wrote in that post. I particularly maintain that photography should be FUN and rewarding and that focusing too much energy on the technical aspects of it shouldn’t detract from that.

HOWEVER one can’t argue with the fact that shooting in Manual does give you more control and greater creative freedom. Period. End of story.

So on we go to Manual settings: I know this topic has been discussed a ZILLION times over, and that it’s as boring as dry toast, but we’re going to go at it again. . . in layman’s terms.

1. What is Exposure?

Exposure is basically the AMOUNT OF LIGHT (controlled by the aperture) that is captured over a SPECIFIC AMOUNT OF TIME (controlled by the shutter speed). Is that clear?


So your exposure is the process of recording light onto your digital sensor (or film). Don’t make it more complicated than that: light recorded somewhere (digital sensor or film). THE END. Easy Cheesy.

2. What is Aperture?

Your aperture, or your F-stop, controls (along with the shutter speed which we’ll discuss in the next post so just throw that out of your brain for now before you get confused) how much light hits your sensor.

A lens’s aperture (fstop) is basically a hole (and we’re getting as basic here as is humanly possible) that opens to let in more light and closes to let in less light. Similarly to the iris in your eye, but if that analogy doesn’t work for you feel free to throw it on out. The larger the “HOLE” or aperture (fstop), the more light will hit your sensor, the smaller the “HOLE” or aperture (fstop) the less light will hit your sensor, capiche?

Seriously, try not to over complicate it.

NOW: I’m going to sucker punch you here and I’ll just apologize in advance. A HIGH aperture number (fstop) = LESS light being recorded on your digital sensor (or film) while a LOW aperture number = MORE light being recorded on your digital sensor (or film). Yay to the genius who decided upon that little gem of a system! Seriously, I’d be game for toilet papering his house . . . you just let me know the time and place and I’m there.

The TRUE apertures are as follows (called fstops):


There are third “stops” in between (just think of it as where the “hole”, aperture, STOPS to let in a set amount of light), your camera may or may not have these.

The best way to find out will be to crack your manual or flip through the aperture dial on your camera and see which apertures show up. If you get numbers like: 2.8, 3.2, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.6 then you’ve got third stops to work with. If on the other hand you’ve got 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16. . . then you’ve got the true apertures and no option for 3rd stops.

NOTE: your lens may not have numbers as low as 2.8 or it may have an aperture number as low as 1.2. Your lens isn’t broken, it’s just got more or less capacity to let in more or less light. . . The general range of most lenses are highlighted in blue above.

Last word about aperture: it is your aperture (fstop) that controls the depth of field in a photo (don’t hyperventilate. . . see below).

3. What is Depth of Field?

Depth of field is basically the amount of an image that is in focus. An image with a very deep depth of field would be an image where everything is in focus, while an image with a very shallow depth of field would have a lot of “fall off” or BLUR with only one segment of the image in focus.


**QUIZ: Does the image above have a deep or a shallow depth of field??
ANSWER: Shallow, because only the boy is in focus and everything else is thrown out of focus.

STOP! Before we go any further, I want you to have a steady grasp of the way your aperture (fstop) functions. So I have a couple of assignments below for those who are desperate to learn about manual settings. . . or simply want a refresher.

FIRST: Memorize the full fstops. Just commit them to memory. The end. You can do it! Here they are again.


SECOND: For this assignment you will need 2 objects placed on a flat surface 1-3 feet apart outside or in a well lit room. Pop your camera over to Aperture Priority and experiment.

Aperture Priority (AP or AV) will allow you to play around with Aperture and how it affects depth of field without having to worry about shutter speed, because in AP/AV the camera automatically selects your shutter speed for you depending on the amount of light available.

Once you’re in AP/AV, set your lens on the LOWEST POSSIBLE APERTURE (fstop) probably somewhere between 2.8-4.0. Focus on the object closest to you and take a picture. NOW, “stop up” to the next FULL fstop. . . you just memorized them, so it should be easy. Skip over the third stops. . . or don’t. It’s up to you. So let’s pretend that I have a lens that has a maximum aperture of 4.0. I’d start by taking an image at 4.0. Then I’d take the same shot at 5.6, then at 8.0 then at 11 then at 16. . . see how this goes? You’ll notice a difference in the depth of field. That’s the goal of the assignment: to learn how aperture affects depth of field.

Don’t be dismayed if your images are slightly dark. I’ve noticed that for the most part when you shoot in AP/AV images tend to be slightly underexposed. . . . surely to protect from the digital photographer’s nemesis of over exposure! Muhahahaha! Watch out for him. He’s a real beast.

In the next post in the series, we’ll be moving into shutter speed and capturing/freezing motion, so do your homework and check back soon!! To get notified of the next post in this series subscribe to Digital Photography School here.

