Sunday, April 14, 2013

Photography For Beginners Understanding Aperture (F-Stop)

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When I first started out in photography and I was trying to wrap my head around the technical aspect of it I realized that some of the language was a bit confusing and even seemed to contradict itself. In the hopes of making photography easier to understand for a beginner, I have decided to write a blog post to try and demystify some of the technical aspects of photography and put in terms that the average person can understand. 

It’s easy to use the “auto” on your camera dial but if you want better pictures you will need to have a little more control of your camera as opposed to the camera having the most control over the decisions. Most SLR cameras have Aperture priority, Shutter priority, program for shutter & aperture priority combined and Manual. Today we will be working with aperture priority. Your camera manual will tell you how to access this mode on your camera. On a Nikon it is A on the dial.
We will begin with understanding what aperture (F-stop) is. It appears that the numbers on the dial are backwards from the photo terminology that describes them. A large aperture (F-stop) for example is 2.8 but a small aperture is 22. Huh? The description describes what is going on in the camera and to further confuse this, making the number larger is called “stopping down”.  Why are they different?
The description actually doesn’t describe the size of the number but rather the size of the aperture (the part of the camera that allows more or less light in). A larger aperture (letting more light in would be F 2.8 for example and stopping down to the smallest aperture would be at F 22 on a lens or camera that has a scale of F 2.8- 22.
Now that we have that part out of the way, what is important is that you understand how to use the F stop numbers to your advantage. A larger F stop number for example 22 or 32 will give you more depth of field meaning that more of what you see in a photo from foreground to focal point to background will be sharper and in better focus. This would be a good setting for landscapes for example. On the other end of the scale, if you were shooting a portrait and there were many distracting objects in the background, a smaller f stop number would be your choice. By choosing a smaller f stop number like say f 5.6, this will soften the objects in the back ground so that your subject will stand out more.

Something else to consider about the F-stop you choose is how it affects your shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed is, the better your chances of getting a sharp photo are. Factors such as movement in your subject and camera shake that occurs when you press the shutter button can all affect sharpness. You can use F stop to help with the camera shake.  If hand holding a shot, it’s not a good idea to hand hold anything with a shutter speed of less than 1/60. A tripod is best for those instances that are less than 1/60. To help with camera shake problem, some cameras and lenses now come with vibration reduction also called image stabilization which does allow you to hand hold at a slower shutter speed ( possibly down to 1/30 depending on how steady you are).  So what do you do if you don’t have a tripod and you have a slow shutter speed?  This is where your F-stop comes into play. You won’t get as big of a depth of field but if you lower your F-stop number it will increase your shutter speed number. This will enable your chances of getting a sharper photo of you subject.

Thank you for stopping by to read my blog and I hope you found this information helpful. Happy Shooting.

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