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7 Exercises to Master Aperture in Photography for Beginners

Black and white photo of a camera lens. Exercises to help you master aperture in photography.

Mastering the aperture, the gateway that controls light entering your camera lens is crucial for capturing breathtaking photos. It plays a pivotal role in determining the depth of field and overall exposure of your shots.

In this guide, I’ll share seven simple exercises tailored for beginners to help you understand aperture in photography, enhancing both focus and composition in your images.

Practical Exercises to Help You Learn Aperture in Photography

1. Exploring Aperture Priority Mode

Delve into the functionalities of your camera’s Aperture Priority mode, a semi-automatic setting that allows you to choose the aperture while the camera selects the shutter speed. This exercise encourages you to experiment with different apertures to see firsthand how they influence depth of field and exposure. 

By photographing a static subject at various f-stops, you’ll notice the subtle yet significant changes in how your images are rendered. 

  • Instructions: Select a subject that has intricate details or textures. Capture this subject using the widest aperture setting, then incrementally increase the f-stop number, taking a photo at each step. Pay attention to how the depth of field and light intensity change across images.
  • Goal: To gain a practical understanding of aperture’s impact on depth of field and exposure.
  • Requirements: A digital camera with Aperture Priority mode functionality (often denoted as “A” or “Av”).
  • Duration: About 1 hour should provide sufficient time to experiment and review results.

Here’s an example: I captured a series of photos of a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL model car using different aperture settings in aperture priority mode on my Sony 7C camera:

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2. Depth of Field Variation Exercise

This exercise is designed to visually demonstrate the concept of depth of field (DoF) and how it is affected by aperture size. By arranging objects at varying distances and photographing them at different aperture settings, you’ll see how the focus shifts and how much of your image remains sharp. This hands-on approach helps solidify the theoretical aspects of depth of field.

  • Instructions: Line up several objects with noticeable space between each. Start with the widest aperture (lowest f-number, such as f/2.8) and take a photo, then gradually increase the f-stop for each subsequent shot. Compare the photos to observe how the depth of field expands as the aperture narrows.
  • Goal: To understand the correlation between aperture size and depth of field in a tangible way.
  • Requirements: A series of objects, a camera, and a space where you can control the distance between objects.
  • Duration: Allocate 1-2 hours to set up, capture, and analyze the variations in depth of field.

Here’s an example of how I captured various objects found at home, placing them at different distances from each other to observe the expansion of depth of field as the aperture narrows.

3. Creating Bokeh Backgrounds

Bokeh, a term derived from a Japanese word meaning “blur”, refers to the quality of the out-of-focus areas in a photograph. This exercise focuses on creating appealing bokeh by using a wide aperture, which is particularly effective in portraits where a soft, blurred background can make the subject stand out beautifully:

  • Instructions: Choose a subject and place it in front of a background with light points (such as fairy lights). Use the widest aperture available (lowest f-number, such as f/2.8) to blur the background into a pleasing bokeh, making the lights appear as soft orbs.
  • Goal: To practice creating a visually appealing bokeh effect that enhances the subject.
  • Requirements: A subject, a backdrop with light points, and a camera and lens capable of a wide aperture.
  • Duration: Spend about an hour experimenting with different backgrounds to achieve various bokeh effects.

Here are a few portrait photo examples that I took of my wife, Alina, with different aperture values:

4. Mastering Low-Light Photography

Aperture plays a critical role in low-light photography by controlling the amount of light that reaches the sensor. This exercise aims to demonstrate how to leverage a wide aperture to capture well-exposed images under limited light conditions without relying heavily on artificial lighting or high ISO settings, which can introduce noise in photos.

  • Instructions: In a dim environment, set your lens to its widest aperture and adjust the ISO and shutter speed settings to achieve a balanced exposure. Experiment with different compositions to see how the wide aperture affects the image’s mood and depth.
  • Goal: To become comfortable with using aperture adjustments to enhance low-light photography.
  • Requirements: A camera and a dimly lit setting, such as indoors at dusk or a shadowed outdoor area.
  • Duration: Dedicate 1-2 hours to this exercise to fully explore the nuances of low-light shooting.