Want to learn more about Aperture? Check out our previous Introduction to Aperture.

Happy Shooting!

Natalie Norton lives and shoots on the North Shore of Oahu, HI with her husband Richie and her 3 crazy boys. Check her out at

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Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • esther August 15, 2013 04:28 am

    thank you so much for your wonderful lesson. would consider this course to everyone as the teacher explains the theory very well.

  • Patricia Allen July 6, 2013 06:40 am

    Natalie, THANK YOU so much for this article. I have been searching, have read many articles, watched some YouTubes, purchased a book, etc., took a four week class (which was quite informative) but this article is the BEST! It is finally registering and I am excited about it. I look forward to completing the assignment tomorrow. God bless you and I love how you have reduced the info down to the least common denominator! ;-) You are truly a treasure of a teacher to us beginners.

  • Nino May 31, 2013 10:09 am

    HI, is there a possibility that these articles can have a print option. I am the type that needs paper to make notes at the side for reference.? Thank you so much for taking the time to do this for all of us who are trying to get better at taking photographs. ;)

  • aperture May 14, 2013 05:38 pm

    thanks ms Natalie Norton. i really love to read what you write about photography. it is easy to understand. thanks a lot - kayceee mcnally :)

  • Ziggy Sheppard March 19, 2013 04:48 am

    Thank you so much for that article. I found it very helpful and I learned a lot from it.

  • cornell December 24, 2012 01:55 pm

    Laymen indeed. Simple and straight to the point. Thanks for explaining Aperture in an understandable way for beginners like myself.

  • Nicola Riley May 27, 2012 07:10 pm

    Fantastic !!

    I'm a novice to digital photography and have read many articles, and also lots of charts, professing to clarifying the whole deal of exposure: most made very little sense and none could be recalled later because they were simply too complicated for a novice.

    All you whiners posting on the accuracy, or detail, of the article here clearly are NOT beginners ! Why are you on here if you know soooo much already? Get on !

    Keep up the great work Natalie - very much appreciated !

  • Abinanthan March 14, 2012 01:20 am

    Very useful and simple article for the beginners.

    But I must say this.. The number of trivial/un related comments in the article are one too many to make me lose focus. If I compare this article to composition of a photo, this is like a picture of a beautiful rose with full of details with a background with too many colourful toys lying around and out of focus.

  • Rocio March 2, 2012 06:41 am

    Thank you so much!
    Great explanation on Aperture, especially for a begginger :)

  • kulpuia December 6, 2011 04:58 am

    very informative and well explained!! :P

  • Steve September 29, 2011 10:06 pm

    Thank you...

  • Dani July 30, 2011 11:34 pm


    The problem you are having is a consequence of the type of camera that you have. Compact cameras like yours have tiny, tiny sensors and a very limited range of aperture. Because of this, you will not be able to get the shallow Depth of Field that dSLR's get. Things behind your main subject will have to be much further away for you to start to see them blur.

    You can do some experimenting. Go outside and find something like a street sign that has trees or other things close behind it. Open up your aperture (lowest f-stop number) and take a picture. Then find something that is standing out by itself with things behind it that are far away. Shoot from the same distance with the same aperture.

    Also note that zoom can affect this too. At each of your experimental subjects, try standing further back and zooming in.

  • Jenny J. Smith July 13, 2011 01:27 am

    Geeee! what a great article to a novice like me. Thank you, thank you....

  • stephanie June 21, 2011 01:25 am

    Hi, i have just bought the canon powershot sx220 and am trying to master the aperture settings, however i have tried adjusting the f stops and find no difference at all in my pictures. i have noticed a few people have commented the same although there are no answers as to what is going wrong? any help would be really appreciated, thanks!

  • Andreas E Nielsen January 19, 2011 07:50 pm

    Hey again, alright, before I read your entire post you actually explained what I mentioned above, although at first it seemed confusing to me the way it was phrased, but being able to explain that in my previous post just gave me a greater understanding of how the aperture works - awesome! Thank you! :D

  • Andreas E Nielsen January 19, 2011 07:43 pm

    Hi Natalie! I am pretty new to photography (bought my first DSLR this Christmas) and I have just recently started reading about exposure (aperture, shutter speed, ISO), and I might be wrong, but it seems like something in your post might be phrased wrong, (and someone might have pointed it out, but I didn't feel like reading through all the comments to find out) but here we go:

    "... The larger the “HOLE” or aperture (fstop), the more light will hit your sensor, the smaller the “HOLE” or aperture (fstop) the less light will hit your sensor..."

    There's no doubt you know what you're talking about, and all I need is to make sure I haven't misunderstood something, but here we go:

    The larger the "HOLE" the more light will hit your sensor (obviously)
    The smaller the "HOLE" the less light will hit your sensor (obviously)

    that makes completely sense, but adding "aperture (fstop)" behind that doesn't make sense to me, because:

    The LARGER the aperture (fstop) the less light will hit your sensor, right?
    The SMALLER the aperture (fstop) the more light will hit your sensor, right?


