Photography – Aperture and Shutter Speed Basics
If you’re new to learning photography, camera aperture and shutter speed are two of the most important things to learn. They allow you a lot of creative control and are available to adjust in some compact cameras and most bridge and DSLR cameras.
When you first start using the manual settings of your camera it may seem a bit overwhelming but the improvement you’ll see in your images will be well worth the effort.
The aperture of a camera works a lot like how the iris of a person’s eye works. Just like your irises widen or narrow to let in more or less light through the pupils, the camera’s lens diaphragm widens or narrows to let in more or less light through the lens. The aperture is the size of this opening.
Aperture lets the photographer (or the camera’s exposure computer if it’s set to automatic) increase or reduce the amount of light that gets through to the sensor, thus helping determine how bright or dark the picture will be.
The aperture also controls the depth of field of the image.
To better understand how this works, make a fist with your hand and hold it in front of your eye. Then gradually open your fist. You’ll see that when the opening of your hand is small, everything is in focus? But when it’s open wide the object closest to you is sharper than the background?
If you want to take landscape pictures where you want everything in focus, you’ll want to use a small aperture.
An Aperture Priority setting on your camera allows you to set the aperture within the camera’s range of f-stop numbers (or called f-stop for short). F stop numbers represent ratios so the larger the f-stop the smaller the aperture. So, the bigger your f-stop number on your camera, the bigger the depth of field.
The reason the setting is called “priority” is that when you set the aperture, the camera adjusts the shutter speed so that the exposure is just right. Another way to look at it is, the aperture setting will have priority while the shutter speed plays a secondary role.
Introducing Shutter Speed
While the aperture controls how much light at one time falls on the image sensor, the shutter speed controls the length of time the camera allows in the light.
If you’ve ever seen really old pictures, you’ll notice that they are rarely smiling. In the old days, shutter speeds used to be super slow so people would have to remain still for several minutes in order to get a shot. No wonder they had such a serious look!
Two of the most commonly used shutter speeds are 1/500th of a second and 1/60th of a second. The Shutter Priority setting lets you choose speeds (within the camera’s range) specifically for the effect you want.
For shutter speeds slower than 1/60 you will probably need a tripod or other camera support because when the shutter is open that long the camera records the tiniest jiggle, causing the photo to be out of focus or outright blurry.
If you want to freeze action (like what Sports mode does), set the camera’s Shutter Priority to a fast speed. With this type of manual setting you can have a lot more choices in what you photograph. For example, a dog sitting quietly will require a shutter speed of around 1/125 in order to freeze the small twitch in the dog’s tail. On the flip side, taking pictures at a soccer game may require up to 1/500 to freeze fast-moving actions.
When you use settings like Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority you can often get better pictures because you can set the camera exactly how you want it.
|TO FREEZE ACTION*||TO CAPTURE MOTION**|
|Children – 1/250 – 1/1000 seconds||Amusement park rides: +/- one second|
|Moving water/waterfalls: 1/1000 seconds or more||Moving water/waterfalls: 4 or more seconds|
|Sporting event: 1/500 – 1/2000 seconds||Fireworks: 1/2 – 4 seconds|
|Birds in flight: 1/1000th a second and above||Moving cars at night: 8-10 seconds|
|Night photography – one or more seconds|
Autumn Lockwood is a writer for Your Picture Frames and loves sharing photos. If you’re looking for
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