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How to creatively use Aperture Priority Mode ?

| January 22, 2009 | 12 Comments
Learn more about Aperture Priority mode. What is Aperture, and how does it affect photos. What is depth of field (DOF) and how to use it creatively to separate your subject from background.

Aperture Priority mode Dial

Aperture Priority mode Dial

Ok, assuming that you have bought your first (prosumer or dSLR) camera, and played with it for a while on auto (or program) setting, and usually the quality of the shots is more than satisfactory, however your creative side wants more. Go ahead and try out the Aperture priority mode (indicated as Av on Pentax, Canon or A on Sony, Olympus, Nikon, Panasonic & Fuji). Some of the basic compact cameras might not have that mode, so we recommend that you check your camera manual.

What is Aperture ?

Aperture is ‘the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.’
When you hit the shutter release button of your camera a hole opens up that allows your cameras image sensor to catch a glimpse of the scene you’re wanting to capture. The aperture that you set impacts the size of that hole. The larger the hole the more light that gets in
– the smaller the hole the less light.

Aperture Diagram

Aperture Diagram

The aperture is expressed in ‘f-stops’. It is often referred to as f/number – for example f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6,f/8,f/22 etc. Moving from one f-stop to the next doubles or halves the size of the amount of opening in your lens (and the amount of light getting through). Keep in mind that a change in shutter speed from one stop to the next doubles or halves the amount of light that gets in also – this means if you increase one and decrease the other you let the same amount of light in – very handy to keep in mind).

Why is Aperture mode interesting ?

The Aperture priority (Av, or A) mode allows you to manually take control of the aperture, while the camera automatically regulates shutter speed to ensure that the photo has been exposed properly (or simply put, that there is enough light). This allows you to take direct control of Depth of Field in your photos.

Depth of Field - Shallow vs Deep

Depth of Field - Shallow vs Deep

Depth of Field (DOF) is that amount of your shot that will be in focus. Large depth of field means that most of your image will be in focus whether it’s close to your camera or far away (see top example on the right).
Small (or shallow) depth of field means that only part of the image will be in focus and the rest will be fuzzy (bottom example). This can be handy when taking portraits, shooting flowers and wildlife, but can be applied to pretty much anything. Basically, it makes the object in focus stand out above the rest.
Aperture has a big impact upon depth of field. Large aperture (remember it’s a smaller number) will decrease depth of field while small aperture (larger numbers) will give you larger depth of field.
If you ever get confused just remember that the small f-stop number e.g. f/2.8 will give you much smaller DOF, and making your subject stand out from the background. See example below.

The first flower photo was taken at f/32, meaning large f-stop, and large DOF. Notice that the background is visible, and draws attention from the flower which is the subject. The second flower photo was shot at f/5 and consequently much smaller DOF. Notice that the background is gone, and that it accentuates the flower much more than in the previous example.

Jonquil flowers at f/32

Jonquil flowers at f/32

Jonquil flowers at f/5

Jonquil flowers at f/5

If you want to further enhance the effect, try using the telephoto lens at the max. zoom setting, or use the maximum zoom available at your prosumer digital camera.

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Category: Beginners Photography, Photography Lessons

About the Author (Author Profile)

Alan Graf is the editor and founder of Digital Photography Student. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is also editor of – a Croatian wallpaper archive, and his own photo gallery at

Comments (12)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Very nice! Easy to read and understand, good advice. Thumbs up!

  2. […] is its automation, it’s also its biggest drawback. Everything is automated including exposure, aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. While this is a great feature for making snapshots, a photographer […]

  3. […] on your digital camera By Alan Graf | Published April 12, 2010 Statistics indicate that Aperture Priority Mode is one of the most frequently used creative modes among photography enthusiasts, and rightfully so. […]

  4. […] you get a feeling for it, and then progress slowly to more creative settings such as program mode, aperture priority mode, shutter priority, and finally full […]

  5. […] f/5.6), and often twice as expensive. While I am not sure if it has anything to do with the max. aperture, faster lens is usually aimed towards photography enthusiast and pro market segment, and […]

  6. […] on my Pentax K200D (manual mode): 1. ISO set to 100 2. Lens 18-55mm kit lens set to 18mm 3. Aperture set to minimum (f/22) 4. Shutter set to 30sec Tuk Tuk […]

  7. […] – Aperture Priority (on Canon and Pentax) = A (Nikon, Olympus, Sony, Panasonic & […]

  8. […] easy to put background out of focus by using the small aperture (f/5.6 in my […]

  9. […] it gets almost too easy to get all involved in the technical aspects of a photography, such as aperture, shutter, ISO, depth of field, etc without even realizing that the most important aspect of […]

  10. […] 75-135mm – Medium telephoto lens. These lens have 1,5-2,5 magnification factor and are mostly used also for portraits (Hint: longer focal length makes it easier to blur background – see article on DOF, and aperture). […]

  11. […] have already talked about shutter speed & aperture in our previous posts. I have read somewhere an excellent comparison between taking a photo and […]

  12. […] Lens aperture (f-stop) […]

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