Are you ready to get that camera off of its Auto mode? If you have a digital SLR, you’ve got to try playing with your aperture. On a Canon, that’s the AV mode, and on a Nikon, that’s the A mode. It’s pretty much the setting that my camera stays all the time. (And from what I’ve learned from semi-professionals, a lot of their cameras hang out there, too.) The nice thing about AV mode is that you pick the depth of field (how much of the picture will be in focus and how much will be blurred) and the camera does the rest of the work, making sure there’s the right amount of light and that the shutter’s open for the right amount of time. It’s perfect for drawing the viewer’s eye to a certain part of the picture, and especially for blurring out the background on portraits.
Changing the aperture in AV mode can take a photo like this one, (taken at an aperture of f/22)
…and turn it into a photo like this one. (taken at f/1.4)
Amazing, isn’t it? I took these photos in my backyard in the same exact position only seconds apart. Just lowering the aperture number changed everything! I like to think of it like this: When you want a LOT of the picture in focus, you choose a bigger number, like 10 or 22 for your aperture. When you want a little in focus, you pick a littler number. (I know, I’m so technical. Hubby, who has had much more photography training says it’s how wide the hole is when your shutter opens…1.4 is really wide, because you would only need 1.4 of those openings to fill a football field or something, and f/22 is really small, because you’d need 22 of them to fill a football field, or something like that. But it always seemed confusing to me, so I made up my own way to remember! But if someone says they’re opening their aperture up, that means they’re lowering the aperture number. Huh? Right. I’ll stick to my own way of thinking!)
Another note…you can buy a good 50mm 1.6 lens for under $100, but if you have the kit lens that came with your camera, your aperture will probably only go down to about 2.8 or something, sometimes higher. If that’s the case, set the aperture as low as you can, zoom out, and get super close to your subject. That will blur the background more than standing back and zooming in. It also helps to move your subject, if possible, further away from the background so it will blur out more. So don’t sit your kids down right in front of those bushes or flowers if you want the background blurred…move them 5 or 6 feet out and take your photos there. If you get close to the kids and use a low aperture, the background should blur out nicely.
I’m guilty of leaving my camera set to 1.4 because I love that beautiful bokeh (background blur) but sometimes you really want more of the photo in focus, even when taking still lifes. For example, I took this picture of these adorable baby cowboy boots at my mom’s house on f/1.6.
The picture’s just fine, but doesn’t tell the story. Look at the picture below, taken on f/10.
Those little boots belonged to my beloved Uncle Jerry, the little boy in the picture behind them. He actually wore them when he was a toddler, tromping around the ranch where I remember his jolly laughter best. Looking at this photo makes me miss him all the more. He belongs in the picture. I needed to use a higher aperture to capture that.
One last note: if you’re trying to use a really low aperture, you’ll find that your outdoor daytime photos might be blown out (too much light coming through that wide shutter opening) and if you can adjust your ISO to a low number, like 100, it will help. Otherwise, look for shade or lower light situations in which to take your photos. Low aperture numbers just don’t work in the middle of the day in broad sunlight. But the best time to shoot is early morning and evening anyway, so give it a try.
Take that SLR off of automatic…I promise you, there’s no going back!