Aperture Explained – Exercises

Aperture Explained – Exercises

Over the past few months, I have explained the aperture, the exposure triangle, and the depth of field in a series of articles on this blog. You can find them all here.
The best way to understand a new subject is to practice and experiment on your own. So in this article, I will give you some exercises that will help you gain an even better understanding of the material and information.

You need:

  • A camera which allows you to manually dial in an aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
  • A lens for your camera.
  • If you only have lenses of one focal length you will need to use two or three.
  • If you have a zoom lens that covers something around 30mm (or less) to 100mm (or more) use that.
  • Some spare time
  • A notebook and a pen (write down the different settings for these exercises, because it will help you in the evaluations)
  • A day with reasonably good weather (full cloud coverage works as well as blue sky)
  • A tripod would be helpful but is not mandatory
  • Post-processing software can help you see the values you dialed in for each photo. Usually, your camera vendor will provide post-processing software so you shouldn’t need to purchase any additional programs. Otherwise, you can install ExifTool and exiftoolGui, both of which are available as freeware. If, however you decide against this, pen and paper are your friends.

You are going to take all the photos from a single exercise from at location of your choice. Do not change the location of your photos from a single exercise. This is to ensure that the effects of your settings are visible afterward. Your location should not be in the snow, or on a bright beach as both might fool your camera’s exposure meter.

You will probably not win the Photographer of the Year award with the following photos…but they will help you on your way.

For all these exercises: set your camera into Manual mode.

Exposure Triangle Exercises

  1. Set your camera to an aperture of F/16 and an ISO of 400.
    1. When looking through the view finder you will see a scale on which a point moves left/right when you change the shutter speed.
    2. Make sure this point is at the value 0 by dialing in an appropriate shutter speed.
    3. Take a photo and write down your settings.
  2. Change your aperture to F/8.
    1. In which direction does the point on that scale move? Plus or Minus?
      Why? Are you allowing less or more light to enter into your camera?
    2. Which effect is this going to have on your photo? (Take a photo and evaluate once all photos are done for this exercise)
    3. Change your shutter speed so that the point on the scale is again in the middle of the scale, or at a Value of 0.
    4. Is your shutter speed now longer or shorter than before?
    5. How much longer/shorter is your shutter speed than before?
    6. Take a photo.
  3. Change your shutter speed to a value two stops faster than your current shutter speed.
    1. In which direction does the point on that scale move? Plus or Minus?
    2. Change your ISO so that the point on the scale is in the 0 position again.
    3. Did you have to choose a higher or a lower value for your ISO?
    4. How much higher or lower is your ISO now?
    5. Take a photo.
  4. Change your ISO back to its original value of ISO 400.
    1. Change both ISO and shutter speed so that the scale is in the 0 position again.
    2. How much higher or lower is your ISO and shutter speed than in the first part of the exercise?
    3. Take a photo.
  5. Set your camera to an aperture of F/8 and an ISO of 400.
    1. When looking through the viewfinder you will see a scale on which a point moves left/right when you change the shutter speed. Make sure this point is at the value 0 by dialing in an appropriate shutter speed. Take a photo and write down your settings.
    2. Change your aperture to F/16.
      1. In which direction does the point on that scale move? Plus or Minus?
      2. Why? Are you allowing less or more light to enter into your camera?
      3. What effect is this going to have on your photo? (Take a photo and evaluate them once all the photos have been taken for this exercise)
    3. Change your shutter speed so that the point on the scale is once again in the middle of the scale, or at a Value of 0.
      1. Is your shutter speed now longer or shorter than before?
      2. How much longer/shorter is your shutter speed than before?
      3. Take a photo.
    4. Change your shutter speed to a value two stops faster than your current shutter speed.
      1. In which direction does the point on that scale move? Plus or Minus?
      2. Change your ISO so that the point on the scale is in the 0 position again.
      3. Did you have to choose a higher or a lower value for your ISO?
      4. How much higher or lower is your ISO now?
      5. Take a photo.
    5. Change your ISO back to its original value of ISO 400.
      1. Change both ISO and shutter speed so that the scale is in the 0 position again.
      2. How much higher or lower is your ISO and shutter speed than in the first part of this exercise?
      3. Take a photo.

3. Compare the photos from exercise 1 with each other. What has changed in terms of brightness? Which are too bright or too dark, and which are exposed correctly?

4. Compare the photos from exercise 2 with each other. What has changed in terms of brightness? Which are too bright or too dark and which are exposed correctly?

5. Compare the photos from exercise 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, as well as 2.1, 2.3, and 2.5. How does the shutter speed / ISO change if you change your aperture value by 2 stops? When do you have to increase/decrease the shutter speed / ISO to get the exposure right?

Congratulations, you are now able to master the exposure triangle.

Depth of field and aperture Exercise

In this exercise, we will evaluate what effect a different aperture has on the depth of field.
Look for a subject to photograph. Behind your subject, there should be some free space or other objects, but not a wall. Place yourself about 2m away from your subject and focus on the subject. A tree, or even a toy, would be a good example of a subject for this exercise. Use a focal length of 85mm or longer.

  1. Dial in your widest possible aperture.
    1. Set your shutter speed and ISO so that the point on the scale is in the middle (0) position.
    2. Take a photo
  2. Dial in an aperture of F/8.
    1. Set your shutter speed and ISO so that the point on the scale is in the middle (0) position.
    2. Take a photo
  3. Dial in an aperture of F/16
    1. Set your shutter speed and ISO so that the point on the scale is in the middle (0) position.
    2. Take a photo

Compare the photos from this exercise.
With what aperture did you get most of the photo in focus?
With what aperture did you get the background, and potentially some of your foreground, blurry but your subject is in focus?
Was it a wide or a narrow aperture that allowed for the short depth of field?
Was it a wide or a narrow aperture that allowed for a greater depth of field?

Congratulations, you now have experienced the connection between depth of field and the aperture!

Depth of field, focal length and aperture Exercise

Use your zoom lens or different lenses for this exercise. You will photograph the same subject again as in the previous exercise and you will not need to change your position.

Use your lenses longest focal length, for example 100mm or longer.

  1. Dial in the widest possible aperture at this focal length.
    1. Set your shutter speed and ISO so that the point on the scale is in the middle (0) position.
    2. Take a photo
  2. Set the focal length to 50mm. Do NOT change the aperture from the previous exercise.
    1. Set your shutter speed and ISO so that the point on the scale is in the middle (0) position.
    2. Take a photo
  3. Set the focal length to 30mm or less. Do NOT change the aperture from the previous exercise.
    1. Set your shutter speed and ISO so that the point on the scale is in the middle (0) position.
    2. Take a photo

Compare the photos of this exercise. All photos should have been taken with the same aperture.
But how does the focal length influence the depth of field?
Does a longer or a shorter focal length give you a longer or a shorter depth of field?
What would you have to do to get a longer depth of field with a longer focal length, without changing your position?
What happens to your depth of field if you go closer / further away from your subject? Try it out if you are curious.

Tip: Why not give yourself easy access to these results by printing out the photos and writing the settings, as well as your evaluations, next to them in a notebook? You can do this in a word file as well.

Bonus Exercise

1. What aperture was used to shoot the following photo? A large or a small one? Explain your conclusion.

2. If I told you that I stood about 3m away from this tree when I took the photograph and that I used a 315mm focal length, what do you think my aperture was? A wide or a narrow one? Was it wider or narrower than in the photo in bonus exercise 1? Explain your conclusion.

If you enjoyed this post, you might want to have a look at the other posts of this series:

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