Camera Tutorial – A Lesson on Apertures

October 2, 2007

in Camera Tips, Photography Tips, Rachel Durik

free photography tutorial aperture

One of the questions I’m most often asked about photography is how I get that “blurry background” in pictures. And the answer is simple – it has to do with the aperture.

Chances are you’ve heard of apertures. And if you’re anything like me when I first got my camera, you have no clue what that means or how it’s related to your photography. In fact, I can remember totally giving up on trying to learn about apertures one day because I couldn’t keep my terms straight and it all didn’t make sense. But let me encourage you, this stuff all seems so simple and basic to me now, just a short matter of months after I began learning. And it can for you, TOO!

In photography, aperture refers to the amount of light the lens lets in. A wider aperture lets in a lot of light, while a smaller aperture lets in less light. Wide apertures are low numbers, and vice verse. For instance, an aperture of f/1.4 is a very wide aperture while f/22 is a very small aperture. Let me show you a diagram, which can be found at this site.

Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Apertures

Now, the smaller the aperture, say f/22, the greater the depth of field will be. That means that more things are going to be in focus. You’d use these kind of apertures for landscapes. If you have a very wide aperture, say f/1.4, only the focal point will be in focus. The rest will appear blurry, as a lot of you have commented that you like. You’d use these kind of apertures for portraits to help the subject stand out.

To demonstrate what I mean, I took a series of pictures of the same flower but with different apertures. Take a look. It starts with the widest aperture and works its way down.

Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Aperturesf/1.4
Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Aperturesf/2.8
Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Aperturesf/5.6
Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Aperturesf/8
Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Aperturesf/11
Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Aperturesf/15
Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Aperturesf/20

Can you see the different in blurriness of the background?

Another thing I should point out is that when you use a small aperture (remember, small aperture means high number), less light is getting in and the shutter needs to stay open longer for a good exposure, so you have susceptibility of camera shake leaving a blurry picture. Blurry in a bad way. So when you get to smaller apertures, you may have to increase the ISO. In this series, once I got to f/15, I had to increase from ISO 100 to 200 and then to 400 for f/20. More on that to come next time.

Now it’s your turn. If you have an SLR camera, you can control the aperture. Most point and shoots have the ability to manipulate this as well. In fact, my cousin Aprille has a point and shoot camera, but has amazing photography skills and really pushes herself to get the most out of her camera.She’s still able to obtain the blurry background with her point and shoot. So just because you don’t have an SLR doesn’t mean you can’t take amazing pictures!

But since I have a Canon DSLR, I’ll show you how to change the aperture on that. Get your camera out and turn the knob on the top to Av, as circled below. (You can also adjust apertures in the fully manual mode.)

Photography Tutorial - A Lesson on Apertures

Now that you’re in the mode to control the aperture, you can turn the dial (as circled) to your desired aperture. It will appear on the screen in the top center as f__(insert aperture). You don’t need to worry about shutter speed because when you’re in Av mode, the shutter speed is automatically done for you when you choose the aperture. I should also mention that your aperture is limited by the camera and the lens. I used a 50 mm f/1.4 lens for the photos above, so I could go anywhere between f/1.4 and f/22. Kit lenses are usually more limited with apertures. (More on lenses to come.)

So now the only thing left to do is experiment! It’s one thing to read, but when you do it and see the results for yourself, it will stick. And what better to experiment on than faces for I Heart Faces!

Again, don’t be discouraged if it seems difficult. Once you begin manipulating apertures it’ll become second nature.

Find more great tutorials about your camera:

Rachel is a self-taught blogger-turned-photographer and mother of two. Once the “bad picture taker” of the family, she opened up her own photography business within a year of buying her first DSLR. She is located in Eastern North Carolina and can be found at Savor Photography and her blog, The Adventures of an American Mum.


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Wanda Ray June 5, 2013

I found you on Pintrest and i have to tell you i really appreicate your help. For my birthday my wonderful husband got me a Nikon D5200, and i can not wait to use it. I am going to take your advice to heart. Again thank you so much.


margaret May 1, 2013

I received a new canon dslr for Christmas. Now thanks to you I think I can do more with it than just auto mode. thanks


Rose December 27, 2012

I am so glad I finally found this with the help of some friends. I am still learning my camera and had no idea what a TV was. I finally learned what an aperture was. thank you so much


Nikki September 17, 2012

I wonder am I doing something wrong… my numbers won’t go any lower than 5.6?


