Getting to know your camera – Aperture

Becoming a photographer has been a very happy accident for me. In fact the camera that I first started using when I was falling in love with photography wasn’t even mine. When my husband and I were in our first jobs one of the things he was desperate to buy was a camera. He pooled birthday and Christmas money and bought a Canon 350D and learnt how to use it. He is one of those people with a curious mind, the sort of person who approaches a task methodically whereas I jump straight in. He may not have mastered every trick in the book but he taught himself the basic principles of photography and for a while was called on by friends of friends to take nice photos of their families and at their weddings.

But it wasn’t too long before I sort of took over!

Photography is my favourite hobby that has grown into something more. I love it because if you practise you can see yourself getting better and you can develop your own style. I feel empowered when I get behind the lens and when you snap that magic moment, a look from someone across the room, a twinkle in your child’s eye, it can give you such a rush that you are desperate to snap 100 more.

I have always kept albums, scrapbooked school days and holidays and sometimes have to force myself to step away from the camera, it’s become so second nature to fling it around my neck as I head out of the door. I’m a Canon girl and started my real photography journey with a 40D that we invested in at the airport. A crazy impulse buy that I will never regret.

I know we are not alone in making that investment in a DSLR. More and more of my friends and family have a “big camera” on their birthday wish lists and I see so many parents at the park, on days out and around the pool on holiday with a camera bag over their shoulder. As much as I love the camera in my pocket, I love capturing those split second moments that I can print and frame and my phone just doesn’t cut it. I never feel embarrassed lugging my DSLR to sports day, I’ve even set up the tripod at the Christmas nativity as the room was so dark, because I treasure the photos I have when I sit down to load and edit them afterwards.

The whole process for me is my passion. And I feel such a sense of pride when I walk past the pictures dotted around the house and cluttering up our window ledges because I have taken almost all of them. And that’s what I want you to feel too. In control of your camera with the knowledge to capture those fleeting moments in all of our very busy lives.

If you are anything like me then you may have a lovely camera sitting on the side with a box somewhere in the loft or hidden in a cupboard. And the manual is in that box. Everything you need to know is in that informative (if less exciting than switching the camera on) booklet but we also need to understand a few basic principles to give us the confidence and knowledge to take beautiful photos.

So this is the start of my new mini series on the Lifecake blog, to talk you through some fundamentals all of which have a relationship with each other.

Think about taking a photo like making a cake. You need just the right mix of ingredients that work together to make it perfect. Too much sugar and it will be too sweet, too much flour and it will be stiff and dry. It’s the same with a photograph.

Understanding the three elements of Exposure – Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO (I-S- O) will help you balance them against each other depending on the situation and surroundings you are in and take the best photo possible.

Want to take those gorgeous photos of your children with their face in focus but with a dreamy blurry background? Well this is the post for you!

Image source: Capture By Lucy
Image source: Capture By Lucy

Exposure is all about light and aperture is about holes and numbers and how much light you let into your camera’s sensor.

When you change the aperture it gives you control over how big the hole is and how much of your photo is in focus. This is the depth of field, so how much of the background, or foreground depending on what you are focussing on, is crisp and sharp.

Aperture is measured in numbers known as ƒ stops and shown as ƒ-numbers. Different cameras have different ranges but my simple guide below gives you an overview. It’s a little odd that the smaller the number the bigger or wider the aperture is but it’s just something you have to learn. So the smaller the hole the narrower the aperture and the less light that will be let into your sensor giving you the least depth of field. So think the higher the number the less of a blurry background you will capture.

It’s just the same as when you walk into a dark room, your pupils dilate wider to let more light into your eyes so you can focus on what is in front of you.

Image source: Capture by Lucy
Image source: Capture by Lucy

Take time to practise on something still too as well as you family, it’s a great way to get a feel for what kind of aperture feels right for you. I tend to take lots of photos at a lower or wider aperture because I just love the dreamy feel to the blurred background, but when I am shooting a group of people I need to up the setting to make sure I capture them in focus as they may not all be stood in a line at the same distance away from me.

Take a look at these photos of the hydrangeas outside our front door. Which one feels most appealing to you?

Image source: Capture By Lucy
Image source: Capture by Lucy

Now have a play! Set your DSLR to Aperture Priority (commonly AV or AP) and pick your subject. Change your aperture setting up and down and see how your photo looks different. What do you like most? Are you like me and prefer a much shallower depth of field? Or do you feel more comfortable when the background is in focus too?

We’d love to see your images and whether you are enjoying shooting on Aperture Priority. Tweet us your photos or tag us on Instagram @lifecake @capturebylucy.

See you next time for shutter speed!

Image source: Capture by Lucy
Image source: Capture by Lucy


Lucy Heath

Lucy shares her family life from the countryside in the South West of England with her two young boys on the award winning blog Lucy juggles a product photography business with a hectic household and believes in making the ordinary extraordinary. Come and say hello on Twitter or Instagram

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