My name is Ashley McLaughlin and this is my blog, Edible Perspective. To learn more about my journey head on over to my about + FAQ pages. I'm thrilled that you stopped by. Enjoy!


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photography 101 {aperture}

Can you believe it?

Another photography post only one week after my first??  Let’s see if I can keep that trend going!

Today we’re going to start talking about aperture, which to me, is one of the more confusing concepts to grasp.  First we’ll start with the definition.

Aperture - Measured in f-stops, aperture controls the size of the opening in your lens.  The size of the opening controls the amount of light that passes through the lens, to the image sensor.  Aperture effects the exposure + depth of field in your photographs.

Now, how about a few other definitions so that makes a little more sense?  Kind of a snooze-fest to read definitions, but I promise knowing the list below will help with your understanding of aperture.

Also, reading these out loud + slowly really helps.  Maybe wait until you’re at home to do that though.  ;)  I’ve tried to strip down these definitions, to make them as simple as possible.  I hope I don’t cause you a headache.

f-stop – The measurement of how much light passes through a lens.  This is controlled by you, and varies, depending on the number you set your f-stop to.  Changing the f-stop number, changes the size of the opening in your lens, which varies the amount of light coming through, effecting exposure + depth of field.

Focal Point – The point at which you have focused your camera.

Focal Length - Distance from the center of the lens to the image sensor plane [inside the camera]. This is measured in “mm” and determines how much of the subject/scene that the lens can capture. [ie: 50mm lens : 25-78mm lens : 100mm lens]


Focal Distance – Distance from the center of the lens to the focal point.

Depth of Field [DOF] – An equal range of sharpness in front of and behind the subject. This is determined by aperture [f-stop #], focal length, and focus distance.

Exposure – The brightness or darkness level of the photo, determined by how much light is coming into your camera.


I know.

How about some diagrams to help explain things a little better?

Hopefully this diagram speaks for itself, but there is a lot going on in it, so I’ll explain.  When looking at this diagram, the above definitions should start to make more sense.

  • The blue dots are the objects you’re photographing and we’re looking at this scene with a bird’s eye view [from above].  Let’s pretend the blue dots are cookies. mmmm
  • The camera is focused on the small red dot [focal point].  Maybe a chocolate chip in that cookie?
  • Depth of field is measured in f-stops. [ie: f/1.8, f/4, f/22]
  • Your depth of field [what’s in focus] is determined by what you set your f-stop number to and how far you are from that chocolate chip [focal point].
  • How far away you are from the chocolate chip, is your focal distance.
  • There is an equal amount in front of the focal point and behind it, that is is focus.
  • The area outside of your depth of field, gradually becomes more + more out of focus. 


So.  To recap. 

What determines your depth of field?  Remember: Your DOF is how much of your photo will be in focus.

  1. What you set your aperture [f-stop number] to.
  2. The focal distance [how far/close you are to that chocolate chip].

Now, another diagram!!  Are you so super excited????


*Remember* The further away you stand from your object, the wider the depth of field becomes [more is in focus as you stand further back] and vice versa.  [as shown above]

Make sense?  Yes?  No?

Hopefully yes.

Don’t forget!  Aperture not only determines your depth of field, but it also effects exposure [the brightness/darkness of your photograph].

  • the wider the aperture -> the more light will be allowed through the lens
  • the tighter the aperture -> less light will be allowed through the lens
  • the wider the opening -> the smaller the f-stop # -> the narrower the depth of field
  • the tighter the opening -> the larger the f-stop # -> the wider the depth of field

f/1.8 = wide opening = more light coming in = less in focus = narrow depth of field

f/22 = tight opening = less light coming in = more in focus = large depth of field


Want something to compare this to?  How about your eyes?

  • in a low light condition -> pupil expands to gather more light in –> can’t focus as far
  • in a brighter light condition -> pupil constricts, allowing less light in –> can focus further

Why this is confusing?

Because, you might typically think, the wider the opening the more is in focus.  But, it’s the exact opposite.

  • As your depth of field widens/expands, the opening of your lens becomes smaller.
  • As your depth of field narrows, your lens opening widens.

