More and more people have DSLR cameras nowadays, not just pros. Even if someone doesn’t own a DSLR, they will almost certainly come in contact with one. The other day, we asked our waiter to take our group’s picture using my friend’s camera. He could. not. figure. out. that you had to look through the viewfinder to “see” the picture.
Protip: if there’s a viewfinder, you look through it. Don’t be that guy.
I’ve been wanting to do this series for a while, because I love pictures and photography and my heart gets a sad when I see people struggling to make their camera do something they KNOW it’s capable of doing, but can’t quite figure out how to get there.
Also, handing my camera, or even my phone, to someone and getting a picture so poorly composed I literally-literally want to cry. We’ll talk about composition, too.
First, function. DSLRs have lots of preset modes, and obviously they are designed to make it simpler to get the shot you want. Generally they work really well. But how do they do it? They do it by manipulating (at least) 3 basic settings: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. ISO is the silent partner when it comes to your manual modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and full-on Manual).
Today, we’ll talk about Aperture. Aperture is the setting on the camera (actually, the lens) with the decimal. It controls how open the lens is, how much light the lens will let into the camera. You know how your Portrait setting (sometimes even Auto if the camera is intuitive enough) takes those gorgeous headshorts where the face is crisp and clear but the background is all hazy and pretty? That’s the power of Aperture.
And when you shoot in Aperture Priority mode (usually “A” or “Av” on your camera) you can adjust that power so that more or less of that foreground is in focus.
There are more technically-correct terms, but the best way I remember how Aperture works is to think of the setting numbers like a distance. The smaller the number, the close the distance that is in focus. That’s called “depth of field.” For example:
Shutter speed: 1/125sec
See how the closer part of Achilles is in focus, but his body and the tile are blown out? Smaller f-stop (number setting), shallower depth of field. If Achilles hadn’t been moving, his whole face would have been nice and clear.
Shutter speed: 1/400sec
Now, Jeb and the stroller and the ground are all nice and clear. That’s a long depth of field. Plus, being outside with LOTS of sunlight, I was able to use a high aperture setting + fast shutter speed to control the amount of light going into my camera, making sure the details were preserved and nothing got whited-out.
Aperture is probably the most fun function to play around with. You can get the most out of your DSLR’s Aperture capabilities when you buy portrait or macro lenses, capable of shallower depth of field settings than your typical kit lenses. They aren’t cheap, but the are so much fun when you get used to them!
What aperture tricks have you picked up along the way? Do you enjoy shooting in Aperture Priority?