    With F/5.6 more light will hit your sensor compared to f/16 - f/16 being a LARGER APERTURE but a SMALLER "HOLE" right? .. That would make more sense to me, but I just wanted to make it clear, so that I can continue on learning about exposure without being confused on exactly this subject.

    Hope this makes sense! :)

    Keep up the good work, I am so thankful for being able to get all this information from you and this website, to continue on learning about photography! Thank you!

    - Andreas Nielsen

  • Jack January 18, 2011 01:12 pm

    Hi Natalie, Enjoy your work with these tutorials. BUT, I am confused on two items. First, what is a full stop? Is going from 4 to 5.6 a full stop or half stop? It seems to me a full stop move from 4 would be 8. Second, does auto iso only apply when shooting in Auto. I have always puzzled over what Auto ISO is and when it applies. Thanks, Jack

  • marisol December 30, 2010 05:03 pm

    thanks for this info. I bought a Nikon D90 but is stiil stuggling to learn it. I bought it for my kids but I get dissapointed bec of my shots. I like the way you explain things.... simple yet you are successful in getting the message accross ....really for beginners.... thanks a lot! all the best in 2011!

  • Lauren December 18, 2010 10:00 am

    I tried this & the pictures looked the same to me.. what am I doing wrong? I noticed a few others had the same probs. Anyone still around who wants to help?

  • Fiona December 6, 2010 01:14 am

    I tried this and my camera picked very slow shutter speeds for the higher f-stops meaning my photos were blurry
    What am I doing wrong?

  • vishal November 26, 2010 09:27 pm

    Okay, good article... very good article to be honest.. With all due respect, I would just like to add my 2 cents to the discussion...

    Aperture (the size of the opening of the camera) depends a lot on what is the focal length of the lens you are using... which is perhaps why they are called as 'f/number' or read as 'focal length divided by a number'...

    So essentially, while you are using say a 100mm lens (easy to do the math that way) with an aperture setting of f/4 ... the camera would get an opening of 100/4 =25mm... while say if I use f/5 for the same lens (and the shutter speed, ISO Speed is left unchanged)... the camera would get an opening of 100/5 = 20mm opening..

    25mm is clearly a bigger number than 20mm... which is why they say f/4 allows a wider opening or wider aperture than f/5... at the same focal length...

    Hope my two cents has helped some of you to understand the concept better and not the otherwise... (Otherwise here being giving up on learning to shoot in Manual Mode for good and in extreme cases, tearing up your SLR gear roughly into 50 peices while deciding to give up shooting in Manual Mode for for good)...

    - Vishal

  • Gerard November 21, 2010 09:00 pm

    This is a great article. I recently purchased a Canon T1i and have been trying to research all these photography terms. They would never make that much sense. But somehow you managed to make them make way more sense than the tons of other websites I've read within the last 2 weeks. Thank you!

  • Danilo November 21, 2010 04:44 pm

    Well explained and very helpful for beginners like me. Thank you very much.

  • Barbara Norman September 16, 2010 11:28 pm

    Thank you.Your tutorial really helped me.

  • L. D. September 8, 2010 04:16 am

    spent a week reading the textbook and taking notes from the photography professor...didn't understand a single thing until now...can you please come teach my class? ;) Thanks!

  • Zuska Madar July 31, 2010 06:14 am

    this is great, although I have been reading up on exposure a bit in the past few months, but very simple terms and easy to understand and I looooove the humor you put in it, good on ya

  • Marnie July 28, 2010 08:50 am

    Thank you so much for the way you explained this. I've been googling all day to learn how to achieve a certain effect with my shutter speed and no one else did a very good job at explaining.

  • GJ June 1, 2010 08:18 pm

    thank you! you have explained it on a simplest way. i've learned so much and now, it's time for me to explore (more) =OD. kudos!

  • Cassandra April 22, 2010 01:16 am

    Wow, this was a huge help to me. I've been one of those stuck in auto mode for ever. Technical aspects of Photographer were NOT my strong suit. Because of this exercise I learned a LOT more about my camera than I did before and feel much more confident in the ability to control the aperture to get the desired effect I'm after. THANKS A TON.

  • Crystal April 14, 2010 09:35 am

    FINALLY....someone with some knowledge that doesn't want to shove all the techno-garble down our throats! How refreshing!! I'm a self-confessed techo-idiot and this is JUST what I need to get a grasp on things.
    You simplify it wonderfully and I thank you from the bottom of my Aperture and ISO! ;0P
    You are my SAVIOR!

