purple flower

How to Use Aperture Priority Mode to Take Better Photos

Mandy Photography Tips 40 Comments

As I was writing 12 Tips for DSLR Beginners I knew I wanted to take each tip further and get into it in more detail. Something that I couldn’t do in the post itself or it would have ended up a book!

I talked in tip 1 about getting out of Auto Mode at your own pace. And not feeling pressured to jump straight into manual mode.

Do what’s best for you!

If jumping straight in it is, then go ahead. If you want to take a more relaxed approach then maybe ease it in gently over time. Either way you’ll need an understanding of how your camera captures light to be able to understand how to get the best out of your camera.

So for when you’re ready here’s a look at Aperture Priority Mode:

What we’re talking about here is Exposure (oh no she’s going to talk about science stuff – don’t panic!)

Part of the reason you bought a DSLR was to have the ability to be more creative. And having the ability to adjust the exposure (how much light the camera gets) is what sets a DSLR apart from the majority of Point and Shoots out there.

Now to start getting more out of your DSLR you need to learn about light and how your DSLR can deal with it. You can do this by learning how to use (and how they work) Aperture Priority (AV), Shutter Priority (TV) and Manual Mode (M)  (I should also include ISO in there). So to help you on your way to do that I’m going to look at each one. So you can start to understand what it is, and how it affects your camera.

Then you can see how it would help, and when to use it, to take better photos.

What is Aperture?

So lets start with the basics – what is an Aperture?

In photography the Aperture is in the camera’s lens.

It’s the opening in the lens that lets light through to the image sensor when the shutter is open.

You can adjust the size of the opening to let more or less light into the camera.

The aperture opening is measured in f stops or sometimes you’ll hear them called f numbers. And these are the numbers that you see on your lens:

f1.8    f2    f2.8    f4    f5.6    f8    f11    f16    f22

The confusing thing is that naturally you’d think that f2.8 being a small number would be a small opening in the lens and f22 being a larger number would be a large opening in the lens…

…but they’re not – that’s where they getcha!

The smaller the number the larger the opening the more light that’s let into the camera. And the larger the number the smaller the opening the less light that’s let into the camera.

Still with me? This diagram may help:

how to use aperture priority mode


How do I use it?

So now you know what it is, lets look at how you can use Aperture Priority (AV) to take better photos.

Aperture gives you the ability to create depth of field in your photos and gives you control over it.

If you want the main focus of your image to really stand out like a portrait of somebody or a beautiful flower shot. Then you can do that by using a shallow depth of field, by using a large aperture (eg. f2.8 = large opening, more light). That means the focus of the image is…. well…. in focus and the rest of the image is blurred or out of focus.

shallow and large depth of field

large depth of field,                                              shallow depth of field

The rose on the left was taken with an aperture of f22 and the same rose on the right was taken with an aperture of f5.6. You can see how much more the rose stands out on the right compared to the left.

When you hear people talking about using a large aperture they’re talking about the opening in the lens and not the ‘size’ of the number eg. f1.8.

Likewise when you hear people talking about a small aperture they’re talking about the opening in the lens and not the number eg. f22.

Alternatively if you were taking a landscape and wanted everything in focus then you could use a small aperture (eg. f16 = small opening, less light). Then the whole of the image will be in focus like in this landscape below.

large aperture

large aperture

The only disadvantage with this is that the smaller the aperture (large number) the longer the shutter speed is that the camera chooses. So you need to use a tripod to avoid capturing hand shake. As long as your landscape doesn’t run away you’ll be fine!

When I began to take my first steps outside of auto mode I used Aperture Priority mode to start of with.


Aperture Priority is a semi-manual mode, you have control over the aperture and how large or small you want it. Then the camera decides what the shutter speed needs to be for the shot. Just turn the dial on your camera to AV and you’re good to go!

Remember –

small number – large opening – shallow depth of field = large aperture
large number – small opening – large depth of field = small aperture

You can get some great results with depth of field and really bring out the detail in a shot.

So get out there, get shooting and share a link to your images in the comments….

Stay tuned for Shutter Priority.


Comments 40

  1. This is crazy! I just wrote a post on Aperture as well! I think it’s the most important thing for a beginning photographer to understand – I still spend most of my time in AV mode myself. Great minds think alike!

