Cameras have become an integral part of our lives and the cameras producing high-quality images and offering manual settings are no longer associated just with DSLRs or professional cameras. Smartphone OEMs have realized the importance of the camera in a smartphone and have been making it better with each passing day. From stacking smartphones with a massive 41-megapixel camera to making dual cameras on the back of the phone a trend, we have just seen phone cameras move from being add-ons to an essential feature of phones.
Although our phone cameras are getting better every day, no one can deny the fact that they are becoming a little complex as well. And so are the terms associated with them. Five years ago, megapixels and flash were the only terms used in their description – today, companies use words like f-stop, ISO, shutter speed and a whole lot more. And most of it just bounces off our minds.
One of these terms is… APERTURE!
Aperture is one of the first things one should know about one’s camera. Therefore, to clear matters up as simply as possible, we will explain what this fancy-sounding term means.
Just a hole or an opening
In plain simple terms, aperture is the opening or the hole through which light gets into your camera. For instance, imagine your camera to be a room covered with black curtains and there is just one hole in the curtain. So the amount of light that gets in from outside, depends on the size of the hole in the curtain. In this case, the room is your camera, the curtain is your lens and the hole through which the light enters in the camera is the aperture.
Therefore, if the camera has got a bigger opening, more light will travel through it and fall on the sensor of your camera (where the image is formed – we will explain “sensor” on another day, we promise), hence producing a picture with more light (or as they say “more exposed”) whereas if you have got a smaller opening, less light will travel through it and the picture produced will be darker – because there was lesser light.
The f-stop effect
Aperture is generally measured in f-stop which works in inverse proportion – in simple English, the larger the number, the smaller the opening. So, if the f-stop is f/2.8, then you are likely to have a bigger opening which means more light and more brightness in the picture. On the other hand, if the f-stop is f/128, then you are likely to have a much smaller opening and a very small amount of light will get inside the lens.
This means that if you are clicking a picture in well-lit conditions, you ideally would not want too much light getting into the camera as it would make everything over bright. This is where the aperture comes into play – you will have to choose a higher value of the f-stop to ensure the opening is small, not letting a lot of light into the camera. On the other hand, if you are clicking pictures in a dim-lit environment or at night, for instance, you will need all the light you can get (hey, it is dark, remember?), so choose a smaller value of the aperture, thus making the opening larger, and getting more amount of light into the camera.
A very simple rule of thumb:
- Bright light = high aperture value (the number that comes after ‘f’)
- Low light = low aperture value
Most phone cameras have a figure like f/1.8 or f/2.0 written after them. This is because, in most phones, the size of the aperture is fixed and cannot be changed. All you need to remember is – the smaller the f-stop number, the larger the opening the camera can accommodate to let light in, which generally results in better low light photography. That simple.
Aperture and depth of field
Apart from light, aperture also controls the depth of field in a picture.
Depth of what, you say?
Let us explain.
Depth of field simply is the distance between the closest and the farthest object in the image which are in focus.
Still not clear?
Right, let’s really break it down – it is the area of an image that is in sharp focus!
Now if the distance between the closest and the farthest object in focus is very small, then the area of the image that is in sharp focus is small, and the rest is somewhat blurred. This is called a shallow depth of field – the blurred background is also called a ‘bokeh” effect.
If the distance between the closest and the farthest object in focus is large, a large portion of the image is in focus, and very little is blurred. We call this a deep depth of field.
So where does aperture come into this?
The connection of aperture with depth of field is very simple. You get deeper depth of field when the aperture is of small value, and you will get shallow depth of field when the aperture is of higher value.
So, if you want to click a picture where the background is blurred and the foreground is in sharp focus (like a portrait of a person or a close up), select a higher value of aperture to create a shallow depth of field. On the other hand, if you want to keep the background also in focus (as in a landscape), go with a lower aperture value which will create a deeper depth of field.
The simple rule of thumb:
- Want the background blurred: low aperture value (the number that comes after ‘f’)
- Want most of the picture to be in sharp focus: high aperture value
So, the next time you pick up your DSLR or hit the manual button in your phone settings (if available, for example on phones like Zenfone Zoom and Galaxy K Zoom), go right ahead and fiddle with the aperture. You will be able to see the difference a higher or lower value of aperture can make to your picture!