  • Jeremy March 27, 2010 02:33 am

    thanks for laying this stuff out simply....i'm a complete noob at all this and i appreciate it!!!

  • Linda Skorick February 24, 2010 03:02 am

    I changed the aperture setting up and back but could see no difference. Am I just dense? Is my camera a dud???? It's a Canon PowerShot.

  • Samudyata December 3, 2009 02:01 pm make it seem like a cake walk...i had never been this excited about an assignment :)

  • sam November 24, 2009 12:36 am

    This is great. I just spent a full weekend 1 on 1 with a pro photographer teaching me how to use my camera, and I learnt heaps, and this just solidified the teachings for me.
    Thanks for taking the time.

  • Myron September 16, 2009 05:40 pm

    Thank you finally a guide easy to understand. I literally read a whole book to try and understand it. Thank you it's a great guide for beggining photographers like myself. A 17 year old boy.!

  • Tim September 1, 2009 05:47 am

    Thank you so much for you easy to understand explaining!! I'm a newbie to DSLR photography! I've spend all day TRYING to figure out what is an f/stop is :L and how the hell does it work! I was about to gave up but then i randomly clicked on your site gave it a try and understood the god damn thing :D

    Thank you again and yea LoL at your drawings
    Tim 16! Russian Kid :P

  • Debbi August 31, 2009 12:50 pm

    Can I just say...THANK YOU! I'm from a family of photographers but have just recently become interested myself. I have been scratching my head trying to grasp aperture, shutter speed, iso, depth of field, so on and so on. Not until reading your posts have I started to UNDERSTAND and put it all together. You have made it fun! I don't know how many times I've laughed out loud while reading your articles. My husband thinks I'm nuts. Yeehaw! (or Yeehah or Yihaw or whatever!) Thanks again!

  • Viren August 16, 2009 01:22 pm

    To be precise it is the receprocal of the square of the F stop. Each value is half of the previous one rounded.

    Since the amount of light coming in is proportional to the area of the "hole" to make half the area the diameter has to be reduced by square root of 2 which is rounded to 1.4.

    As Michael says F1 is the largest as there is no restriction. To get half the light the diameter has to be 1/1.4 of the previous..the F stop is the receprocal at 1.4

  • Michael Parkinson August 4, 2009 01:09 am

    If you look at Fstops as reciprocals it all makes sense. F1 becomes 1/1, can't get any bigger than having the lens all the way open, and F90 becomes 1/90, even the kid who failed math class knows 1/90 is a dramatically smaller number than 1/1. Save the TP for something more practical.

  • April Douglas July 21, 2009 03:37 am

    I love how you explain things. I get it. A light blub went off. I think my camera caught it with "low" aperture. lol.

  • Octavia July 20, 2009 09:02 am

    I just recently found this site. I just got myself a new camera and its been a while for me so its like learning all over again..

    I found this page extremely helpful. It broke things down to simple english for you to understand...

    by the way, who was the person who designed the aperture numbers to go the way they do? Can I toliet paper their house too?? lol

    Thank you..

  • johnny July 15, 2009 03:46 am

    Very well put . I agree about (low numbers big hole ) big numbers small hole , if i do find that peason (the F/ MAN) I will be there to . LOL! thanks alot for putting it the way you did .

  • Janet Missenden July 3, 2009 02:50 pm

    Hi Natalie.... OMG I cant believe it, I was browsing the Designer Digitals website checking out the photography Q&A's (to try and gain more knowledge) when a DD member 'Aino' from Israel added a link to your website...HOW HAPPY AM I !!!!! I have owned a Nikon DSLR D70 for about 2 years and havent had it out of 'Auto' mode, my photographs are generally alright, but I know I can improve on them, I am craving the crispness of professional photographs, so would like to learn more about Manual..I have been busy trying to take in your blog about Moving toward manual for beginners, I would just like to THANK you for making it easy to understand... (I hope, I havent got out my camera yet).. I am sooo excited I cant tear myself away from your page...

  • Shannon May 24, 2009 01:12 pm

    If you are shooting two people from 5 or more feet away is it still okay to use a small aperture opening? ie:2.8 Or does your subject have to be closer to you to still be in focus?

  • Shannon May 24, 2009 01:09 pm

    You are a true inspiration. I often use your guidance and am constantly inspired by your work. You are by far my most favorite photographer. I hope your head can fit through the door after that. haha

    Honestly I just felt compelled to write you that and hope someday I have remarks like that about my photography.


  • mc biswas May 10, 2009 11:13 pm

    dof is higher when reading is higher

  • Tammy Brewster April 22, 2009 08:51 am

    Just started using AV and became very confused on aperture. Thanks for the simple terms. I just
    compare it to the eye. Makes perfect sense,

  • md. khairul niza April 9, 2009 10:31 am

    what is 3rd stops for the fstops? how should I deal with it?