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      They sure do!

      And you’re right I think it’s important and the best mode for a beginner.

      I still use aperture mode the most too – if it’s with my 50mm lens as well then I’m I’m heaven!

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  5. I think it’s the most important thing for a beginning photographer to understand. im really very impress your information. when i tried and send you good result. thanx

  6. Just bought a Nikon D5100 and your blog has been extremely helpful with me understanding the in and outs of my new DSLR camera. It can get confusing trying to understand it all and it usually all goes in one ear and out the other….not with your blog.
    I love the way you broke it down and your diagrams…printing them up right now to keep in my camera bag. Thank you for the help!

  7. I love your blog because you explain things which are down to earth,
    and it makes things so easy to understand for a beginner.
    Thanks so much.

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  9. I probably use aperture priority 95% of the time. The other 5% is either in shutter priority or manual. Pretty much the same as with my old film SLR.

  10. Your 12 steps post was so helpful to a beginner like myself and I have saved this post to my favs to go back to when ready to leave automatic mode – you explain things so well…thanks 🙂

  11. Thaks for all the info you are sending to my e-mail,its been a big help to me since this is the first time I am using aDSLR camera.

  12. Mandy,

    Thanks for the post. FYI, I believe you wanted the image with the fishing boat to have either the caption “small aperture” or “large F-stop” (and the corresponding ATL/TITLE tags).

    Personally, I want “small F-stop” to mean “small aperture” (at least that’s how I think) and it speaks to the confusion introduced with legacy terms; the same is true with gauge when applied to wires and needles.

  13. Thank you. Even though I don’t have a DSLR (Powershot SX160) which limits me to 3.5-8.0 in AV mode your post was very helpful.

  14. Thanks for the detailed information on Aperture Mode use.
    I could understand clearly the Depth Of Fieldd and Av relation ship only adter reading your article.Will try out now.Earliear I used to take all lndscape shots with high Aperture (3.5 or 4.0 etc) to avoid less shutter speed.
    Thanks Again,Keep posting.

  15. Question, I am looking to do portrait photography and looking for a good prime lens. I have a Nikon 5100 and only a 18-200mm lens. Is a 50 mm 1.8, or an 85mm what I should be looking for?

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  17. I don’t even know how I ended up here, however I thought this put up was great.
    I do not recognise who you are however certainly you’re
    going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already.

  18. Mandy your blog is so very helpful……you are an amazing teacher, I have had my Canon for over 2 years and learned more from your blog in one afternoon than I have over the 2 year period. Thank you!

  19. thank you Mandy… after reading your blog, i feel like a pro..haha… its so easy to understand what needs to be understand on a DSLR and world of photography..thanks again.

  20. Aw, this was an exceptionally good post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a top notch article… but what can I say… I hesitate a whole lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

  21. sir can you help me ”’everytime when i am shoot” using aperture (f5.6) nothing changes. please cant you give me” a proper way how to set this aperture? please ”step by step..


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  22. Thanks for the post.But I have a confusion regarding the F-Stop diagrams.

    From f2.8 to f8 the holes allow more light.So in these cases the whole image has be in focus.

    From f11 to f22 the holes limit coming more light.So these cases the background has to be blurred.

    How then its vice-versa ?

    Could you please explain ?

  23. Hi Mandy,
    Thanks so much for this article! I really appreciate the way you explained aperture and how to use the aperture priority mode. The diagram that you included was particularly helpful, as I am a visual learner. Do you have any suggestions on how to take good macro shots? I recently bought a macro lens, but I am disappointed with the results as they are often blurry (it’s something I’m doing wrong – not necessarily the lens). Do you think I have to use a tripod in order to get a good photo with a little bit larger depth of field?

  24. Hi Mandy,

    I need a help. In my Nikon D5100 aperture mode is giving me blurred pictures all of a sudden. When i go to other modes with the same settings , the blur is no more there.
    I have been a great admirer of aperture mode but now its not working for me at all! ALso I would like to share that some days back my camera fell off but I believe it should affect all the modes if at all the affect is there!

    Please help!

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      Hi Arpita,

      Is your auto focus working in aperture mode? It could be the lens, if you have another lens then swap that in and try it. Unfortunately if you have dropped it then you may need to take it to a camera repair shop to have it looked at. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

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