So, if you want a wider depth of field [larger f-stop #, more in focus in your photo] you will need more light.

Check out this photo example below, and hopefully it will start to make more sense.

image image

  • When you want more in focus in your photo [narrower aperture, wider depth of field, larger f-stop #], you will need more light to properly expose the photo.  You can manipulate the amount of light coming in by adjusting the shutter speed and/or the ISO, which we will discuss in the coming weeks.

Don’t forget!  There is a give and take with aperture.  While widening the aperture allows you to shoot in lower light, it also decreases the amount of the image that is in focus!





Hey, at least I didn’t overwhelm you with all of this on a Monday! 


Reader Comments (57)

I am loving your photography posts so far - keep them coming! I am just learning how to use the F-stop to help improve my images. Your diagrams are great!

Awesome job!! Loved this...

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTaryn

Ashley, you are so great at explaining all of this! I'm looking into getting a DSLR in the near future and I'm so happy to have these posts to refer to. Thanks for your help! :)

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat

I think I digested about 90% of this which makes me happy :) Awesome tutorials, keep them coming!

Love!!! Thank you. :)

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTy

I like seeing the photos like the one you did at the end! Then it all makes sense to me :)

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie @ Healthy Heddleston

I really like the photo lessons! They really reinforce what I'm learning.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaitlyn

Keep the photography posts coming! You have just provided me with the ahh-haa! moment I needed to troubleshoot why some shots were not coming out as planned.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeckytheRD

Thank you thank you! I'm so excited that you're doing this series. I hope by the end (when we already cover the basis) you'll have a post on the actual photo taking process.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessy (squeezetheday)

Hi Ashley, I enjoyed your workshop session on Photography Basics at the Foodbuzz Conference. It definitely takes awhile to turn manual into "auto" mode. Your photos are lovely and I am looking forward to reading your blog. Also, those chocolate peanut butter cups were DIVINE!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPauline @thelipstickcafe

Because of your instruction my photos have *significantly* improved! Thank you for these posts!

This is extremely well written and clear. Thank you so much for sharing! I am still working on getting comfortable in manual mode. Some of my photos turn out horribly, but it makes for a fun learning process.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren Christine.

I am loving these posts!!!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAbby

My camera is in the shop right now, but I'm definitely going to start playing with this when I get it back! Thanks for sharing this!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarena (The Non-Dairy Queen)

thanks, ashley!! very helpful.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkathleen @ the daily crumb

Ashley, that was a great post! Not boring at all. I have always been fascinated and have read about aperture, but I have never really understood it until I read your post. Let's see if I can use this knowledge practically when I get my new camera for Christmas (I hope Santa reads your blog).

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan @ HEAVY EVAN

Thanks for the photography's always interesting for me to read how other people conceptualize and organize various concepts in their own usually helps me clarify things in mine or to be able to explain it to someone else who is starting from ground my hubs.

It can all get pretty technical in a hurry but you were not boring in the least...hardly :) Very helpful!

I love this series! Yesterday I finally took my camera out of Auto mode and now I'm so excited at the prospect of taking top notch pictures with my point and shoot! :-)

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlaina

Proooo! Aperture is good stuff. I learned all of this in high school but honestly already forgot. Thanks for the refresher!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatelyn @ Chef Katelyn

oh my gosh, my head hurts. but to be honest, my head always hurts when i try to wrap it around this exact subject. and the good part? while my head hurts, i actually get it more than i usually do. maybe it was the chocolate chips, maybe it was the eye pupil thing (GOOD ONE).. but it was probably just your easy approach at explaining things. oh, and the rad diagrams. thank you!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjanetha

This isn't about the technicalities of photography, but would you consider doing a post on food photography, specifically how you stage the pictures and choose what extras to put in them to make them look pretty? I struggle with that part of it!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLee

The more I see these things, the easier it becomes to wrap my head around. Thanks for explaining it so clearly! I can't wait for your posts on shutter speed and ISO as I begin my journey in moving away from aperture priority mode.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaitlyn@TheTieDyeFIles

I am so glad you're writing this photography series. I have SO much to learn, but you do a good job of breaking things that are difficult (for me) to understand into more manageable pieces of info. Thank you for doing this!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Thank you for sharing this! I just discovered your blog after your win at the foodbuzz awards (congrats!) and I am loving it! I took a class back in the spring when I first got my dslr, but the more times I have aperture explained to me the more sense it starts to make.

