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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | Art Talk | May 2009 

Photo Tip of the Week - Learning F/Stop or Aperture
email this pageprint this pageemail usLarry and Linda Bennett - PVNN

Photo Tips of the Week are written by Larry Bennett, a professional photographer living in Puerto Vallarta. To view more of his work, visit
Now that the multitudes of visitors have left and we have reclaimed our beautiful city once again for our own selfish enjoyment, I have considered not writing Photography Tips of the Week. However, with all the kind and flattering emails I have received, I will continue to push on like a true warrior dazzling and confusing you with my words of wisdom and confusing ramblings.

I have been receiving many emails asking me to address the camera and photography basics. Well let's do just that. The camera basics are in your owner's manual, so I will let you read and then reread your cameras owner's manual. After you have read your owner's manual, I would be willing to bet most of your camera questions will be answered.

Okay, so let's talk about the photography basics. I plan to spend most of the summer looking at and talking about photography basics. If you are shooting a point and shoot, a DSLR, or even a power shot, in these next few months I will attempt to address all types of cameras. If you're a first timer to Photography Tips of the Week, welcome and please enjoy!

I want to begin this week's article addressing the F/Stop or aperture. Once we have taken the time to cover this subject very thoroughly, then we will address shutter speed, ISO, white balance, bracketing, lighting, flash, using a flash, and on and on in continuing weeks. I know it all sounds confusing right now, but we will take it one subject at a time and continue to build on your knowledge of your particular camera.

Most photographers set their exposure using a combination of F/Stops and shutter speeds to get the correct amount of light on to the sensor. The shutter speed will regulate how much light is allowed through your lens. The F/Stop regulates how much light is allowed through the lens by adjusting the area of the hole (aperture) in which the light comes through.

For any given shutter speed and lighting combination there is one correct amount of light to properly expose your image. This amount of light can be achieved by using many different combinations of F/Stops and shutter speeds. Every time you take an image, the situation is different and will require you to reset your cameras settings.

F/stop is a source of confusion and remains a mystery to many photographers, even to those who use it on a daily basis. When people ask me to explain F/Stop, my typical reply is, F/Stop is the depth of field in which your final image results.

Here is an old analogy that has been taught in every photography class in the world. We are going to fill a bucket with water. The bucket is a fixed size. Consider that the filling of water process is like shooting an image. Each time you shoot an image you set your shutter speed because you need a different amount of light to properly capture that specific image. To fill your bucket you can pour a small stream of water for a long time OR a fast stream of water for a short time, either way you end up with the same amount of water in your bucket.

In photography, the size of your stream of water is analogous to the F/Stop and the length of time you pour your water is analogous to shutter speed. From the bucket's point of view, it doesn't matter which combination of stream size and length of time you take to fill the bucket, as long as you choose the right amount of water in the end to fill the bucket.

Taking your image is the same as filling the bucket, within some limits. It does not always matter about the combination of time and light as long as the right amount of light eventually arrives. There are a few very deep exceptions to this rule, but it goes so deep that it would throw us both into mass confusion, so we will save that for later... much later.

Shutter speed is easier to understand and in a few weeks I will go into more depth with it. However, I have one more thing to say about shutter speed; shutter speed (and F/Stop) runs through a sequence of settings which involve doubling and halving the amounts of light that reaches your sensor.

Shutter speeds are measured in seconds and fractions of a second and so the doubling and halving is evident. One quarter second is half as long as half a second and half as long as 2 seconds. It's really pretty simple and this will work through the whole sequence of shutter speeds.

Each of the cameras settings are close to half or double the length of time of its immediate neighbor. Okay, you caught me, I know 1/15 isn't exactly half the time of 1/8, and 1/125 isn't exactly half the time of 1/60, but its very close - close enough to understand exposure or shutter speed a little more before we move on with F/Stop.

F/Stop will be continued next week. For those of you that are as confused about aperture as I am, over the next two weeks I will start explaining in a way we all can understand.

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Photo Tips of the week are written by Larry Bennett, a professional photographer living in Puerto Vallarta. These tips are to be just tips, refer to your cameras owner's manual for specifics on your camera. Readers are welcome to enjoy Larry's website at

Click HERE for more Photo Tips from Larry Bennett

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