Diane February 24, 2012

OMG thank you so much, this was so helpfull!!!


Angie December 2, 2011

RT: @iheartfaces Photography Tutorial – A Lesson on Apertures | I Heart Faces


Amy Locurto December 1, 2011

RT @iheartfaces: Camera Tutorial – A Lesson on Apertures


Dorothy @ Singular Insanity December 1, 2011

This has been the single best piece of learning I’ve had about my camera ever! I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this for years and now finally I can….. Thank you, so much!


Christina March 25, 2011

Thank you so much for all your wonderful tutorials! I love this site! As a mom of 4 and a photography lover and ‘wanna be’ its so helpful to have some of the finer details explained in a way that makes since to me.


Lucy Chen March 9, 2011

Thanks for the tutorial. How do you take these blurry background photos with a point-and-shoot camera though? Thanks.


Paula December 31, 2010

THANK YOU! 🙂 I finally got it! I have had a 3.5 + camera lens but have been wanting a 1.4, 2.8 lenses that are set. Thank you for finally putting it in perspective for me. Aperture has been a bit confusing for me, but I am starting to get it.. 🙂 Also thank you for the pictures of the flower. 🙂


Kristen Hay December 30, 2010

Great article Rachel! Do you regularly use the AV mode? I really only use my fully manual mode and wondered if that is not optimal?


April Russell December 29, 2010

Thanks for the post! I did my own experiment and lesson after reading this!


Rachel December 29, 2010

Loved this article….agree with Amanda! Wonderful explanation for beginners! In fact I wanted to share this on Facebook with some friends, but someone apparently flagged this article as spam or as inappropriate content!!!! So I reported to Facebook that it was in error…hope it helps so that I can share this article soon!!! Seems there has to be ugly haters everywhere…..
On to read more about ISO…be back to check later and see if its fixed so I can pass this article along!
Thanks and keep this great info coming!


Amanda December 26, 2010

Great explanation of a very complicated subject for beginners. I’ll be sharing this with my friends who are JSO.


Paula Francovig December 21, 2010

You are an amazing photography teacher!!! Loooove the examples you gave to us!!!! Thank you!!!!!


Crafterminds Heather December 14, 2010

RT @nicole_rainey: Great tutorial for beginners. “Apertures” Tutorial by Rachel


Mylene Wallace November 28, 2010

Thank you so much for this tutorial. I always forget which way my aperture needs to go between landscapes to portraits. This has been so helpful for me with your examples that you’ve posted!!


becca boo photography November 19, 2010

SOOOO cool! Thank you, thank you!!! I’ve been trying to figure this out and you just made it “click” for me!!! Yay!


Krista Stark October 28, 2010

I know this is a few months old but I am new to the site and to photography. Your explanation of apeture was amazing, thank you so much!
I was wondering if you have any other camera related articles? 🙂


Jericca October 12, 2010

Thank you soooo much..I LOVE taking pictures but I am not good at it…my hubby got me a Canon for my birthday last year and I just point and shoot…luckly, I’ve gotten some good shots of my kiddo…this helps to understand that foreign language also know as photo terms..thank you


Rachael M September 26, 2010

Wow! Thank you. I have been reading and reading about this, but have been so discouraged to use my Canon the way I would like to due to all the confusion. Your piece is so well written and I feel like I can actually go and experiment tomorrow.


Heather Schnider August 26, 2010

Thank you so much. The most concise and straightforward explaination I have found and I think I acutally understand it!


Joy August 9, 2010

This was so helpful! I just got my Canon and I totally love it. I’m working on Depth of field so this is perfect!


CameraNewbie July 20, 2010

I recently bought my very first DSLR before a trip to Trinidad. I’ve wanted one for so long and finally broke down. I tried to crash course read DSLRS for Dummies and it was “kinda” helpful, but just as you said, one day I just quit trying to understand! I’m loving playing around with my camera and exploring, but I get frustrated not really understanding what I’m doing. Thank you so much for your easy to understand tutorial (w/ pictures)! I can’t wait to get out there and try some new shots!


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