Sounds rude, but don’t worry. One topic that keeps cropping up (no pun intended) on our courses is f-stop, a.k.a. aperture.

Basically, the aperture or f-stop is a numerical value that represents the size of the hole that light travels through the camera lens before reaching the image sensor. The bigger the hole, the more light – the smaller the hole, less light. The bit that throws people is the number itself. The confusion arises mainly because the bigger the f-stop number, the smaller the hole, and vice versa – the smaller the f-stop number, the bigger the hole.

Don’t get hung up on what the number means – it’s all a bit mathematical – just remember:

bigger hole = more light = smaller f-stop number
smaller hole = less light = larger f-stop number

Each time the amount of light reaching the sensor doubles (or halves), is known as one full stop – the common whole stop values you’re likely to come across are:

  • 1.4
  • 2
  • 2.8
  • 4
  • 5.6
  • 8
  • 11
  • 16

And so on – each one in the sequence above being one full stop. Pretty much all cameras out there today offer fractions of a stop too – sometimes you can choose between half or thirds of a stop.

So why not just set your camera on the biggest aperture (smallest number remember) and get as much light as possible into the camera through the lens? Well, this is where you get to control depth of field – more on that another time. Have a look at the two images below:

Shot taken at f2.8

Shot taken at f/2.8

Shot taken at f11

Shot taken at f/11

Controlling the depth of field in your images is one of the greatest creative controls available to you and is covered on our Level 1 – Fundamentals of Digital Photography course.

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