  • Ron D January 7, 2009 11:08 am

    fstops work like gauge on shotguns. A 10 gauge goose gun looks like a mini cannon if you were staring down the barrel. A 28 gauge is not nearly as imposing. The larger the gauge number, the smaller the inside diameter of the barrel. This is also similar to gauge size in electrical wiring. 6 gauge wire has a much bigger diameter than 18 gauge wire.

  • Tri December 28, 2008 08:33 am

    Without doubt the most straight forward explanation of exposure/shutter speed and ISO. There are numerous sources out there that over complicate things (on purpose sometimes!) This has given me the confidence to go and explore my dSLR - THANK YOU

  • SohZing November 20, 2008 03:29 am

    Wow...this is truly simplified. I love shooting but I've never bothered to know about the technicalities till I'm getting frustrated about not being able to take certain shots due to my ignorance.
    This article is great but I still didn't get what is third stop and why should we memorize the full fstops?
    Is it possible that mine goes 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5, 5.6,6.3,6.8,13.6 or am I getting it all wrong?

  • Anna November 3, 2008 03:30 am

    My camera won't let me go under 5.6 aperture with any of my lenses, what should i do???

  • louise October 25, 2008 09:11 am

    Finally; my saviour.
    I am a third year photography degree student and I am the dunce of my class sad to say... at this point of the course; yes I can take a photo BUT for the bulk of the two years i have had my camera I have been shooting in auto because I didn't have the technical knowledge regarding aperture n shutter speeds to enable me to leap away into manual. I've only been using manual for a couple of months but often it just isn't going my way n i find myself switching back to auto to make life easier...

    anyway; thats my whinge for the day.

    I'm gonna keep reading your blog. It is the first set of explanations I have found anywhere that actually make any sense to me :)

  • Matthew Paver October 15, 2008 05:58 pm

    Wow. Coming from a beginner, you're an absolute saviour. No where else have I been able to find explanations that are so easy to understand. Fell like a pro already now ;)

  • rj September 13, 2008 04:00 pm

    there is no need to memorize all the full stops, all we have to do is remember 1 and 1.4 and multiply each of them by 2, then do the same with the results.
    1 1.4
    x2 2 2.8
    x2 4 5.6
    x2 8 11
    x2 16 22

  • Rhonda September 12, 2008 10:04 am

    Help! I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. I go all the way throught the different levels of aperture and I don't see any difference in the depth field. I'm using an Olympus E-520. Any suggestions?

  • Sean September 11, 2008 02:31 am

    "To increase sharpness in pictures in general:

    - try to use smallest aperture possible (higher f number)
    - shortest shutter speed possible (if you do not want to use tripod, 1/30 of a second or higher)
    - lower ISO (higher ISO will have more grain)"

    What is said here is true "in general" but those are the key words.

    Keep in mind that every lens has a "sweet spot" that is actually a range of f/stops and not a "spot." The "sweet spot" for most lenses is in the middle of the f/stop range. At the extremes, particularly wide open (small f/stop) the lens will be soft. But at the smaller apertures (higher f/stops) diffraction can take a toll on image sharpness.

    As far as shutter speeds go there is an old rule which states "if you use a x mm lens, then your shutter speed should not be less than 1/x s, to avoid blurring due to camera shake when you don't use a tripod. e.g. if you use
    300mm, then shutter speed should be more than 1/300s. With dSLR's the 35mm equivalent is used for the formula.

    While I don't completely buy in to that rule, particularly with Vibration Reduction (or similar technology), I think you would have a very tough time getting a tack sharp photo a 1/30 even with Vibration Reduction. The longer the focal length the more true this becomes as even the slightest movement can cause blur at longer focal lengths.

  • Ivy August 15, 2008 05:19 am

    I love you so much I just want to squeeze you! This blog is so helpful!
    I just got a Canon XTi. I will do My homework and then read the next post you have put up. :)

  • Susan August 15, 2008 02:06 am

    Wow - thank you SO much for this explanation. I finally feel like I understand this mystical thing. And the assignment really helped, too. I can totally see the difference and I understand why. Yay!

  • Author: Natalie Norton August 13, 2008 03:25 am


    The quick answer to your question is had you bumped your aperture up to 8 in low light, then yes you would have had to change your shutter speed (slow it down to let in more light) and perhaps bump up the iso (to make the digital sensor more sensitive to light). HOWEVER it's impossible for me to tell you exact numbers without being present to meter the light.

    You're going to love the follow up to this post on shutter speed. It will answer all your questions. Look for it sometime this week!



