I frequently get the question, how do I use my camera?  Or How do I start to understand and use the settings on my camera?

What I have found is that the vast majority of people get a camera and then start using it in fully automatic mode, meaning the camera is deciding all the settings to use and taking relatively good pictures with those settings.

The good news is that cameras are getting so amazingly good at sensing the environment that they’re in that they take pretty decent pictures most of the time.
The bad news is there are many situations that the camera just can’t quite figure out what you are trying to do so you end up with a bad picture when if you knew how to use the camera better you could capture a great shot.

Improving Your Photography

So as you start trying to become a better photographer one of the first settings that I encourage people to understand and use is called Aperture Priority.  Aperture Priority is still considered one of the automatic settings but it allows you to control one of the most important aspects of photography called depth of field (DoF).

I will try not to get too technical here, but I’ll have to get a little bit technical to help you understand what is being controlled when you learn to use Aperture Priority and why would you want to control it.

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures where everything in the picture is in relative perfect focus. An example of this would be a landscape image where everything is in just crystal-clear focus.

How do I use my camera Setting Aperture Priority

Setting Aperture Priority F22 – Wide Depth of Field



Then there are other types of pictures, maybe a picture of a flower where the only thing that is in focus in that picture is the inside stem of the flower or maybe a few petals.

How do I use my camera Setting Aperture Priority

Setting Aperture Priority F2 – Narrow Depth of Field

These two examples are a great way to envision the polar opposites of the concept called “Depth of Field”. What depth of field means is how much of the image is in focus.  The landscape picture would be an example of a very wide depth of field and the flower would be an example of a narrow depth of field.

So, when you are attempting to create more artistic beautiful images you need to learn how to control the depth of field. You control depth of field by setting your camera to, you guessed it, aperture priority.

Setting Aperture Priority to control Depth of Field

When you are setting aperture priority what you will be controlling is a setting called the F Stop and then you allow the camera to do the magic of setting all the other settings for you automatically. This is where it can get a little technical and a little crazy, but I’ll try to make it as simple as possible. F stop is a name that comes from a very long history of cameras. It is simply a measurement of the size of the opening of the lens when the shutter opens. So when you are setting the f stop you are telling the camera I want the lens to be wide open,  partially open or almost all the way closed when the camera shutter opens.

F Stop Rule of Thumb

In an effort not to get too technical here I would like to teach you a little rule of thumb.

The smaller you set the f stop, the smaller (narrower) your depth of field will be and then narrower your focus area on your picture will be.

So if you want to take a picture of that flower with only the stem in focus you will set your f stop to as small as possible. Keep in mind the F Stop setting will be limited by your particular camera and lens but most cameras can go to at least an f stop of 4 and that could give you pretty good results for this image. Then if you would want to do the example of the landscape image, you would set your f stop to F 11 or even larger.

Small F Stop Means Big Opening

The slightly crazy confusing thing here is that when you are setting your f stop small the opening of your lens is actually very big so your lens is wide open and it then creates the narrow depth of field.

So again, use the rule of thumb if I want to have a narrow depth of field (a small depth of field) I will set my f stop to as small as possible. If I want a large depth of field and I want everything in focus I will set a larger f stop.

How do I use my camera Setting Aperture Priority

Example how to set Aperture Priority Mode on a Canon 5D

And again, just like all of photography get out and try it take many example shots and take a look at what the settings are doing.  Remember your first 1,000,000 shots are your worst so get out shooting and experimenting.  Please get comfortable with reading your manual.  Most of them are really quite good.

Aperture Priority Video on YouTube

I have created some vides on YouTube to help you with these more challenging topics. You can view the Video on How to Set Your Aperture Priority Here.


Other Resources

I have found some course work from a university level photography course discussing this topic that you might find very helpful if you are looking for more details.  Setting Aperture Priority

If you have more questions on this topic or any other topic do not hesitate to ask.  Post your comments and questions here or contact me directly via email or on any other social media network.

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Until next time, get out and capture the adventure.


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Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website