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30 Pictures in 30 Days - Day 18

30 Pictures in 30 Days - Day 18 - Learn how to use aperture for greater creative control of your photography.

Today's theme is APERTURE. 

Aperture is the size of the opening inside the lens when you take a picture.  The size (which is adjustable) determines how much light gets into the camera when you take a picture.

Aperture is measured by the term f-stop, and is reflected with an "f" and a "/" before the aperture value. 

Like this:  f/8.0.

It can get confusing, but here is what you need to know.  A low number (like f/2.8) means a big opening, which means more light gets in.  This is useful in a variety of settings, including low ambient light.  A high number (like f/16) means a small opening, which means less light gets in. This is why it can be difficult to take a sharp picture of a whole bunch of people if there isn't enough light outside. 

Aperture all by itself probably isn't very interesting.  It's more of a technical thing. 

Low f/stop = larger opening + more light. 
Higher f/stop = smaller opening + less light. 

However (and this is the intersting part), aperture also plays a role in depth of field.  Depth of field determines how much of your image will be in focus. 

Low f/stop = smaller area of focus
High f/stop = larger area of focus

So if you are taking a portrait of a piece of fruit, and you want the background to be soft so that the focus stands out, you need a lower f/stop, or lower aperture setting.

If you want to take a portrait of a basketball team and you want the back row to be as clear and crisp as the front row, you need a higher f/stop, or higher aperture setting.

The trick in either situation is to have the right amount of light to get the results you need. 

I could go on and on forever, but we're going to stop here for now.  Here is your assignment for today's theme. 

1.  Find one item in your kitchen that you'd like to photograph (or another room if you so choose).  This item will be your "subject".

2.  Place it on an open space, like a counter top, and then place a few more random objects behind it. Perhaps they are items that are different shapes, heights and/or colors. Or, you could even use a simple backsplash.

3.  Be creative, and organize whatever you choose in a pleasing way.  I'd recommend that your item in front maybe be a little shorter than the items in your background if possible, just so that you can see them in your pictures. 

4.  Take 3 pictures. 

Picture #1:  Choose a higher aperture setting for your camera will realistically allow.  That would often be around f/22, but things like ambient light, your flash and/or your lens will all determine this.   Focus on your subject.  Your entire image, or most of it, should be in focus. Even the items in the background. Write down your camera settings from this image.  Shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Coffee and Fruit #1 - f/8.0, Shutter 1/50, ISO 400

The highest f/stop I could choose was f/8.0 because of low light in my kitchen in the early morning.  I also had to bump up my ISO because I did not want to use flash.  However, even at f/8.0 you can see that the plate of fruit in the background is relatively sharp, and it's about 18" behind the coffee mug.  

The photos on the wall and the blinds etc, WAY behind aren't in focus (and they shouldn't be), but you can still pick out the detail. 

Picture #2: Now, adjust your aperture so that it is at around 5.6 - 6.0 if possible.  Again, focus on your subject.  It should be in focus, and you should see that the items in the background are slightly blurred or out of focus. Write down your camera settings.

Coffee and Fruit #2:  f/4.0, Shutter 1/50, ISO 400

At f/4.0, there is a really nice blur to the background.  The fruit is less sharp than in the first version, but has a nice blur to it.  It makes the coffee mug "pop" nicely.  If you look at the prints hanging on the wall in the background (left) you can see the difference in their shape vs the first picture as well. 

Picture #3:  Lastly, adjust your aperture to it's LOWEST setting.  How low you can set it will depend on your particular lens / camera.  For some, you won't be able to go below 5.6.  If so, just take the picture and document it as such.  For others, you might be able to get down to 4.0 or maybe even 2.8.  Record your camera settings.

Coffee and Fruit #3:  f/1.6, Shutter 1/80, ISO 400

In image #3, you can see a lot more blur in the fruit.  The coffee cup still pops, but at an f/stop of 1.6, not even the entire coffee cup is sharp, so I would say that the f/stop here was too low for the subject.

Overall, my preference would be image #2. I'd be interested in your thoughts.  

When you upload these pictures, please be sure to include your camera settings with each picture, and tell me which one you like the best and why. 

Any questions, just holla! 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mark A. Schaffer March 02, 2012 at 04:48 AM
The Aperture challenge turned out harder than I thought it would be. While the use of Aperture priority is indeed demonstrated, the results nonetheless were not quite what I had hoped for. I used an old Tokina AF 28-70mm F2.8-4.5 that I recently stumbled upon at National Camera for $40. It was manufactured likely in the early '80's and for 35mm film cameras. The difference between the in-focus and slightly out-of-focus areas is not as apparent as with more modern lenses. I learning how to use a flash, but have not learned how to truly use it properly yet. Looking at the shots now, I should have increased flash exposure compensation to light up the scene a bit more. I used a black fabric background and our black granite counter to…which, combined with less than ideal lighting resulted in images that are probably too dark. So what would I have done differently for this challenge? First, I would have used the AF-S DX 35mm F1.8G prime lens. This lens is very sharp and minor changes in Aperture are very evident with this lens. Second, I would have worked on the lighting more or better yet…taken the shots during the day so I had more natural light to work with. I think if I had gotten the lighting better the black background would have worked better and been ok. Originally, I thought I should not submit these. Then I thought why not. I made some mistakes, I know what they are now and hopefully others can learn by my mistakes so the can themselves avoid them.
Mark A. Schaffer March 02, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Aperture challenge…revisited. It is often said that “three is a charm.” But, for this challenge four turned out to be the winning number. I submitted four new samples to demonstrate the effect of progressively larger Apertures. After my less than stellar result yesterday, I had to try again!
Maris Ehlers March 02, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Very nice, Mark. I like this last round the best. In your previous (2nd round), using a black background is really tricky. Ideally, you'd need to have a light coming from the background to the back of the subject to help both separate it from the background and keep the background black. Tricky to do, but it can be done with a flashlight, etc. Love round 3. Good job!
Mark A. Schaffer March 02, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Thanks Maris, what a great "challenge" topic. It is one thing to use Aperture priority to get a given effect, but as I learned it is quite another to "demonstrate" it to others through a series of still life shots like this. I do very much like to use the black backgrounds for some shots..but as you can see by my submissions...no studio lighting here! I may have to eventually invest in some small lights for the still life shots I would like to do. Of course...I should expand my thinking to other colors for backgrounds as well. :-)
Maris Ehlers March 13, 2012 at 05:22 AM
Hey, Nicole: I can explain. If you were using a fixed lens, like a 100mm lens, the lens might say f/2.8, and that would mean that is the lowest aperture setting you can get with that lens. I would say that you were using a zoom lens, and so the f/3.5 - f/5.6 is the lowest aperture range you can get with that lens, depending on how far out you are zoomed (if you are zoomed out to the max, then the lowest aperture setting you can get would be f/5.6). The f/3.5 - f/5.6 description doesn't have anything to do with the higher aperture range of your lens. :) I hope this helps!

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