  • Tammy August 12, 2008 11:59 pm

    Yes that makes sense. I ran into a problem last week shooting a family of five at in the evening, some are in more focus than others. I switched to auto and the apeture set to F5.6 probably because it needed more light.
    Would it of helped if I set the camera to manual and apeture to F8 , what about the shutter speed and ISO?
    What is the lowest shutter speed I can set my camera at to keep everyone in focus and get sufficient light? I did have a tri-pod. Thanks

  • Author: Natalie Norton August 12, 2008 05:29 am


    Yes, any time you want a deep depth of field, you'll want a HIGHER number. Large groups of people should be shot around f8. . . depending on the look you're going for.

    Does that make sense?


  • Lise August 12, 2008 05:27 am

    I just spent the weekend shooting in AV mode and experimenting with depth of field. Wow .. what a difference .. this is now my new favorite shooting mode!

  • Norm August 11, 2008 10:50 pm

    I was looking for a simple document to help some boy scouts to understand these so they could get their photography merit badge.


  • Tammy August 11, 2008 05:17 am

    What aperture setting should the camera be set on in the manual mode for a group of people? The lighting is in the evening with sunny skies. I'm guessing the aperture should be in the middle to get everyone in focus? 7.1 & higher? For a deep depth of field?

  • Chas August 10, 2008 10:33 pm

    Tony - I had similar problems with my Samsung Pro815 Then I susddenly realised that the focus range in Green(on mine) was macro so autofocus doesn't work in this range - try it and let me know on here.
    Good luck


  • Novice at heart August 10, 2008 04:11 pm

    This is exactly was I needed! Off to do my assignment and can't wait for the next post!


  • Tony Freer August 10, 2008 03:30 am

    I own a Panasonic -dmc-fz30. My Mother called me sunny but I'm really not that bright
    . I have nothing but trouble trying to focus this camera no matter what mode or position I'm in. In 1000 words or less can u give me some tips as to how to get good focus on a regular basis. I have absolutely no one qualified enough so solve my problem. Cosidering my vintage, Dean Martin was a good friend, do you thnk that you can help, or send me to a Digital medical grad who can.

    Thank you for your time

  • Chas August 9, 2008 03:14 am

    Depth of field - the bigger the 'hole' in the lens the greater the bend in the light to focus - so shorter depth of field. Smaller hole - less bend - longer depth of field - QED.

  • jen August 9, 2008 12:28 am

    sounds interesting but when i take picture at different f stops.... i get exactly the same picture. see no difference.

  • Rob August 8, 2008 04:50 pm

    Cheryl hit the nail on the head. Think of F stops as fractions of available light entering the thru the lense. f4 is 1/4 of available light....f32 is 1/32 of available light and understandably is a much smaller hole than 1/4. When I realised this I started to understand what settings to use and when. Taking images at f2.8 or 3.5 and comparing the ones you take at f11 or 22 you will see what happens to the background. Flik your camera to Portrait mode and you will see the camera chooses a shallow (f3.5) to blur the background. Choose Landscape and the camera knows you want everything from a few feet in front of you way up top those mountains (infinity) sharp so chooses F11 or 22 etc. for you. If your camera doesn't have manual or A, use these settings instead. Try it this weekend.

  • Sharon August 8, 2008 10:28 am

    Thanks!! This is as simple as it gets. Completely understand it!!Now off to do the assignments.

  • nanasneedle August 8, 2008 07:46 am

    Thanks for simplifying aperature. It took me forever to get this straight in my mind. Great article!!!

  • sandy August 8, 2008 07:19 am

    So easy to understand.I just wish I could have had this when I was trying to learn.Thank you

  • Terri August 8, 2008 06:39 am

    Thanks!! I am a total beginner on manual photography and just ordered a Nikon D60 after much research and with use of your articles. I love your work. Thanks!!!
    Farmington, Utah, USA

  • josworld August 8, 2008 04:25 am

    simple. easy. fun! bravo!!

  • Deb August 8, 2008 02:19 am

    I loved this article, very informative and funny, (my kind of reading material) and I think I'm getting it! Thanks. The F-stop deal is like a needle gauge, the larger the number the smaller the size of the needle, at least in the nursing profession. In other words if a nurse asks you "Would you rather get poked with a 22g. or an 18g.?" go with the 22. Thanks again!

  • trout01 August 8, 2008 12:43 am

    Great post! I am a begineer and this is really great for me now I have a better understaning on how my camera works.

  • Author: Natalie Norton August 7, 2008 04:41 pm


    Bump up your iso. . .we'll talk about that in one of the follow up posts to this one. . . Even a small bump to 400 will make a substantial difference in the camera's ability to record the light. Give that a go. . . you won't get grain problems at 400. Let me know how it goes.



  • Dawn @ My Home Sweet Home August 7, 2008 01:50 pm

    Absolutely delightful post. Thanks for explaining it in a way that doesn't require a degree in mathematics.

