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Aperture Priority

The Photography Guide

Alex Wigfield

Aperture Priority

The Photography Guide By Alex Wigfield Barnsley College Student Interactive Media 16/18


Whilst studying Graphic Design at Barnsley College, I needed a project to work on - to research, design and evaluate a product of my choosing. Since I had a great interest and understanding of graphic design, photography and printed products it seemed a good idea to immortalise those skills in a book for others to read and learn from. I would like to thank my tutors at Barnsley College: Jo Kyte, Terri Woolford and Abdul Marsumi for teaching me essential skills and methods as this book would not be made possible without them. I would also like to thank everyone at my workplace, Look Local Newspaper for helping me understand InDesign and print based products.

Co nte nt

04 Camera Types

Small, large, thin and thick; camera come in all different shapes and sizes. This section will uncover what the different cameras are and what they’re used for.

06 Exposure

10 Inside a camera

12 Composition

16 Lenses

Learn how to adjust the lighting of your images and what happens if you adjust it too much or too little. See how aperture, ISO, shutter speed and exposure changes your photos.

Just holding a camera and pressing the button is very easy but learning how to position yourself and the camera’s angle takes a little more effort. These Rules of Composition will help you.

Ever wondered how a camera works? Here, you will see how light moves around inside the camera to take a picture.

Normal, fish eye, wide, telephoto and macro lenses all have their uses. To be able to know what each do and when to use them is essential to capturing the correct photo.

18 Filters

With the increased use of photo editing software, filters are starting to become a thing of the past. However, some filters have capabilities that even the best programs can’t handle.

22 Index

An A-Z of all topics covered in this book.

20 Camera Modes

What does that button do? Why do I need that here? These are often what comes with getting a new camera and this section covers all the important dials and settings you need.

Cameras Finding the correct camera for the job may just seem like an easy job to do. But when you need to consider image quality, size and other features it is often useful to look at all the possibilities for your personal or professional needs. Below are the 4 key camera types they you may need to consider when purchasing a one.



The most common and cheapest of cameras available to buy is the compact camera. Small and pocket sized, they’re good for the amateur photographer as there is very little to change to get a bad picture.

The physical and money gap between a compact camera and DSLR is so noticeable that you could buy 5 compact cameras and still be cheaper than buying a DSLR. That is why a mirrorless camera is used for people who want the portability of a compact and the performance of a DSLR.

Unlike a DSLR or Bridge camera, compacts have a screen to see the image instead of a viewfinder to look through, allowing the user to take quick photos on days out. Most of these cameras take care of all the exposure and focusing for you. Taking the picture and zooming is all you have to do. With all cameras, what you pay is what you get. Compact cameras often start at £40 for an entry level model. Image quality isn’t poor but is compromised due to it being small. The battery life also takes a hit from the size and lasts just a few days or even hours of continuous usage.

There is also a bigger sensor compared to the compact camera so the image quality will increase and may even be as good as the DSLR range.



Easy to work

Lenses are changeable


Good for amateurs

Limited image quality

Expensive yet limited extras

Small battery 4

You still get the screen to look at and the user friendly ‘Auto’ mode but you have a little more freedom with making it suitable to your needs. This is due to the lens being fully detachable and can attach other lenses for different situations, although these extras do come at a premium.



Much like a DSLR, bridge cameras can offer great image quality and many settings to change to get the final photo, picture perfect.

The most powerful and at the highest end of the camera spectrum is the DSLR, which means Digital Single Lens Reflex. These are most common for professional photographers as the settings to be changed are endless and can be configured to the exact needs of the desired photo needed as everything can be changed imaginable.

However, the bridge camera is a cross between a DSLR and a mirrorless. It offers high performance and versatility whilst keeping a lower price tag. With the same build, same quality and same professionalism, it seems that the bridge camera can completely replace the DSLR. Not quite. In order to keep its price and weight down, some of its features have been stripped out, literally. The lens for example is permanent and cannot be removed. Some settings that you could change on a DSLR you wouldn’t be able to with a bridge. Although the bridge camera has the same battery and sensor size as the DSLR, the user interface is a little downgraded and adapted towards the learners as it is around a third of the price of the DSLR.

