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All About Aperture - Book Excerpt - Creative Lighting Tips And Techniques
The following excerpt is from a wonderful new digital photography book, Creative Lighting: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques by award-winning professional photographer Harold Davis. The book covers both natural light and studio lighting. However, it is not a cookbook covering studio lighting setups; nor is it a book that emphasizes the pixels over the overall visual impact that a photograph can make.
Each of the photos in Creative Lighting can be used to generate ideas for your own work — how you can use existing light, alter light, or create lighting to make spectacular photos of your own. The author includes the story behind each photo in the book, as well as full technical data about the captures.
All About Aperture
Aperture is one of the three factors you can use when setting an exposure (as I explained on pages 70–73, shutter speed and ISO are the other two). The aperture is, er, well, an aperture or hole on the inside of the lens. You can make this hole bigger, to let more light into the sensor, or smaller to let less light into the sensor.
If this sounds pretty simple, it is. However, as I’ll explain in a moment, your aperture setting has a major creative impact on aspects of your photo besides just the exposure.
Note that if you want to change your aperture without changing your overall exposure—because the exposure is balanced where you want it—you need to make an appropriate countervailing adjustment to either shutter speed, or ISO, or both.
The mechanism used for setting your aperture depends upon your camera, and perhaps upon the lens you are using. If you don’t know how to set your aperture in manual mode, you’ll need to check your manual—but it’s most common with digital SLRs to set aperture using a command dial. Aperture is set on some older, or manual lenses, using a dial on the lens itself.
Believe it or not, there’s at least one contemporary lens—the Lensbaby—in which aperture is controlled by dropping a physical disk with a hole into the barrel of the lens.
Beyond how you set it, you may find aperture somewhat confusing because of the notation used to describe it. Aperture is referred to using f-stop notation, for example, f/5.6. In this example, 5.6 is called the f-number and f/5.6 is the f-stop.
Now for the confusing part: the larger the f-number, the smaller the opening. f/36 means a much, much smaller opening than f/2.8.
When a lens aperture is set as small as possible, the lens is said to be stopped down. A lens set to the maximum aperture is wide open.
Here’s a technical explanation of how f-numbers work. Don’t worry, if this makes your eyes glaze over, you can skip the next paragraph, as long as you remember that bigger f-numbers mean letting less light in.
The focal length of a lens is (roughly speaking) the distance light travels from the end of the lens to the sensor. An f-number is the ratio of focal length to the aperture diameter. An f-stop is one over the f-number, notated f/n where n is the f-number. Each full f-stop lets in half the light of the preceding full f-stop (see the diagram below and the table on page 84); a logarithmic relationship is involved because f-stops are defined using the diameter of a circle.
Aperture, Depth-of-Field, and Focus
F-stops (shown in relative scale)
50mm macro, two exposures at 2 seconds and 4 seconds (exposures combined in Photoshop), each exposure at f/32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted
I knew I wanted this rose to be entirely in focus, so I used as small an aperture as possible (f/32) to have increased depth-of-field to work with.
For a given sensor size and lens, the creative control that aperture provides is related to how much of an image appears to be in focus. In some cases, it’s nice to have an image that is only partly in focus— for example, an out-of-focus background can help emphasize something important in the foreground of a photo.
In other photos, the desired creative effect is to have the entire image be tack sharp.
The range of focus provided in a photo by an aperture setting is called depth-of-field. The greater depth-of-field you have because the lens is stopped down, the greater the range that is in focus; when a lens is wide open you have the least depth-of-field (see the table for a hypothetical example showing the relationship between aperture, the light it lets in, and depth-of-field).
To get the most possible subject matter in focus, you should focus somewhere in the middle of the depth-of-field range. If this is an absolutely critical creative issue, try a number of focus points to see which works best.
Infinity (marked with ∞ on the focusing ring of most lens barrels) is—despite its name—a finite distance: beyond the infinity point for a lens everything is in focus when the lens is set to focus to infinity, even at the maximum lens aperture. In other words, infinity is the farthest distance a lens can focus, and once your subject matter is at infinity or beyond your aperture doesn’t matter from the viewpoint of focus.
The hyperfocal distance takes the depthof-field generated by the aperture into account—and is the point at a given aperture past which everything is in focus. These days, there are mobile applications for iPads and other devices that can help you calculate the hyperfocal distance for specific lenses and apertures.
Depth-of-field controls which elements of your photo appear to be in focus, not the overall sharpness of the image.
There are a number of other causes of unsharpness besides focus—for example, when the camera or subject moves. Also, you can have plenty of depth-of-field, and still be out of focus. Furthermore, you should also be aware that most lenses are optically sharpest at moderate apertures in the f/5.6 to f/11 range—neither fully wide open nor fully stopped down.
Like most aspects of the technical craft of photography, aperture and focus can involve trade-offs. In terms of focus itself, don’t neglect the importance of taking care with camera-subject positioning. Particularly in low depth-of-field images, it is important to keep the camera as parallel as possible with the subject. In some situations this can be measured but in others determining parallelism is a seat-of-the-pants kind of thing.
130mm, 1/125 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 200, tripod mounted
I knew this shot would be most interesting if I could get the foreground and background out of focus, with only the single orange flower sharp. So I used a wide-open, large aperture (f/5.6) to create the effect that I had pre-visualized.
Here are the links to the other free excerpts:
• Understanding Exposure
• Overexposure And Underexposure
• Using A Histogram In Photoshop
• Working With Shutter Speeds
• Working With The ISO
• Using Exposure Controls with Lighting
• White Balance And Color
• Pre-Visualizing the Impact of Lighting
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Adobe Deals & Special Coupon Offers
Visit the Adobe Coupons & Special Offers Page to see the latest deals from Adobe. Find upgrade options at the Adobe Store. Get up to 80% off at the Adobe Education Store. Find out about monthly or annual subscriptions. You can also download a free 30 day trial of any Adobe CS5 product.
onOne Photoshop Plugins Sale - Plus Exclusive 10% Discount
onOne has launched a big sale that has reduced the prices of every one of their plugins. Visit onOne for full product descriptions. And if you decide to purchase one of their plugins, use our exclusive discount code - PSSPPT06 - for an additional 10% discount. Here's a list of the sale prices (before our 10% discount is applied):
Perfect Photo Suite $299.95 / $149.95 (upgrade)
Perfect Photo Suite 5.5 includes all of the onOne Software products and works with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Five of the products in the Suite even work as stand-alone applications now.
Perfect Resize 7 $199.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
The next generation of Genuine Fractals is still the industry standard for image enlargement. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
Perfect Layers $69.95
Perfect Layers is the fast and easy way to bring a layered workflow to Lightroom and Aperture. Perfect Layers works with Lightroom and Aperture or as a standalone application.
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Add realistic depth of field to your images. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
PhotoTune $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Getting great color in your images is not as hard as you think. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
Mask Pro 4 $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
For removing unwanted backgrounds, Mask Pro is the Photoshop plugin recommended by Advanced Photoshop magazine. Works as a plug-in for Photoshop.
PhotoTools $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Instantly give your photos the professional look. Works as a Photoshop plug-in.
PhotoFrame $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Add the perfect finishing touch to your photos or create an album layout design. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
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Nik Software The Complete Collection (Plugins Bundle)
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Color Efex Pro 3.0
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Free Photoshop Templates - Album templates, layouts, backgrounds and edges to save you time in Photoshop.
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