Have you ever heard photographers mention “small aperture” and wondered what it really means? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The world of photography has its fair share of technical jargon that can leave us scratching our heads.

In this captivating post, we’ll unravel the mysteries of small and large apertures and explore their profound impact on your photographs.

So, sit back, relax, and embark on a journey that will transform the way you perceive and capture the world through your lens. Get ready to dive into the fascinating realm where art and science converge!

Key Takeaways

  • A small aperture refers to a larger f-stop number, resulting in less light entering the camera, while a large aperture corresponds to a smaller f-stop number, allowing more light.
  • Understanding the relationship between f-stops and aperture is crucial; higher f-stops indicate smaller apertures, while lower f-stops indicate larger apertures.
  • The f-stop value can be used to control exposure in your photographs, with higher f-stops suitable for bright sunlight and lower f-stops ideal for low-light or nighttime photography.
  • Aperture and shutter speed work in conjunction; wider apertures require faster shutter speeds to prevent overexposure, while narrower apertures necessitate slower shutter speeds to avoid underexposure.
  • Selecting the appropriate aperture setting also affects the depth of field in your photos, allowing you to control the sharpness or blurriness of the background and foreground.
  • When shopping for lenses, pay attention to the maximum and minimum aperture values they offer, as this will impact their versatility for different photography needs.
  • For most everyday photography, a lens with an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/16 is generally sufficient, while specialized applications may require lenses with wider or narrower aperture capabilities.
  • Understanding aperture and its relationship to exposure, depth of field, and lens selection empowers photographers to capture stunning images while maintaining creative control over their compositions.
  • Understanding how to adjust aperture settings in your camera empowers you to capture stunning landscape images with consistent sharpness and desired depth of field.

What is meant by small aperture?

A small aperture is a large f-stop number. The f-stop is a way of measuring what the aperture of the lens is at. The higher the f-stop, the lower the aperture – meaning less light will be let into the camera.

Small aperture vs big aperture

On the other hand, a small f-stop number means a large aperture. The smaller the f-stop number is, the larger the opening in the lens will be and more light will be let into the camera.

How to read f-stops

f-stops are indicated by the letter f and a number, like f/8 or f-8. Here’s the part that confuses most beginning photographers:

F stops go in the opposite direction of aperture!

To recap:

Higher f-stops means smaller aperture

Lower f-stops means bigger aperture

An f-stop of say f/16 will mean the opening in the lens is very small, allowing very little light through. An f-stop of f/2.8 on the other hand will mean the opening in the lens is quite large, and will allow a lot of light through.

You can use the f-stop to control the exposure in your photographs. Higher f-stops are good for photos in bright sunlight, and low f-stops are good for night photography or in situations where there is little light.

Common aperture and f-stop values

F-stops are standardized, which means that for the most part, the aperture on a particular f-stop on one lens will be the same as the same value f-stop on another lens.

When you are shopping for lenses, you’ll be able to see the maximum and minimum aperture the lens is capable of. This will help you decide on which lens to get.

For most everyday photography, a stock lens that can do f/2.8 up to f/16 will be fine.

For more specialized applications, you will need to get specific lenses that can manage apertures of up to f/1.4 or f/22 and f/32.

f/8 is about halfway(it doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it is) between extremely low and extremely high values.

a chart of aperture values

Combining aperture and shutter speed

Aperture needs to be used in conjunction with shutter speed, otherwise your photos will not come out correctly. At smaller apertures, where the lens is wide open, you need to use a faster shutter speed. Otherwise, you risk letting too much light into the photograph and over-exposing it.

At larger apertures, where the lens is stopped down(smaller), you will need to use a slower shutter speed. Otherwise, not enough light will enter the lens and your photos will come out darker.

In most digital cameras and dSLRs, you will find a function that will let you adjust the aperture and compensate the shutter speed automatically.

When you are starting out, this is a good setting to use. You can make a note of what shutter speed the camera used for your desired aperture, and if you’re not happy with the result, pop over to manual mode, set the aperture you need, and adjust the shutter speed based on what you noted in the first shot.

Aperture and depth of field

Aside from controlling exposure, aperture is also very useful for varying the depth of field of your photographs. Put simply, depth of field means how much of your photo is sharp and how much is blurred.

By adjusting the aperture, you can either blur the background and part of the foreground, or you can make the entire photograph relatively sharp.

This is especially evident in landscape photographs and portraits/macro photographs.


Depth of field in portrait photographs

In a portrait or macro photo, you want to keep the subject as sharp as possible and blur out the background. Or for an artistic effect, you may wish to blur the subject slightly as well.

For these effects, you want to use a low or small aperture, which means more light will enter. Small apertures will blur the background and make the subject look more enhanced.

Remember that you will need to compensate for the greater exposure using a faster shutter speed.

This is an example of a photo with small aperture. The increased size of the lens allows more light in and blurs the background. If you notice, there is a little bit of blurryness on the edges of the subject, too.

Depth of field in landscape photographs

An example of using high aperture is a photograph of a landscape or a cityscape.

In these photos, you want the entire photograph to have even sharpness. A high aperture(less light coming in) will let you get this effect.

The degree of blurring in the background(less or more) is known as bokeh. Once you start incorporating bokeh into your camera work, you’ll notice a huge improvement in the quality of your photographs.

Remember that you will need to compensate for the lesser exposure using a slower shutter speed. In many cases, landscape photos are best taken from a tripod since your hands may not be able to keep the camera stable enough to avoid shakes.

This is an example of a photograph taken with a high aperture, or less light coming in. Notice how the sharpness is evenly distributed across the entire photograph.

How to set aperture in your camera

In a dSLR camera, you’ll typically find a dial with various letters on it. To control the aperture, you have two choices. Either set the dial to A or Av, which will let you control the aperture (typically by using the scroll wheel).

In Aperture priority mode, the camera will adjust shutter speed automatically to try and get you the best photographs.

If you want full control over your photographs, you can set the dial to M, which is manual mode. In this mode, you will need to adjust everything manually: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.


As we conclude this enlightening exploration into the realm of small and large apertures, let’s reflect on the newfound clarity we’ve attained. By now, you understand that the seemingly paradoxical relationship between aperture size and light transmission is simply a matter of perception.

So, armed with this knowledge, how will you harness the power of apertures to create your own photographic masterpieces? Will you experiment with wide open vistas, allowing a flood of light to caress your subjects? Or perhaps you’ll venture into the realm of narrow apertures, sculpting your compositions with precise control over depth of field?

Remember, the aperture is more than just a technical aspect of photography. It is a gateway to artistic expression, enabling you to paint vivid stories with light. Embrace the endless possibilities that lie before you, and let your creative spirit soar through the lens.

Now, go forth and capture the world, for you hold the key to unlocking the perfect balance of light, shadow, and emotion. May your photographic journey be one of boundless inspiration and eternal fascination. Happy shooting!