High quality photos

With interchangeable lenses from a large selection from endless configurations, the DSLR cameras are truly a photographer’s companion when out and about. Despite being very heavy and bulky to be carrying around, the battery life can often last weeks upon months on a single charge. With the help of its large size, it can afford to have large sensors that can produce tip top, quality images. Most DSLR cameras come with a live view screen when a tripod is in use but also feature a viewfinder, which neither the compact nor mirrorless cameras tend to have. Extras such as lenses, filters and flashes are some of the cheapest on the market due to the compatibility of the fittings and lack of software as the DSLRs use the reliable ‘mirror and shutter’ method of taking a picture.

Easier to use

High quality photos

Cheaper than DSLR

Wide range of extras

Lens not changeable

Big and heavy

Not for professionals

Expensive 5

Exposure Exposure is how bright or dark the picture is that you’re taking. This depends on 3 key factors; Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. This section will cover what these mean, how they are measured and how to use them effectively when taking pictures.

Aperture In simple terms, aperture is the amount of light the lens allows in when taking a picture. Much like your eyes, the pupil gets smaller to let hardly any light in and when its dark, the pupil gets larger to allow more light through. The effects of different apertures vary from brightness, shutter speed and quality of the image. If you opt to use a large aperture, you let more light into the camera so your image looks brighter (same if you use a smaller aperture, the image looks darker). TIP: If your image looks too dark at night, use a larger aperture to capture as much light as possible. The other effects caused by aperture is what’s known as ‘Depth of Field’. This is the amount of the image is in focus. If everything is clear, then there is a very deep Depth of Field. If only a small amount is in focus, then that becomes a shallow Depth of Field. Using a large aperture only focuses in on one object and a small aperture makes sure everything is in focus. A shallow Depth of Field is useful with portraits when the background is not the centre of attention. A deep Depth of Field is used for a landscape picture when you need everything in focus.

Large Aperture - f/4.5


Small Aperture f/20

The measurement of aperture is ‘F-Stop’, which will appear as ‘f/’. Now this is where it gets confusing; a large aperture has a small F-Stop number and a small aperture has a large F-Stop number. A good way of thinking of it is the F-Stop shows how closed the aperture blades are. So f/3 is where its open and f/22 is where the blades are nearly covering the lens. TIP: Use a small aperture for landscape to get everything in focus.

Shutter Speed Shutter speed is pretty much the speed of which the camera takes the photo. It allows us to control how fast the shutter moves (see Page 10 for How a camera works) to expose a certain amount of light. Shutter speed is usually measured in milliseconds. So a slow shutter speed would be 1/25 (25th of a second). A fast shutter speed would be 1/500 (500th of a second). So you might think, why not put it as fast as possible so its a clear as possible? As you increase the shutter speed, the amount of light that the camera can capture is reduced so the image will look very dark, which is why you need a lot of light to get a fast shutter speed. But have the shutter speed too slow and the image will be brighter but will look blurry. This is caused by either not holding the camera still or an object moving in the image. TIP: If your shutter speed is slow and your images are still blurry, try using a tripod to stop the camera shaking. Using a fast shutter speed will allow you to capture fast moving objects in a still image. For example, a fast shutter speed is needed for sports as they’re fast moving like football or motor-sports. Slower shutter speed, although harder to control, can make abstract images without the need for editing software. Although a tripod will be needed, using a slow shutter speed can emphasise the movement in a picture by replacing it with a blur.

Fast Shutter - 1/4000

Slow Shutter - 1/10


ISO Have you notices speckles or dots on images you take at night, usually on a phone? If so, you’ve already see the negative effects of using a high ISO. It is how hard the camera works to capture light, that’s it. The sensor, which absorbs the light, increases its sensitivity to collect as much light as possible.

ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1200 ISO 1400 ISO 1800

When you take a picture in daylight, the ISO is typically fairly low as there is enough light for the camera to see all it needs to at a good speed, sensitivity and aperture. However, when you try to take a picture at night, the aperture is set as wide as possible and the shutter speed is already slow; the ISO is then set to maximum to help absorb as much light as possible. This causes the sensor to work harder, which reduces the image quality. This is when the speckles appear randomly on the picture. These speckles are also known as noise. ISO is measured in ISO speeds, which doesn’t really have a value. For example, a dark environment may have a setting of ISO 800, or a sunny environment may have a setting of ISO 200.

With a larger camera like a DSLR, the sensor that absorbs light is bigger and so can achieve larger ISO settings without it looking distorted. Also, DSLR cameras often have a built in feature that has noise reduction, which cleans the picture up and so looks much cleaner. This is not always a good idea as it reduces the details picked up in the image. So which ISO should you use and when? When taking pictures everyday, the ISO should usually be set no higher than 500. This allows indoor pictures to be clear and to maintain a faster shutter speed. It also keeps bright pictures like outdoors clear and not have the ISO high, which is unnecessary. However, feel free to change the ISO if you think the shutter speed to getting a little slow (like at night). Depending on the camera, the images will noticeably start to look distorted, usually around ISO 800. TIP: Only increase the ISO on outdoor pictures if you aperture is too small or the shutter speed is too small. A high ISO shouldn’t be used outside in daylight.


Exposure Exposure is just the brightness of the image. This is based on the Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO. When setting a camera up for a picture, follow these steps to ensure you follow these steps to find the perfect exposure setting. Set your ISO

If you’re taking an outdoor shot on a bright and sunny day, you will need the photo to be as sharp and clear as possible. So a low ISO will be needed. 200 should be OK for a scene with loads of light. For a darker image, a higher ISO should be used as you will see later on.


Set your aperture

Depending on what the purpose of the picture is, this will vary from super slow to super speedy. If it is a landscape shot, a narrow aperture would be needed to get everything in focus. It also helps to get as much light in as possible.


Look at the exposure bar

For all cameras, whether its in the viewfinder or on the display, there is a exposure bar that tells you if the image will be too dark or too light (see image below). The indicator should be at the ‘0’ when the exposure is just right. The negative numbers means too dark and above 0 means too light.


Set your shutter speed

Now you have almost everything set, you need to change the shutter speed to get the exposure bar in the centre. If the shutter speed to too low, simply increase the ISO or widen the aperture.






TIP: The exposure bar tells you if your image will look too light or dark before you take the picture.


Inside a camera Knowing the inside of the camera may seem like a lot of wires and components but its actually very simple. As there are many different types of cameras, models and brands - here is the standard layout for a DSLR camera. A compact or mirrorless camera will have some of these components missing or changed. The interior of the typical DSLR camera is split up into 3 main parts; the lens, the viewfinder and the sensor.

Light In




7 10



















The first thing the light hits is the lens. This allows the camera to capture anything from a close up of a bird 100 metres away up to a 180° angle. The light is then magnified and refracted so the camera can capture it correctly. However, the image is upside down but will be flipped at a later time. Next, the light passes through the aperture, which can control the Depth of Field and the amount of light that can enter the camera. The aperture is set to as wide as possible normally and closes to a certain length when the picture is being taken. The mirror controls where the light is directed to. It can either go to the viewfinder (5) or the sensor (7). Normally, the mirror reflects the light into a prism (4). When you take a picture and press the shutter, the mirror flips out of the way to expose the shutter part of the camera. If the mirror allows the light to be directed to the viewfinder, it will then hit a prism, which then directs the image to the viewfinder. The prism is also a key point as it flips the image the correct way round so it is no longer upside down. The viewfinder is where you look through to see if the picture you’re wanting to take is set correctly from the perspective of the lens (but the right way up). If you take a picture with a DSLR camera, you will notice that the viewfinder will become black while its taking the picture. This is because the mirror has directed the light towards the shutter (6).

The shutter is what the light hits next after the mirror is lifted. The shutter is what controls the amount of light that is exposed to the sensor. It also helps to distribute the light evenly over the sensor. The longer the light is exposed, the brighter and blurrier the image is.

