Take great pictures of your kids! Part 1: Aperture

Did you get a new camera for Christmas? Do you have a DSLR sitting in your closet begging to be used, while you shamelessly post blurry iPhone shots to Facebook? If you are raising your hand, then read on!  We all love adorable photos of our kids, and while it’s wonderful to book a professional portrait session from time to time, most of us can’t hire a photographer to follow us around 24 hours a day! Through a series of blog posts, I’ll walk you through some of the basics of understanding your DSLR camera. We will cover aperture, shutter speed, and ISO; the three points of the exposure triangle. As we dissect each piece and learn to control them separately, you will see how they all work together to help you create beautiful images. I’m going to help you dust off your fancy camera, switch it to that scary “M” setting, and fearlessly push the shutter with success! Let’s get started.

Whilst teaching 5th grade, we studied roots of words. One of the roots was “photo”. It’s Greek, and it means “light”. Photography means “write with light”. You’re going to start noticing that it’s all about the light! In the film days, exposure referred to how much light was hitting the film, but chances are you are working with a digital camera, so in your case exposure is referring to the amount of light hitting your cameras sensor. There are three ways to control the amount of light your camera takes in: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Today we are going to focus on aperture.

So, what the heck is APERTURE? The aperture refers to the adjustable size of the hole in your camera that lets in the light.  It is measured in f-stops.  The smaller the f-stop number, the larger the opening.  Take a look at this diagram to help wrap your mind around that.


Aperture, or f-stops, are great because they determine your depth of field, or the amount of the image that is in focus. Imagine an image of a child where their eyes are in sharp focus and the background fades away into a beautiful, creamy blur. Having trouble…I’ll show you. (Excuse his drool…)

ISO 800    f/3.5    1/640

This look is achieved by using a wide open aperture, or a small numbered f-stop. A small portion of the image is in focus, while everything in front and behind him is blurry. Wide apertures are commonly used for portraits, allowing your subject to pop from their surroundings. In the following series of images, I kept my focus on the fireman. ISO 1600 f/2.8 1/160ISO 1600 f/2.8 1/160

I started out wide open at f 2.8, you can see blur both in front of and behind the fireman.


ISO 3200 f/5.0 1/125
ISO 3200 f/5.0 1/125

With an aperture setting of f/5.0 you are able to see more detail in front and behind the fireman. The depth of field has increased bringing more of the image into focus.

ISO 6400 f/11 1/50
ISO 6400 f/11 1/50

In the final image I have set my aperture at f/11 allowing an even larger depth of field. Notice how I’m no longer blurring the junk behind my couch out of the image. 😉

How do you know where to set your aperture? It depends on your own artistic vision for the photo. If you have one subject that you would like to be your focus, you can get away with a wide open aperture. If you have multiple subjects that you want in focus, f3.5 to f/5.6 is a good place to start!

It can be overwhelming to dive right into shooting in manual mode. So, take the information you have just soaked in, and set your camera to aperture priority mode. (A for Nikon users. Av for Canon.) This will allow you to choose your aperture, and your camera will adjust it’s ISO and shutter speed for you. Experiment a little and see which look you prefer!

Next up, shutter speed! This is a fun one!

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