Creativity, imagination, passion, eye for detail, and patience are some of the desirable qualities of an exemplary photographer. These are not just characteristics you develop overnight but through time and experience.

Nevertheless, beneath all these desirable qualities, a good photographer must understand the fundamental pillars of photography. These are the shutter speed, ISO, and, of course, the aperture. In this article, we will focus on the third pillar – the aperture.

This guide will answer questions such as “What is aperture” and “How does aperture affect photos?” So sit down, grab a pen and paper, and let’s delve into everything you need to know about aperture.

What is Aperture?

Aperture refers to the opening of a hole inside a camera lens, through which light passes. It is the point at which light enters the camera, affecting the brightness of the captured image.

This concept is applicable not only to cameras but also to telescopes and microscopes. It is similar to the human eye – when your eyes are wide open, more light enters, and when you squint, less light enters.

When it comes to cameras, the concept is simple: the larger the aperture, the brighter the photo, as more light enters. Conversely, a smaller aperture allows less light, resulting in a darker photo.

Aperture affects brightness, exposure, depth of field, and other effects. Let’s delve into these further.

What Does Aperture Do to Your Photos?

Aperture settings affect three main aspects: shutter speed, exposure, and depth of field. Adjusting these settings produces a range of effects, such as a shallow focus or a blurry subject. Aperture also affects the performance of photographers, as it impacts shutter speed. So, how important is the right choice of aperture?

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the duration that the camera’s shutter remains open. When a lens uses a wider aperture, allowing more light, the shutter doesn’t need to stay open for long.

This is especially crucial for capturing fast motion, as a fast shutter speed ensures no blurring or freezing of moments. The aperture plays a significant role in the performance of photographers in situations like sporting events, where every moment needs to be captured accurately and instantaneously.


Aperture significantly affects the overall brightness or exposure of an image, as it controls the amount of light entering the camera. A larger aperture in dark environments, such as night photography, allows capturing natural-looking photos without using a flash. On the other hand, smaller apertures are recommended for capturing outdoor photos in broad daylight, where ample sunlight serves as the primary light source.

It is essential to note that aperture is not the sole determinant of exposure. The ISO setting, which determines the camera’s sensitivity to light, also contributes to achieving the desired exposure.

Depth of Field

Aperture plays a crucial role in controlling the depth of field, which refers to the area in front of and behind the main point of focus that appears sharp. A large aperture results in a shallow depth of field, where the foreground and background blur, allowing photographers to isolate their subjects and create an aesthetically pleasing effect.

For portrait photography, a large aperture can be used to blur the foreground, thereby emphasizing the subject. On the other hand, smaller apertures are recommended for landscape, architectural, and nature photography, where the goal is to capture a detailed and sharp image throughout the frame.

It is important to note that the subject’s distance and the lens’s focal length also affect the depth of field.

Now that we understand how aperture affects photos and videos, let’s get more technical and explore how to identify aperture settings on your camera and the technical terms associated with it.

What is F-stop?

The terms “F-stop” or “F-number” refer to the technical terms used to describe aperture in photography. These terms are often seen on camera settings, but many people are unsure of their meaning.

The F-stop is usually written as f/2, f/8, f/22, or f2, f8, or f22, depending on the camera brand. The F-stop values determine the size of the aperture used in a photo.

The concept of understanding F-stop is simple: smaller F-stop numbers indicate wider apertures, allowing more light to enter and resulting in a shallower depth of field. Larger F-stop numbers indicate smaller apertures, allowing less light and resulting in a deeper depth of field.

Wide Aperture

A wide aperture, also known as a large aperture, allows more light into the camera. An F-stop of f/2.8 is considered large. F-stops after f/2.8 but less than f/8 can still be considered wide apertures, depending on the lens’s distance to the subject.

Wide Aperture Mode

The wide aperture mode has several effects on a photo, such as a shallow depth of field, subject isolation, bokeh, creative bokeh, low light photography, and action photography.

A wide aperture is ideal for capturing subjects in low light conditions or fast-moving scenarios, as it allows for faster shutter speeds and emphasizes subject isolation. It can also create pleasing bokeh, which refers to the aesthetic quality of the blurry background in an image.

