Master Aperture Priority To Take Your Photography To The Next Level

how to master aperture priority

The main camera settings professional photographers use are manual mode, shutter priority mode, and aperture priority mode. However, knowing which one to use and when to use it isn’t always easy. So, today, I’m going to teach you how to master aperture priority mode once and for all!

Aperture Priority Mode Is Great, But It’s Not Alone

To start us off here’s a quick rundown of each of the main camera settings:

  • Manual mode – Full control over shutter speed, exposure, ISO and aperture
  • Shutter priority mode – Control over shutter speed, exposure, and ISO
  • Aperture priority mode – Control over aperture, ISO and exposure

Related Post: Wide vs. Narrow Aperture (Example Images)

Camera settings
Knowing your camera settings and how and when to use them is key to improving your photography.

Manual mode is the most difficult to master but provides the greatest control. A great alternative to use is the aperture priority mode.

The aperture priority setting is easy to master but requires an understanding of aperture itself and the other mechanics involved.

In this guide, we look at the aperture, aperture priority mode, and how to master them both.

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What is Aperture?

First, you must fully understand what aperture is. Understanding the basics will ensure you can easily use aperture priority mode. Camera aperture can be defined as the opening in the camera lens which allows light to pass through the camera body.

If you look at the lens, you’ll likely be able to see the aperture blades that create this opening

Definition of aperture
The hole which the definition describes is the area which the aperture blades leave open, as is highlighted with the arrow on this picture.

Aperture works in a similar manner to how the human eye works:

Our iris shrinks and expands depending on the amount of light we can see – for example, in a dark environment, our iris will expand, thus allowing our pupil to see more light.

In photography, the aperture is measured in f stops.

An f stop is a specific number that denotes the size of the aperture.

The basic principle to remember is that a large f-number means a small aperture, and a small f-number means a larger number:

  • f/2.8 = large aperture, small depth of field and more light due to a wider opening
  • f/11 = small aperture, large depth of field and less light due to a smaller opening

Aperture controls the depth of field and what is in focus in your photographic compositions.

I know it seems like a lot to take in at first, but don’t worry, I’ll explain it all in greater detail below.

How Does Aperture Priority Mode Work?

Aperture priority mode is an advanced camera control in which you primarily control the aperture of your compositions. This camera mode is usually identified as “AV”.

Flower shot at f/5.0

Flowers at the Eden Project shot at f/5.0

Aperture Priority Mode Controls The Amount Of Light Let Into Your Camera

Using aperture priority mode you can change the aperture of your shots. What aperture settings you have depends on the lens you have. Some specialist lenses allow extremely large apertures which are perfect for macro photography for example.

The main principle to remember is the depth of field. Use aperture priority mode to control depth of field and experiment with different focal points.

Impressive scenery in Austria captured at f/8.0
Impressive scenery in Austria captured at f/8.0

ISO And Exposure Are Also Important

While you choose the aperture, the aperture priority mode automatically selects the best shutter speed to compensate.

This conversely affects exposure.

To improve the quality of your photos using aperture priority mode, you can also manually change the exposure and ISO rating.

Learn The Basic Camera Settings

As you get used to this program mode, you’ll understand how to create effective shots. The three photos below show a basic demonstration of how different apertures created different depths of field.

To master aperture priority, spend time controlling depth of field and testing the different camera settings.

The first photo was shot at f/2.0 – this creates an extremely small depth of field. Due to this, only a small portion of the egg cup is in focus. The second and third shots have smaller apertures and thus more of the egg cup is in focus:

Master aperture priority - f/2.0
Shot at f/2.0 – extremely shallow depth of field
Master aperture priority - f/5.6
This photo was taken at f.5.6 – note how there is more detail in focus
Master aperture priority - f/10.0
Practically all of this photo is in focus at f/10.0

RELATED POST: Exposure Triangle Explained

How To Use Aperture Priority Mode

As mentioned above, use aperture priority mode to create interesting shots with different depths of field. If you’re not fully confident using manual mode, aperture priority mode gives excellent results.

When using aperture priority mode, there is a basic rule to remember:

  • Larger apertures to focus on single objects or macro shots
  • Smaller apertures to focus on multiple objects or landscapes

Large Apertures Create A Small Depth of Field

Have seen beautiful photos where there is a central object that is perfectly in focus?

Moreover, the background may look out of focus – this creates a stunning effect called “bokeh” and it centralizes your attention on the main subject.

This is achieved using large apertures.

In the shot below, the aperture is f/4.0 – as you can see, the flower is perfectly in focus, but the background is not – the overall effect is pleasing:

Master aperture priority - flowers
Flowers in focus at f/4.0

In this next example, the aperture is f/5.0. The signpost is fully in focus, but the background mountains are not.

If you used a smaller aperture, the background and signpost would be in focus – this would not look as professional:

Wolfgangsee f/5.0
Note how the signpost is in focus but the mountains are not

Below are examples of photos taken using larger apertures:

Rocks at Porth Joke Beach
Rocks at a beach in Cornwall at f/4.5

Small Apertures Create A Large Depth Of Field

While a large aperture is suitable for macro and portrait photography (to an extent), a small aperture is suitable for landscape photography.

Using a small aperture creates a large depth of field and thus has more of the photo in focus.

When taking landscape photos, as much of the photo should be in focus as possible. This allows viewers to look at the landscape as a whole, instead of just one particular section.

In the below example, this Cornish landscape was shot using f/8.0 – the result is a dramatic shot with everything in focus.

The viewer can clearly see the beach, cliffs, and water in great detail:

Master aperture priority f/8.0
Beach shot at f/8.0

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The second example was also shot at f/8.0. This photo is of the stunning landscape of Lake Bled in Slovenia. Moreover, the small aperture ensures the trees, sky, and water are in focus:

Lake Bled in Slovenia
Lake Bled in Slovenia shot at f/8.0

Below are examples of photos with small apertures:

Plants at Eden project
Plants at Eden Project, f/6.3
Master aperture priority - f/9.0
Water landscape in Singapore at f/9.0

Extremely Small Apertures For Longer Shutter Speeds

Finally, aperture priority mode creates the potential for long exposure shots. Remember that when shooting in aperture priority mode, the camera selects the shutter speed.

If you set the aperture to something extremely small such as f/22, the shutter speed will be slow. This creates a perfect setup for long exposure shots.

It’s advisable to use a tripod – if the camera isn’t stable, the resulting photo will be blurry.

RELATED POST: Working With Aperture Priority

Get Out There And Give Aperture Priority Mode A Try

We hope you have found this guide on how to master aperture priority useful. Furthermore, we hope you now have a clearer understanding of aperture and the effects it can create.

And remember, if you’re not confident using manual mode, aperture priority mode is a fantastic alternative.