The light is absorbed into the sensor to take a picture. The light is exposed to the sensor and it records it in light form and converts it to an electronic file.


Rules of composition Holding a camera and pressing the shutter is easy enough but have you ever taken about five pictures of the same thing and only one turns out good? Well with these rules of compositions, you will be able to take good pictures almost every time. These rules are only a guide and you shouldn’t try to use them all.

Rule of Thirds Rule of Thirds is the most used and most recommended rule of composition and it is highly recommended that you use this rule when taking a picture. It is so common that all cameras have this function on it to help guide you - even a phone camera has it. In essence, you split the image into nine equal parts to make a 3x3 grid. Don’t worry, this grid will NOT appear on your final picture. The grid is to help you line up your picture according to these set of rules:

• You need to align your target subject with one of the vertical lines. This does cause the target to be on one side but will look more appealing. • Any horizons like sea levels, hills or lakes should fit on one of the horizontal lines. For example, if you are taking a picture of a sunset, you can either focus on the sea or on the sky. Do not place the horizon in the middle as it will not look appealing to the eye. • The target, for example a person, should fill two thirds of the grid, the rest must be empty. This is so the target does not take up too much of the frame but doesn’t look lost.


Balance Balancing the elements in the image is again, highly recommended when taking any picture as you do not want too much all in one part. Even though this rule helps to eliminate blank spaces and helps to even out the ‘visual weight’, it can be ignored to create an effect like the Rule of Thirds. For example, this image has an evenly balanced image as there’s equal amounts of mass at either side. However, if there was only one swan, the image will look unbalanced and will need something at the other side to fix this.

Leading Lines Leading Lines help your eyes and makes it easier to follow the photo, rather than looking at a chaotic picture. This could be a straight, diagonal, curvy or zigzag line(s). It also creates the effect that the picture has some form of depth.

Symmetry When using symmetry within your images, the image will look more appealing. This is not as difficult to find as there are many natural and man made symmetrical aspects you can find. You could also disrupt the symmetry, which helps the picture have more of a focal point.


Background Again, a very important aspect of Photography is considering the background of an image especially when taking portrait pictures. For example, taking a picture of a person with a bright background will cause the main image to seem too dark. Or you might take a picture of a bowl of fruit with a multicoloured background. This is why taking a picture of something with a contrasting background would be better as it will be easier to look at.

Depth of Field A more common issue with landscape photography, (as shown on Page 6) Depth of Field is the amount of an image that is in focus. This means that if you are focusing on something close by, the background will be blurry due to the aperture setting. This is sometimes a good thing because when you’re taking a picture of something close up like a flower or person, you want as little disruption as possible. This is known as a ‘shallow depth of field’. A deep depth of field is more tricky to do as you need to use a narrower aperture so everything is in focus, both close up and far away. By making the background in focus as well as a target, it helps to add depth to the picture. TIP: If you need a smaller aperture, your shutter speed will be slower and your pictures may become blurry. If this is the case, use a tripod to stop shutter shake or increase the ISO.


Framing Adding a frame around a picture helps to isolate the main subject. That is why thick frames are used in art galleries to draw the attention. If you use a natural frame in a photography without any interference, this will help to attract attention and will look better than a man made boarder round the edge of the picture.

Viewpoint Instead of taking a picture at eye level, take the picture at either an extreme high or low angle. This can create the impression of vulnerability or power. Also experiment with taking pictures from a side angle instead of looking straight forward.

Experimentation Now, very few of us have to worry about developing films and costs of taking another 10 pictures. With modern SD cards, we can store, delete and view much more pictures. You need to experiment with your pictures as often as possible. If its not right, you can just delete them. Try using different rules of compositions that usually wouldn’t go together. Or try and use none at all, you never know, it may just catch on! TIP: The more you practice using these Rules of Composition, the better your images will become. These composition rules will also help you to take pictures a different way you never thought would work.



