I started shooting in manual mode on November 16th 2017. It’s a milestone I remember well because I was so afraid to get off auto mode! Auto mode was a safe space that allowed me to take decent pictures with very little knowledge. Turning the dial to ‘M’ meant coming face to face with all the things I did not know about photography. But since I took that leap, I have not looked back. Shooting in manual mode is such a rush! Learning the basics, shooting every day and creating good photos is an incredible feeling. But of all the concepts that stumped me at the beginning, aperture and depth of field (DOF) were the hardest for me to grasp. So that’s where I want to start in this Brave Manual Mode series and hope that I can help you switch to manual mode faster than I did.
Even though I read several books and online articles, and watched hours of YouTube videos on aperture and DOF, it didn’t click until I picked up my camera and starting practicing. So I encourage you to shoot every day, but before you head out, let me share a few basic insights.
First thing you need to know is that aperture refers to the opening in your camera lens that controls the amount of light entering into your camera. The amount of light is controlled by the opening and closing of the aperture. Turn your camera around and look closely in the lens to see the opening. When the opening is wide open, lots of light enters. When the aperture is narrower, less light enters.
Second thing you need to know is that the size of the aperture controls the depth of field in your image. Depth of field impacts the area that is in focus in front of and behind your subject. When the aperture is wide open, the DOF is shallow which means a small area of the image in front and behind your subject will be in focus. When the aperture is narrow, the DOF is wide which means a larger area in front and behind your subject will be in focus.
Last thing to know is the numbering system related to aperture. A wide aperture (large opening) is represented by a small ‘f’ number. A narrow aperture (small opening) is represented by a large ‘f’ number. Weird, right….but that’s how it works and you need to remember that.
Let’s look at a few examples…..
The image below was shot at an aperture of f11. Notice how clear the wire fence is in behind the bed of lettuce. Remember, large ‘f’ number = small opening = larger DOF = more area in focus.
The next image was shot at f4. Notice how the wire fence behind the lettuce is blurred and barely recognizable? Also take a look at the wood of the raised bed. See how part of that is out of focus? I took this shot in the same position as the image above, however the aperture was wider (f4) which reduced the area in focus in front of and behind my subject (lettuce).
This last image was shot at f2.5. Remember, small ‘f’ number = wide opening = smaller DOF = less area in focus. Just look at the creamy out of focus background! I love it! When you shoot wide, you can remove distracting elements in the background so the viewer’s eye focuses on your subject. In the first image above, the fence and the trees behind it can draw the viewer’s eye from the lettuce which is the subject of the image. By opening the aperture to f2.5, I completely removed the details in the background so my lovely lettuce can be the focus of the image without any competition.
Guess what? You are one step closer to switching your camera dial to manual. Let me know if this post helped you in the comments field below!