Camera Aperture Settings

Picture taken with wide aperture

If you want to take your photography skills up a notch and move away from the automatic mode, then you need to know what camera aperture settings you will need in different situations. Make the transition from photography novice to know-it-all.

What is Aperture?

When your camera takes a picture, it uses a shutter-like device to let light inside the camera. This shutter opens more or less, depending on the photo's light needs.

Think of the camera's aperture settings as a window for the camera. When there is too much light in a room, you close the blinds a little to adjust the lighting. When the room is too dark, you open the blinds. The aperture works the same way.

Shutter Speed

To get the proper exposure in a picture, you must make the aperture setting work with the shutter speed when in manual mode.

A fast shutter speed makes the aperture stay open for a shorter amount of time. A slow shutter speed makes the aperture stay open a longer amount of time. One stop lets in twice as much light or shuts out twice as much light. So, speeding up your shutter speed one stop lets in half as much light. Lowering the speed one stop doubles the amount of light.

The two can work together to create a bright image or a dark image, depending on the settings. If you have your aperture set wide and your shutter speed set slow, then you will be letting a lot of light into the camera, for example.

For a more automatic setting, you can stick with a speed of 1/60. This speed is a median setting that works for most pictures. Anything slower can create camera shake and will require you to use a tripod.

To avoid figuring out the shutter speed, set your camera to aperture priority mode and your camera will take care of the shutter speed.

Setting Basics

The way you open and shut the camera's aperture depends on what type of camera you have. If you have an SLR, the aperture settings will be a ring around the barrel of the lens. On a digital camera, you will set the mode to aperture priority mode, which is usually marked by an 'A' icon or manual mode, which is marked by a 'M' icon.

An f-stop is the measurement of how open or closed an aperture is. The camera aperture settings are marked as f/8, f-8, or 1:8. The way the number looks on a camera's LCD screen or lens barrel differs depending on what brand of camera it is. The f/8 style of listing f-stops is the most popular.

The number part (in this case an 8) changes depending on the size of the aperture. The higher the number is, the smaller the aperture. The smaller the number is, the bigger the aperture. For example, a setting of f/8 lets in less light than f/5.

Letting in more light or less can affect your depth of field. This means that less light keeps things in the distance in focus. More light makes things behind your subject fuzzy. This can be useful, depending on your needs. For example, if you are taking photographs of a landscape, you want the entire scene to be clear, so you use a larger f-stop number, which means less light is entering the camera. If you are taking a portrait of someone, you may want the distracting background to be blurry, so you may set the f-stop to a smaller number, which lets more light into the camera.

Camera Aperture Settings Cheat Sheet

As the example above shows, the setting you choose depends on what you are shooting and what effect you want. In general, f/8 is a good all-around setting that can be used in areas that are well lit and don't require any special accommodations. Low light, depth of field, action and landscape situations need different settings. Knowing the proper setting comes with practice. You can use this cheat sheet to help you figure out what camera aperture setting you need until you are more skilled.

  • Night Scenes or low light- f/5 to f/7
  • Landscapes- f/16
  • To make the subject in focus and the background blurred- f/4
  • Daylight- f/8
  • Action- f/2
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Camera Aperture Settings