A lady taking a photo on the beach


Photography Tips: Aperture Explained


When it comes to taking photos, it’s not actually as easy as it looks. Of course, you can just aim and click, and hope for the best, but to really get the most out of your photos, there are a couple of other things to think about. And one of the main points of consideration is lighting, and the effect your camera’s aperture has on the outcome of your photos. Here at James Villas, we’ve had loads of experience taking holiday snaps so we thought we’d share a couple of tips we’ve picked up over the years, so that your photo albums do your holiday memories justice!

Aperture is the opening of a camera lens, which defines the angle that the rays of light travel through to the image sensor in the camera. So, with a large hole, the rays of light pass in a completely different angle compared to if the lens had a small hole. This has a massive effect on how the image is captured, which we will go on to explain in a minute.

The angles of light through a camera lens

The angles of light through a camera lens

The aperture is recorded as f-numbers – the “f”, in technical terms, is the focal length of the lens divided by the diameter of the aperture. A typical aperture range begins at f/2.8 and goes through a number of increments or “stops” right through to f/32 (newer cameras also fall outside of these boundaries). Below illustrates a standard f-stop scale to give you an understanding of what the numbers mean.

If you think of the pupil in your eye, when it’s small in size you’re trying to take in less light as your environment is likely to be very brightly lit. The camera lens is designed to work the same way, so if you have a bright light source, you’ll only need a small hole in the lens. And now think about when you are walking around in the dark, your pupil opens up really wide to try and draw in as much light as possible to help you see. Again this is the same as the hole in the lens, if you’re shooting in low lighting, but don’t want to use flash, you’ll need to make the hole really big to draw that light in.

Illustration to explain aperture

Explaining aperture

The only confusing part to this rule is that the f-numbers are the opposite way round; so the smaller the hole, the bigger the f-number and the larger the hole, the smaller the f-number. The best way to remember this is to think of the light source, so the brighter the light source the bigger the f-number and vice versa.

One last thing to remember with aperture is how it can affect not only the way an image is exposed, but also the way an image looks and the effects within it. Going back to thinking about the angle of light, depending on the size of the hole, the angle of light can determine how the image will look.

Have you ever wondered how photographers manage to get the background blurry and the subject in sharp focus? This is called “depth of field”. To get this effect, the photographer has opened up the lens to a wide aperture (with a smaller f-number) so the angle of light is more shallow and hits the subject in the foreground a lot more than the background, this is commonly known as “bokeh”. It’s often seen in high fashion photographs, and is a great way to add some atmosphere to the shot.

But there may be times that you want both the foreground and background in focus and to do this, you would need to close the aperture down (using a larger f-number) to change the angle of light hitting the image sensor. Here are some examples of different apertures:

Image to show a low aperture

Low aperture (wide hole) (f/5.6), blurred background

Image to show a mid aperture

Mid aperture (closer to wide hole) (f/10), blurred background

Image to show a mid aperture

Mid aperture (closer to small hole) (f/16), sharper background

Image to show a high aperture

High aperture (small hole) (f/32), sharp background

The aperture can be found in the settings of your camera. Have a little play around with the f-numbers to see how you can get the image to change. With some compact cameras, you probably won’t have a huge amount of control over the settings, however if you do have them, try them out! Many cameras have a setting where you can just play with the aperture so you don’t have to worry about getting the right exposure as the camera will do this for you, so you can just see the effect it has on the image.

The best tip for taking beautiful photographs is to keep trying and be patient, it can be tricky to pick up but once you build up these skills you can end up with some great results. Practice makes perfect, so just take loads of photos. If you have a digital camera, you can always delete them if you’re not happy with them, and with a couple of memory cards, you’ll have plenty of space for all your snaps. For more help and advice about taking photos and using your camera, check out our photography tips from our very own photographers.


Kirsty is a Photography & Image Assistant at James Villa Holidays.

When I’m not experimenting with my camera, I’m spending time with my over-excitable...

See all articles by Kirsty

See all articles by Kirsty

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