Wide Angle


When buying a compact or bridge camera, this won’t be a problem for you but if you have a camera that can have interchangeable lenses then you can’t have an ‘all purpose lens’. You may be taking a picture on the top of a skyscraper or close up of a flower - you need to chose the right lens for the job. The standard lens that comes will all new cameras, DSLR, compact, mirrorless and bridge. This lens is for everyday use and can capture a short to mid range photo. The focal length is typically between 25 and 50mm. Focal length is the distance the light has to travel to get to the centre of the lens thus affecting the zoom. The smaller the number, the wider the angle.

Wide angle lenses enable you to take pictures that you need a wide perspective of the surroundings. This could be on a cliff edge or at the top of a skyscraper. Some wide angle lenses (called fish-eye) let you see 180° of the surroundings. However, the wider the angle, the more curved the image looks. The focal length is below 25mm.

TIP: Try to avoid buying the cheapest lens and do not spend all your money on a camera and then almost nothing on a lens.


Although the zoom is fixed and cannot be changed, the aperture can be widened down to f/1.4. The focal length is usually fixed at 50mm but can vary.

Fast Prime

When you’re trying to capture pictures in low light or with a fast shutter speed, you often need to increase the aperture to as wide as possible.

A macro lens is specially designed for you to get centimetres away from an object. This allows a photo to show great detail close up.

The focal length is around 50 but is widely variable from model to model.

Most lenses now have Vibration Reduction (VR) to correct camera shake when zoomed in. The telephoto lens can have a focal length of above 60mm.


Action shots, wildlife and surveillance is what telephoto lenses are designed for. These lenses can reach distances far greater than some binoculars.


Again, this lens usually has a fixed zoom or focal length but newer models can zoom in and out.


Filters Lenses are used to obtain an image as the camera sees it and saves it as a still image. Sometimes the setting of the camera doesn’t capture a photo with the correct colours or brightness. Filters are used to help correct the problem of the colours not being bright enough or the scene being too bright. Filters can sometimes offer adjustment to an image that editing software just cannot provide.

UV Filter UV (or Ultraviolet Light) can sometimes be shown in some pictures, which is where you see a blue glare whether in the sky or at a distance. The UV filter is designed to reduce that amount of UV light that is captured. However, most new lenses have a build in UV Filter coating built in. So the need for an extra filter is not needed. If you use a filter as well as a lens with it already on, this could reduce the quality of the image by having too many filters.

Polarized Similar to sun glasses, a polarized filter reduces and sometimes eliminates reflections from an image. A polarized filter can also help to bring out the primary colours that would otherwise be ignored in a busy photo. This filter however does need a lot of light to work and is not appropriate for a cloudy day as the filter will not work. In addition, if used incorrectly it will make the photo look unnatural is used too much. TIP: Do not have more that two filters on at one time as it reduces the image quality.


Neutral Density In short, it acts like a very strong light block. The aim of a Neutral Density (ND) filter is to reduce the amount of light that enters the lens. This allows you to slow the shutter speed down and take a moving picture. It is possible to achieve this without the lens although harder to get to the slower speeds. This filter could also be used to take pictures of the sun with a telephoto lens. This is useful with solar eclipses.

Gradient Have you ever taken a picture and it seems like the sky is too bright and a ground too dark? That’s because the light difference between the sky and ground is often too great for the camera to correct it. With a gradient filter, you can rotate the filter to darken a section of the image (mostly to be used in the sky). This simple effect can help you to capture more detail on the ground as well as the sky effect. The sky therefore looks darker than normal.

Coloured Not used very often as editing software can often do this for you, a coloured filter can help you to get a monochromatic look to your pictures. This means that all colours are discarded except the colour of the filter itself. This means that you only see shades of that colour. This is not recommended as if you don’t like the effect later, you can’t go back and change it.


Modes & Settings All cameras are different with separate symbols, layouts and settings. For this instance, the layout we will be using is from the Nikon D80, which is a good DSLR starter camera. A







Top View

A Lens

This is detachable only on DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

B Flash

This is used to brighten a picture for a short burst if too dark. However, this will result in an artificial look to your images.