Photographers can even create creative bokeh by using cutouts or filters in front of the lens to shape the bokeh into various forms, such as hearts or stars.

  • Recommended uses of wide aperture:
  • Shallow depth of field
  • Subject isolation
  • Bokeh
  • Creative bokeh
  • Low light photography
  • Action photography
  • Portrait photography

Low Aperture

A low aperture, also known as a small aperture, has a higher F-stop numerical equivalent, such as f/11, f/16, or f/22. A small aperture allows less light into the camera and results in a thinner depth of field.

Benefits of Low Aperture

Low apertures are ideal for landscape, architectural, aerial, and starburst effects. They allow for a larger depth of field, ensuring that all elements in the photo are sharp and detailed.

Additionally, lower apertures are great for achieving starburst effects from lights, such as streetlights and sunlight. They can also be used for panning, where a moving subject is captured with a sense of motion blur.

  • Recommended uses of low aperture:
  • Landscape photography
  • Architectural photography
  • Aerial photography
  • Starburst effects
  • Panning
  • Group photos

Minimum and Maximum Aperture of Lenses

Each lens has a minimum and maximum aperture capacity, denoted by the lens specifications. It is crucial to check these specifications before purchasing a lens.

Photography experts recommend investing in lenses with a wider maximum aperture, such as f/1.4, as they allow for faster shutter speeds, more light, and greater control over depth of field. Lenses with narrow maximum apertures, around f/4.0, are considered slower lenses.

When it comes to minimum aperture, modern lenses typically provide a minimum aperture of around f/16, which is suitable for most situations.

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses have variable maximum apertures that change as you zoom in or out. Some expensive zoom lenses maintain a constant maximum aperture throughout the zoom range, while others have varying maximum apertures.

Prime lenses, which have fixed focal lengths, often have wider maximum apertures compared to zoom lenses. This is why prime lenses are favored by many photographers.

Examples of Aperture Use

Now that we understand aperture and its effects, let’s explore some examples of aperture use:

  • Fastest maximum apertures (e.g., f/0.95 to f/1.4) are ideal for low-light conditions, night sky photography, and capturing subjects with a shallow depth of field.
  • Larger apertures (e.g., f/1.8 to f/2.0) are suitable for aesthetically pleasing photos and low-light capabilities.
  • Professional-grade lenses and enthusiast zoom lenses typically have maximum apertures ranging from f/2.8 to f/4, allowing for versatile photography in various settings.
  • Apertures ranging from f/5.6 to f/8 are preferred for architectural, landscape, and group photography, as they offer overall sharpness.
  • Apertures ranging from f/11 to f/16 are suitable for maximum depth of field in landscape, architectural, and macro photography. However, diffraction may affect sharpness.
  • Apertures smaller than f/22 are generally not recommended due to significant loss of sharpness and blurred images.

Negative Effects of Diffraction

Diffraction refers to the blurring of fine details in an image as the aperture size decreases. For landscape photography, where sharpness is crucial, smaller apertures like f/22 should be avoided.

Impact of Lens Aberrations

Lens aberrations, such as chromatic aberration and distortion, affect the sharpness and overall image quality. These aberrations can worsen or remain the same when adjusting the aperture size.

Small Aperture and Unwanted Elements

Using a small aperture like f/11 to f/16 can inadvertently focus on unwanted elements in the foreground or capture dust specks on the camera sensor. Wider apertures can help avoid these issues.

Focus Shift Problems

Focus shift refers to the problem some lenses experience, where the point of focus shifts as the aperture size changes. To compensate for focus shift, photographers must adjust their focusing techniques based on the aperture range they are using.

Autofocus System

The camera’s autofocus system adjusts the focus automatically based on the aperture settings. It is recommended to invest in lenses with wider maximum apertures for better autofocus performance, especially in low-light conditions.

Flash Exposure

Aperture plays a significant role in controlling flash exposure and is more important than shutter speed in this regard.

Aperture in Videos

In videos, wider apertures are often used, especially for close-up shots, to create a shallow depth of field and isolate the subject from the background.

In conclusion, aperture is a critical element of photography that affects exposure, depth of field, and various creative effects. Understanding aperture and its effects allows photographers to capture stunning images and videos. Remember to experiment, practice, and have fun with aperture settings to unleash your creativity!