Photography 101 How to Understand Camera Aperture and Shutter Speed

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Pre-set modes like "Sports" and "Night Portrait" make it easy for us to just point and shoot. If you're new to photography, two of the most important things to learn are aperture and shutter speed settings as these will give you a lot of creative control. If you're wondering which cameras have these settings, some digital compacts have them while most of the bridge (prosumer) cameras do and all SLRs have them.

At first it seems a little daunting to start using manual camera settings, but the vast improvement in your pictures will be worth the effort.

Photography 101 - Introducing Aperture

The aperture works much like an iris in a person's eye. Just like your irises widen or narrow to let in more or less light through the pupils, the camera's lens diaphragm widens or narrows to let in more or less light through the lens. The aperture is the size of this opening.

Aperture allows you to increase or decrease the amount of light that reaches the sensor and therefore helps determine how dark or light the picture will be.

The aperture also controls the depth of field of the image.

To better understand how this works, make a fist with your hand and hold it in front of your eye. Then slowly open your fist. See how everything is in focus when the opening in your hand is small? But when it's open wide the object closest to you is sharper than the background?

A small aperture is great for taking pictures like landscapes where you want everything in focus.

An Aperture Priority setting on your camera allows you to set the aperture within the camera's range of f-stop numbers (or called f-stop for short). These f stop numbers represent ratios meaning that the larger the f stop number, the narrower the aperture. So when the f stop setting is larger on your camera, then there will be a larger depth of field.

The reason for the "Priority" in the setting's name is that when you set the aperture, the camera does its best to set the shutter speed so that the exposure is right (not too dark or too bright). Another way to look at it is, the aperture setting will have priority while the shutter speed plays a secondary role.

Photography 101 - Learning About Shutter Speed

While the camera aperture controls the amount of light that hits the image sensor, the shutter speed controls the length of time the camera allows in the light.

If you've ever seen really old pictures, you'll notice that they are rarely smiling. Shutter speeds used to be so slow that people would have to remain very still for several minutes in the early days of photography. No wonder they had such a serious look!

The most common shutter speeds today are 1/500th of a second to 1/60th of a second. By using Shutter Priority, you can then choose the shutter speed (within your camera's range) for the exact effect you want.

If you use a shutter speed slower than 1/60, you should use a tripod or some type of camera stabilizer because when the shutter is open that long, even the slightest jiggle can create fuzzy pictures.

To freeze action, set the camera's Shutter Priority to a fast speed, which is what Sports mode does. Only with this manual setting, you can be more selective. For example, a dog sitting quietly will require a shutter speed of around 1/125 in order to freeze the small twitch in the dog's tail. On the flip side, taking pictures at a soccer game may require up to 1/500 to freeze fast moving actions.

Using manual settings like Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority give you more creative control, which means better pictures that you can display on your wall.

Autumn Lockwood is a writer for and is passionate about taking pictures. Your Picture Frames offers a large selection of quality picture frames in a wide variety of sizes, color, finishes and styles. To get great service and find exactly what you want like a wooden or metal picture frame visit our website or call 1-800-780-0699.

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