Here’s an example of a photo that I took with a very limited amount of light during my recent trip to Istanbul. Notice that despite a very high ISO value (8000), the photo still looks reasonable, without too much noise that could distract the viewer from the photo:

Photo of a restaurant chef cooking a meal in a restaurant with a very dim lighting conditions
f/2.0, 1/80sec, ISO 8000

5. Landscape Depth of Field Mastery

Capturing the vastness and detail of landscapes requires a deep depth of field, ensuring everything from the foreground to the distant horizon is in sharp focus. This exercise emphasizes the use of narrow apertures in landscape photography to achieve wide, expansive fields of view that are uniformly sharp, enhancing the overall clarity and impact of your landscape photos.

  • Instructions: Find a landscape scene with elements at various distances. Use a tripod to keep your camera steady and set your aperture to f/16 or higher. Take multiple shots, focusing on different elements in your scene, and observe how the narrow aperture maintains sharpness throughout the image.
  • Goal: To practice achieving sharp, detailed landscape photos with a deep depth of field.
  • Requirements: A camera, a tripod, and a landscape with varied depth elements.
  • Duration: This exercise might take 1-2 hours, allowing time to experiment with different scenes and lighting conditions.

Here’s an example of a landscape photo that I took in Spain with a deep depth of field (the entire frame is in sharp focus):

Photo of a Cadis town in Spain.

6. Aperture and Shutter Speed Interplay

Understanding the delicate balance between aperture and shutter speed is essential for mastering manual photography. This exercise offers hands-on experience in adjusting these settings to maintain consistent exposure levels while changing the depth of field. It’s an excellent way to grasp the practical aspects of the exposure triangle, leading to more intentional and controlled photographic outcomes.

  • Instructions: Start with a specific aperture and shutter speed combination that produces a well-exposed image. Then, select a different aperture setting and adjust the shutter speed accordingly to compensate for the change in light entering the lens, aiming to keep the exposure level constant.
  • Goal: To learn how to balance aperture and shutter speed adjustments to achieve desired photographic effects without compromising exposure.
  • Requirements: A camera with manual mode capability.
  • Duration: Spend 1-2 hours practicing this balancing act to become proficient in adjusting exposure settings.

Here are three photos of a red Porsche 911 model car that I took using different aperture values (f/2.8, f/9, and f/22). I used a tripod for all these photos to enable a clear comparison of the differences between them. Moreover, the tripod helped me avoid blurry images, as the second and third photos were taken with very low shutter speed values (1/8 sec and 0.8 sec, respectively). Attempting to take these photos handheld would have resulted in blurriness due to camera shake.

7. Creative Aperture Shapes Experiment

This fun and creative exercise involves manipulating bokeh shapes by crafting custom aperture covers, introducing an element of whimsy and personalization to your photographs. It’s a playful way to explore the artistic side of aperture settings and learn how they influence the shape and quality of out-of-focus light points.

  • Instructions: Cut a small shape (heart, star, etc.) out of a piece of card and secure it over your lens. Aim for a scene with small, bright points of light in the background. The custom aperture cover will shape the bokeh into your chosen design, adding a unique touch to your photos.
  • Goal: To creatively explore the artistic potential of aperture settings beyond traditional photographic techniques.
  • Requirements: A camera, black cardstock or heavy paper, scissors, and tape.
  • Duration: Allow yourself 1-2 hours to experiment with different shapes and lighting setups for a variety of effects.

Simple Exercises to Help You Master Aperture in Photography: Conclusion

In conclusion, mastering aperture is a fundamental skill in photography that opens up a world of creative possibilities. Through these seven practical exercises, you’ve embarked on a journey to understand how aperture affects depth of field, exposure, and bokeh, transforming your photographs from ordinary to extraordinary.

Whether experimenting with Aperture Priority mode, capturing the intricate details of landscapes, or playing with creative bokeh shapes, each exercise is designed to enhance your understanding of Aperture in photography.

Remember, the key to mastering aperture, like any aspect of photography, lies in practice and experimentation. So, grab your camera, explore these aperture exercises, and watch as your photography reaches new heights of creativity and expression.

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Aleksandrs Karevs

Aleksandrs Karevs

Hi, my name is Aleksandrs and I am a full-stack digital marketer passionate about digital photography. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V. Read full story here.

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Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

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