I second what Lee said above...I'd love to see a tutorial on how you set up your shoots!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen

Thank you! This is so helpful, especially the diagrams. You have a great talent.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

This was really helpful! I never knew I had to change my f-stop based on my depth of field!

love you! thank you for this, i will only have to read it 10 million times, haha
your photography post are so much better than ours, we have so much to learn

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPure2raw twins

Love this post! This was like a crash course of my first year of college. Grasping the concept of depth of field takes time but this post really explained it well :)

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

Ashley, you did a great job here explaning aperture and DOF!
I really like the simple diagrams and photo examples. But the best part for me is the comparison to the human eye - makes everything so much clearer. :)

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

[...] is always encouraging me (as well as others) to play around with camera settings. check out her photography post on Aperture another setting that is a work-in-progress for us, check out our first aperture photography [...]

Thanks Julia! I'm glad the eye comparison was helpful!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Aw, you guys are great, as are your posts + photos!! xo

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Thanks for saying hi Maggie!! Aperture is definitely a hard concept to grasp, but you'll get it! I feel that learning the basics are most important to teach first, before learning anything about actual food photography or setting up shots. I keep my shots really simple though and don't have a real "method" to the process. I'll try to break it down at some point though!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

You're welcome!! It was hard for me to tell if it was broken down simply enough, so I'm glad to hear it was!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Definitely! Reading over and over really helps! Shutter speed is next!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Hi Lee! Thanks for the suggestion. I'm going to work through camera basics first, and then talk a little bit about setting up photos. I keep things pretty simple and really don't have a true method yet. A lot of it is snapping a photo, looking at the screen and adjusting something if it doesn't look right. Angela [oh she glows] did a great post a few months back on staging photos. You will definitely find it helpful!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I completely understand! I'm glad it started to make a little more sense though. Just keep re-reading!! I think it will click even more once I start showing more photo examples. Coming soon! Glad you liked the diagrams. :)

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Woooohooo!!! :)

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Wow, that's great Evan. I'm glad my post helped you so much!! I hope you get the camera!!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Thanks Lauren!! It's always a little hard to tell when I'm actually writing it. :) You'll get there, don't worry!! It's also really hard right now with the lack of light!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

YAY! That makes me so happy to hear...your photos ARE looking great!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Thanks for saying hi Pauline! :)

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I will talk a little about the photo taking process. It really varies so much from person to person. I like to keep things pretty simple. I'll try to break it down as best I can.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

YAY!! Glad you had an ah-ha moment. That is great!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Thank you! I am definitely bookmarking this! I can't wait to play around with my camera more, especially being a lot more guided :)

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren @ HugsKissesNDishes

Ashley, I can't thank you enough for these wonderful tutorials! You are a great teacher and have really made the lessons so little people like me can understand them. I can't tell you how many photo lessons I've read and don't feel like I've absorbed a single detail. It's different with yours and I'm just so grateful for your willingness to teach us all! I love your examples, as I'm definitely a visual (and hands on) learner. Thanks again and again!

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

Hi Danielle!! Thank you so much for your appreciative comment. It really means a lot!! I'm happy to post whatever I know about photography. I really enjoy the teaching part and it makes me learn a lot along the way as well!

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I think this weekend I'm going to have to set up a little photo shoot and try out some different things so I can grab this a little easier. Your explanation is great! Now, to just test it out :)

I think my photo's have improved tremendously so that's always a good sign. Unless it's a figure of my imagination lol.

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Have fun playing with your camera! Your photos are really looking great!!

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

This is very very helpful. One of my objectives for the next 11 months of my life is to improve my photography. I've been reading a few books, had a lesson w/a professional photog friend of mine, and read photog blogs BUT the numbers still always give me a headache. I'm super right brained and photography is one of those things (imho) that takes both sides to be excellent. This post helped clear the waters a bit more for me. It was very well written. Thank you!!!

November 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn (GH)

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