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take better photos of your kids - aperture {photography tips series}

Ok, so on Friday I talked about the Exposure Triangle, what it is and how it relates to your camera! I also talked about the first pillar of the triangle: Shutter Speed!

Let's review real quick: Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open (how fast the lens opens and closes). If it opens and closes really fast, a very small amount of light enters the lens. If it opens and closes slow, a lot more light is let in. 

Ok, so if you had a kiddo running around, hair in the wind, laughing and jumping around, you're going to use a really super fast shutter speed! Remember this image for reference: 

Ok, you've set your shutter speed to be really really fast. Like 1/500th of a second fast. And you click the picture, expecting your child's beautiful hair blowing in the wind to be perfectly still and captured in that fleeting moment. You look down at your digital camera to review the photo (isn't instant gratification awesome?!) and you realize the photo is completely dark and you can't see a damn thing. No hair blowing in the wind, not even the sky in the background. What gives?!

That brings us to the next pillar of the exposure triangle (see? I told you these three work together in a magical way!) The next pillar is the Aperture.

The technical definition of aperture is an opening, hole or gap (source: Dictionary.com). How does that relate to your camera? Well, the size of that little opening limits the amount of light that enters the lens. 

When you click your camera to take a picture, the lens either opens really fast or really slow (shutter speed). But how MUCH does the lens open? That's aperture. It's measured in "f-stops" (which is really confusing and I hate thinking about the "f-stops"). If the hole is really big, then more light enters, the smaller the whole, the less light.

Take a look at the image above. At f/1.4 the opening is HUGE! Lots of light coming in! But at f/8, the opening is really tiny, which means a lot less light. 

Why is it that the smaller the number, the bigger the opening? I don't know, you can look it up. I tried to understand it, but it's easier to just practice and actually get the feeling for what happens. Trust me. My brain still hurts when I try to think of it in terms of numbers. It's easier to get the feel for it on your camera and play with the f-stops (each click to the next number is an f-stop).

The other thing that aperture controls is the blurriness of the background of your photo. Look at the photo below....notice how the boy in front is in perfect focus, and each person after that gets more and more blurry? This was taken at an f/1.8 aperture, a very large opening. This affects the "Depth of Field" (DOF). A large DOF means that most of your image will be in focus. The image below had a small DOF. (Large opening, small f-stop, small DOF). 


Now, this is not actually how I wanted this shot to turn out. I wanted the people in the background to be somewhat blurry, but this was a bit too much. I could have taken the DOF up to f/2.8 or f/4 and it would have been a little better. Lesson learned....practice makes perfect!

Most of the time I work with very small DOF, small f-stop numbers (like f/1.8, f/2) because I want my background to be blurry so that you focus on the subject: your kids! There's another term for this blurry background - it's sometimes called Bokeh, which is Japanese. See? You learned another language today too!

Ok, let's go back to why the picture you just took of your kid, with the hair blowing in the wind, was way too dark. You've set your shutter speed to be really fast, 1/500th of a second. Because it was so fast, hardly any light entered the camera. So we have to compensate for that by possibly opening the aperture really wide (f/1.8). That way, even if the shutter opens and closes really fast, letting in little light, the opening of the lens will be much bigger and compensate for that loss of light.

Get it?! No?! I know.....it's really confusing to read about. So here's my advice: grab your camera, set it to MANUAL MODE (usually depicted with an "M" on the mode dial) and start playing with your shutter speeds and aperture settings. Try upping one and lowering another. Try vice versa. 

Now, what if you want a nice crisp background (not blurry!) and a fast shutter speed?! That means your letting in very little light with the shutter speed and the hole is very tiny for the aperture. The picture is still going to be too dark. But there's one more pillar of the exposure triangle....the ISO setting. We're gonna get to that in a few days! 

Source: Digital Photography School, one of my favorite sources for awesome camera tips and tricks!