  • Casie August 7, 2008 07:39 am

    I thought it was very helpful, although I needed just a little more help. I didn't notice a very big difference when I was zoomed all the way out. To notice a big difference you have to zoom into your subject. That made all the difference in the world to see the difference between the depths of fields being thrown out of focus. Maybe this tip would help others. Thanks for the simple explaination!

  • richard August 7, 2008 04:08 am

    Awesome post! This info is SO good. Way to make it practical!

  • Abby August 7, 2008 02:55 am

    *Jumps for joy* I finally get it thanks to your post. Thank-you!!!!!

  • Jessica August 7, 2008 02:05 am

    Wonderful!!!!!! Loved it!

  • Shivanand Sharma August 7, 2008 01:57 am

    That's oversimplification at the least.
    Exposure comprises of three technical factors at the lease
    a) The aperture
    b) The shutter speed
    c) The ISO

    The right balance between these three gives you the best. But each factor at its either end brings in a distinct angle to the picture. For e.g High ISO means more noise (generally), High shutter speed means less light but better freeze of motion, high f stop means a shallow DOF. If it could be that simple all the photography books would not be there.

  • Melizzard August 7, 2008 01:50 am

    This is wonderful now if someone would only write something like this that shows how to specifically do it on my camera (D50)I'd be in heaven.

  • Pat August 7, 2008 01:19 am

    The f-stop measuring system doesn't seem so strange if you look at it as a 'fraction' which is how it was explained to me. Then it makes sense that the smaller number is the 'larger' hole and the bigger the number, the 'smaller' the hole.

  • Cheryl August 7, 2008 12:52 am

    Wonderful way of explaining aperture. One thing that has always helped me in understanding aperture is to remember it is 1 over the number. It is a fraction. I think of 1/2.8 and 1/4 then it is easy to remember that 1/2.8 is larger than 1/4, and 1/4 is larger than 1/8, etc. The larger the denominator(bottom number) the more light is let in.

  • Jessica August 7, 2008 12:32 am

    What a great explanation! You have helped me grasp the intangible. Thanks!

  • Ralph Knapp August 6, 2008 11:43 pm

    Small F number = Big Hole
    Big F Number = Small Hole
    And the left-over tp from the house wrapping could be used for any other holes we may need to encounter in our photographic excursions. :)
    Since I latched on to technical jargon above, I've used AP quite a bit with confidence.
    Good an ya for this and the tech illustration is perfect.

  • Cathy August 6, 2008 11:40 pm

    AP is also good for fill flash too. I do tend to forget to change the aperture, instead I change the shutter speed. I think I will try the reverse. Thanks for keeping us on our toes. Don't forget to use the manual mode on your P&S cameras too. The pictures will be amazing !!!

  • jilske August 6, 2008 07:05 pm


    What was your aperture? And did you have a certain DoF in mind?

    To increase sharpness in pictures in general:

    - try to use smallest aperture possible (higher f number)
    - shortest shutter speed possible (if you do not want to use tripod, 1/30 of a second or higher)
    - lower ISO (higher ISO will have more grain)

    All of this in a combination that will allow you to have enough light coming in and focus where you want.

    It would be hard to answer your question without knowing what the general lighting conditions were and which aperture you were using...

  • Adino August 6, 2008 04:29 pm

    Thanks Natalie for this great post!

    I love the Quiz and Assignments... it really helps me to stop to digest what I've read instead of just skimming through. Looking forward to the next tutorial on shutter speed.

  • Saju Joseph August 6, 2008 04:14 pm

    Great Post! ... I loved it ...

  • Amanda August 6, 2008 12:42 pm

    Great post! Now, I'm going to be the annoying student with the tricky question. I think I "get" the aperture lesson as well as ISO...but just the other day I was shooting outside (sorta cloudy) so I had ISO at 200, and I wanted everything crisp and focused (taking shots of newly finished flower gardens). I was using a 50mm fixed lens and found that I when I adjusted the shutter speed to get the proper exposure, I ended up with camera shake.

    My question, you ask? To fix this I could a) use a tripod (blech - I'll soon have 2 kids under 2 and haven't the time nor the energy to do such a thing) or b) sacrifice some of my depth of field to find a shutter speed that wouldn't cause blur (again an option when shooting flowers that don't move much, but not fabulous for the fleeting faces of little ones).

    Are these really my only options? I guess I just feel like my images lack the "crispness" that I see in so many other photos. And yes, I know I haven't begun talking post-processing here.

    Again, my apologies - I just appreciate your candid explanations and feel like maybe your response is one I could actually understand!!! Thanks a bunch! :)

  • Amanda August 6, 2008 12:39 pm

    Great post! Now, I'm going to be the annoying student with the tricky question. I think I "get" the aperture lesson as well as ISO...but just the other day I was shooting outside (sorta cloudy) so I had ISO at 200, and I wanted everything crisp and focused (taking shots of newly finished flower gardens). I was using a 50mm fixed lens and found that I when I adjusted the shutter speed to get the proper exposure, I ended up with camera shake.

