What is it?

The aperture is an adjustable hole in your lens that opens and closes to let varying amounts of light into your camera.  It's the pupil of your camera's eye, and it's the first place where light enters your camera - giving you your first opportunity to control how much light gets through!

How is the adjustment to your aperture measured?

f-stops.

f-what?  We're going to save you the calculus lesson and just ask you to trust us.  This is your new f-word, because understanding it makes no flippin' sense - it's all backwards... until it's not.  Once it makes sense, then it does.

Remember how we said that aperture is the pupil of your camera's eye? Think about how your pupil works. In situations where there is little light (i.e. at night, in a darkened room, etc.) your pupil opens up really wide to let in as much light as possible so that you can see what is around you. In really bright lights (i.e. sunny days, bright rooms, etc.), your pupil gets really small so you aren't blinded by the light.  That's aperture!

Except that the f-numbers that represent it are totally backwards. Just remember that a wide open aperture setting that allows the most light through the lens is represented by a small f-stop number (i.e. 1.2, 1.4, 1.8, 2.0, etc.). A narrow, almost closed aperture setting that lets less light in is - wait for it - a larger f-stop number (i.e. 5.6, 7.2, 8.0, etc)

Yep, new f-word.
(Don't cringe, you'll never forget it now).

What does it mean to you?

Two things.

First - the aperture is your camera's first line of defense against too much or too little light. The size of your aperture determines how much light will make it to the shutter. Open aperture (little f-stop number) = more light.  Closed aperture (big f-stop number) = less light.  Except for the counterintuitive f-stop number, it's simple stuff.

The second function of the aperture setting is a little more complicated, but it's one of the most powerful creative tools in photography.  If you've ever se en a portrait where the subject is completely crisp, but everything in front of and behind them melts into a beautiful blur, then you've witnessed the creative power of your aperture - something known as depth of field.

How cool is this picture of those yummy wet toes? But look closely - do you see how the raindrops in f ront of and behind those two little feet on the playground disappear into a beautifully out of focus blur - causing you to stare at nothing but those tootsies?  That's the product of an open aperture (small f-number!).

In this second picture - the aperture is closed down to a much larger f-number to keep the bright bright sunlight from overexposing the picture. And look - everything from here to there is sharply in focus - something that definitely gives context to vacation photos!

We'll wait until a more in-depth hands-on lesson to show you how depth of field really plays out, but trust us, you're going to love us for it. You can choose a closed-down aperture (think big f-numbers here!) for things like landscape photos or portraits where all the details are important so that everything in your picture is in focus.  Or you can make your aperture extremely wide (think little f-numbers here!) and get just one of your baby's tiny little toes in focus while the rest of her tootsies fade into dreamy wonder.

It's a very powerful setting you'll fall in love with, even if it trips you up mentally at first!

Bottom line?

Confusing terminlogy aside (hey thanks science guys!), the aperture and it's f-stop number is actually our favorite camera setting because it has a huge creative impact on pictures.

The best way to remember how your aperture works is this:

Wide aperture opening = small f-number

- Lets in lots of light

- Narrow depth of field (small amount of picture in focus)

- Downside - narrow focal plane (meaning it can be really easy to miss focus)

Small aperture opening = big f-number

- Lets in less light

- Wider depth of field (more of the picture in focus)

- Downside - the larger focal plane makes it easier to get the subject in focus, but harder to tell a creative story