After last week’s topic of aperture adjustments in the iPhone’s portrait mode, I got a lot of in-depth questions about aperture and other manual settings on DSLR cameras.

To summarize…

On a DSLR, you can adjust your aperture in the Manual and Aperture-Priority modes. Using these manual settings will allow you to adjust the aperture to control the outcome of your images. Cameras don’t always capture what your eye is seeing, so learning how your aperture and shutter speed interact together will help you better control the outcome.

I want this space to be a safe one for {beginner} photographers using iPhones and DSLRs alike, so let’s dive into what aperture REALLY is.


The f-stop is actually aperture?

I briefly talked about the “f-stop” number in my last TPT post; it represents the changes in your aperture. So try to think about f-stop and aperture as one in the same.

What does that mean exactly?

To explain things simply, the aperture controls two things:  1)  The amount of light your lens lets in, and 2) How crisp your final shot is.

A smaller number means 1) A blurred background when focusing on a SINGLE subject, and 2) A brighter final image, because the smaller number represents the lens being open to allow more light in.

A larger number means 1) Crisp shots with more than one point of focus, like mountains, lakes, cityscapes, and scenery images, for example. Secondly, the larger f-stop number will have the opposite effect on light; the larger number means the lens is more narrow, allowing less light in.

When is adjusting aperture the most important?

I am always changing my settings when I’m shooting, but the long and short of it is this:  When your subject changes, or the lighting changes.

Why do you want to be able to adjust aperture?

No single image or setup will ever have the same exact light exposure. Adjusting your aperture is crucial to prevent over exposure or overly dark images. You’ll also want to set a larger f-stop number in instances where you’re focusing on a whole scene.

I don’t want my ISO too high when I’m taking indoor photos. How should I adjust the aperture?

I do a lot of single-subject product images where I have my aperture on the smallest settings (f/1.8 to f/4.5). There are times when I need to use alternate light sources to get the appropriate lighting (read the alternative light source options post here). Other times, it’s going to take some post-production magic (in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop) to bring a dark photo back to life.

Do I have the option to shoot in manual or automatic if I want?

Yes, MOST DSLR cameras have both manual and automatic modes.

When do I use automatic vs. manual?

I only shoot in my manual mode now, but I’ve been learning for 4+ years. However, when I was first learning how to shoot in manual, I would flip back and forth between automatic and manual modes on the dial atop my camera.

Sometimes the switch was out of frustration, and sometimes I simply didn’t have enough time to play with the settings before I missed a moment. With practice, you will learn the relationship between your aperture, shutter speed, and other manual setting components to be more swift in your changes.

One thing that helped me learn the relationship between aperture and shutter speed was watching the settings change in automatic mode.

If you move your camera around to different subjects in an automatic mode, watch the screen. You will see the aperture and shutter speed adjust accordingly, which will help you understand how they complement one another.


I hope this mini lesson solved a lot of unanswered questions or confusion. Have some follow up questions? Comment below, send me a DM, or feel free to email me.

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