    My question, you ask? To fix this I could a) use a tripod (blech - I'll soon have 2 kids under 2 and haven't the time nor the energy to do such a thing) or b) sacrifice some of my depth of field to find a shutter speed that wouldn't cause blur (again an option when shooting flowers that don't move much, but not fabulous for the fleeting faces of little ones).

    Are these really my only options? I guess I just feel like my images lack the "crispness" that I see in so many other photos. And yes, I know I haven't begun talking post-processing here.

    Again, my apologies - I just appreciate your candid explanations and feel like maybe your response is one I could actually understand!!! Thanks! :)

  • Pete Langlois August 6, 2008 12:33 pm

    Great article and excellent illustrations! Same thing with wire gauge, smaller the number the larger the wire and opening you'll need to fit the wire through.


  • Shelly August 6, 2008 12:01 pm

    You're wonderful, Natalie. Have you considered a career in teaching?? I loved everything about this article!

  • Kris August 6, 2008 11:45 am

    I dig it!

  • wilsonian August 6, 2008 11:29 am

    I love you.

  • Charity August 6, 2008 10:34 am

    Lens apertures have a smaller number the bigger they are. Body jewelry numbers are smaller the bigger they are. WHAT IS THE CONNECTION?

  • Gayle August 6, 2008 10:25 am

    Natalie, thank you! I love the way you have explained aperature. I actually understand what you're saying! (Obviously I'm new to photography!) I will work on the assignment tomorrow!

  • Anthony August 6, 2008 09:47 am

    Well explained. I think a brief follow-up on this reviewing how focal length effects DOF would be very useful to the beginner as well.

  • zulfadhli August 6, 2008 09:36 am

    good job.. it is true that when you use manual setting, your pictures will get much much better than using manual.. After all, what is the point of using auto mode after spending your money to get the DSLR.. it will be a waste of your money if you are only using auto mode. try to learn the basics or principles of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It will worth your money and thanks to Natalie for her superb explanation of what aperture is really about.

  • Nadine August 6, 2008 07:03 am

    Natalie I love your posts! Thank you.

  • Mandy August 6, 2008 06:40 am

    Oooh this is great I've just bought my first DSLR so I can't wait to give these assignments a go!!!

    I also like the way you teach, very easy to understand. Which with these subjects is appreciated.

  • nate August 6, 2008 06:12 am

    im down for toilet papering his/her house!

    the way i remember it, is that the higher number, the more extended the mechanism is that makes the hole smaller. the smaller, the less of that mechanism is showing.


  • dark_knight August 6, 2008 05:13 am

    In some sitches, I find myself checking my M or Av settings against the P (Pro?) settings. If they aren't substantially different or I'm not shooting for "effect" - I go P, baby!

    my $.02 ($.00003 adjusted for inflation)

  • Chris Ostermann August 6, 2008 04:40 am


    I laughed my ass off at the picture.
    Bravo for humor + content.

  • karlee August 6, 2008 04:22 am

    we need more simple posts like these. I read, read and read until I think I have it..but I don't. this post was top notch!

  • Eddie August 6, 2008 02:29 am

    Didn't really know about the 1/3 stops until now. Really good article!

  • Gini August 6, 2008 02:27 am

    I have had my troubles understanding the manual modes. Thanks for this simple yet effective tutorial.

  • Beau August 6, 2008 02:04 am

    If you go from 2.8 to 4 isn't that considered 'stopping down' (instead of 'stopping up'? Confusing because of the numbers being opposite of the size of the hole, because down could refer to Fstop or the size of the whole.

    My understanding is that going from 2.8 to 4 would be 'stopping down'.

  • taryn August 6, 2008 01:57 am

    thanks for explaining that for us in layman's terms. it makes perfect sense.

  • Ann August 6, 2008 01:48 am

    Thanks for the oversimplification of this :) Loved the drawings.

  • Everett August 6, 2008 01:08 am

    The difference in depths of field between f/8 and f/11 is amazing. I never realized such a difference. Granted, I mostly use f/8, but not I'm strongly considering f/11 for shots I want crystal clear.

  • Chattanooga Photographer August 6, 2008 12:50 am

    Great beginners guide. I'll be sure to point some folks to this. Cheers!

  • Bart August 6, 2008 12:40 am

    I will gladly join you on a TP'ing venture of the genius who came up with the f-stop measurement system. I mean, I'm sure they had some logical reason, but does that really completely trump having an intuitive measuring system?

  • Mathieu August 6, 2008 12:30 am

    Great post for the beginners, you explained very well what was Aperture, the stops. I've got to say, beautiful drawing! =P