C Mode Dial

Changes the mode of which the camera is in depending on the scene and needs of the picture (see Page 21).

E Secondary Display

Instead of looking at the main display, this tells you only the essential info.



Back View




Main Display


Focus Lock


Control Buttons

D Shutter button

The most important button of them all is this. This actually tells the camera to focus and take a picture.


So you can see what your picture will look like when you zoom in and focus it. This is the main interface where you can preview and delete taken photos. You can also change the advanced settings of the camera too. If you’re taking a picture of a main image but it is off centre, you autofocus on the image then flick this switch and the focus is locked whether it is on manual or auto. These can change the settings and parameters of the camera’s functions. They can also be used to navigate around the interface.

Modes Night Mode

Settings are optimised for taking night pictures.


The shutter speed is set to the fastest speed while keeping the exposure right.

Landscape Mode

Lets everything be in focus by having the aperture set as small as possible.

Portrait mode

Keeps the ISO and aperture to a minimum to get the most detail of the person.




Aperture Priority

The camera sets the settings for you but you can change them if needed.

Also shown as ‘AV’, you control the aperture and the camera corrects the rest.

These modes are found on the top dial of your camera (see Page 20 - C) and are all used on different occasions and all have their own effects and uses. This table shows all their meanings. Back-light

Darker areas are brightened and the over exposed areas are darkened.


Allows you to get as close to the surface of an object as possible (macro lens needed).

Shutter Speed Priority




Also shown as ‘TV’, you can control the shutter speed - the camera does the rest.

All automation is turned off (except focus) and you take full control of its settings.

Settings Live View

Cameras with this option will have different icons for this. But the Live View button switches the view from the viewfinder to the screen. This is useful when mounting your camera to a tripod or trying to position the camera in an inaccessible place.

Shooting Mode

Depending on your needs, this button changes between a continuous mode (where you keep the button down and it takes rapid pictures), timer mode or remote mode, which needs an additional remote shutter clicker.

Spot Metering

Moving on to the advanced aspects of a camera. This button lets you chose the area the camera that focuses automatically. This will be either the whole scene, a single point or a small area of the overall frame.


Changeable in all modes chosen, this lets you override the exposure setting. Meaning the camera will set the brightness of the image slightly lighter or darker than normal. This is useful when there are multiple light sources like street lights.


x e d n I


Aperture 6


Background 6, 7, 9, 14, 17 Balance 13 Battery life 4, 5


Camera Types Bridge 5 Compact 4 DSLR 5, 20, 21 Mirrorless 4 Composition 12, 14


Depth of Field 6, 13, 14, 17, 21


Exposure 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 19, 21


Filters 18, 19 Focal Point 13, 15, 16, 21 Focus 6, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 Framing 15 F/stop 6, 9, 16, 17


Glare 18


Light 8, 10, 18


ISO 8, 9, 20


Macro 17, 20, 21 Mirror 10 Monochromatic 19 22


Leading lines 13 Lens 6, 10, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20


Neutral Density 19 Noise 8


Rule of Thirds 12


Ultraviolet Light 18


Viewfinder 9, 10, 20 Viewpoint 15


Zoom 17, 20


Polarised 18 Prism 10


Sensor 8, 10 Shutter Speed 7, 9, 10, 19, 20, 21 Symmetry 13


Tripod 7


Aperture Priority

The Photography Guide Photography can be a very enjoyable, useful yet complicated topic to master. Most people buy the cheapest camera on the market, put on automatic and press the biggest button and expect a perfect, professional quality photo. The photography industry is much more than some pocket camera with some editing software. There are different cameras for different types of pictures, filters for effects, lenses for distances and even modes for the different times of the day. It all seems like one extra class you’ve got to take at school in order to get some good pictures when you’re on holiday. That’s why all you need to know is condensed down into a short, easy and relatable guide to get you on the ladder to becoming a photographer. This guide will cover the major buttons and functions of the cameras, different types of cameras and all the things to look out for when taking that perfect picture.

Aperture Priority - The Photography Guide