Learn About Aperture Using a Simplified DIY Model Camera

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Learn About Aperture Using a Simplified DIY Model Camera

I’m excited to be working through the alphabet with some fun activities to help kids learn about photography!  Today we’re talking about Aperture.  Make sure to check out my introduction to the series (The ABCs of Photography).

So, let’s get started!

What is Aperture?

The definition of aperture, from Dictionary.com:

Also called aperture stop. Optics. an opening, usually circular, that limits the quantity of light that can enter an optical instrument. 

To restate that, the aperture is how wide open the camera lens is — and affects how much light gets in.

Smaller apertures have tinier openings, and let in less light.  They allow pictures to have greater depth of field (e.g. when you look at the picture, everything, from the foreground to the background, is in focus).

Larger apertures have bigger openings, and let in more light.  They allow pictures to have blurry backgrounds (e.g. only subject is in focus).

On a real camera, there are f-stop numbers that tell you what aperture you’re using.  Like f2.8 or f22.  Those numbers mean that the opening is either 1/2.8 or 1/22 of the length of the lens.  The higher the number, the smaller the aperture (since that’s how fractions work, right?)

Now, on a real camera lens, the aperture is very complex.  There are moving parts, and everything is elegantly designed to be self contained.  I’m not going to teach you how to make one of those.  I’m going to help you make a simplified conceptual aperture.  One that is perfect for younger children to manipulate and use to understand the concept of aperture.

For some more resources on aperture, you might check out the links below:

These may be helpful for your older child if you want to go more in depth than I’ve done here.  But I just wanted to get you started.  To help you understand the concept of aperture — simplified as much as possible.  Hopefully I’ve done that!

Making a Model Aperture

If you have older kids, teens, or want to try your hand at making one of the more complex apertures, don’t worry.  While brainstorming how to create my simplified model camera, I did find some resources for making your own model aperture.  You can google “how to make an aperture” or something along those lines for more tutorials, but these ones seemed pretty straight foward (despite the complexity of the build):

Yes, those ones are more complicated. depending on the number of moving parts, they will take a long time to build.  That’s why I designed a simpler conceptual model to demonstrate the theory of aperture.

My Simplified Aperture Camera

It took me under an hour to make this model, including my mistakes and breaks for taking care of the baby.  So this might be doable in half an hour or less if you’re industrious.

Basically, my model camera lets you observe how much light can get in through different sized holes in a piece of cardboard.  Because that’s what an aperture does – it controls the amount of light let in through the lens.

Now, onto the construction process.  I’m not going to give you a printable template or anything, because we just made this camera from some shipping boxes we had on hand.  You could use whatever size you want.  Click on the photos below to enter gallery view mode, and make sure to read all the captions for more information about each of the steps.

Toby had lots of fun playing with his cardboard camera. He liked the moving parts, and being able to slide the different aperture cards in and out.  Without my prompting, he did notice that it was harder to see with aperture card that had the smallest opening.

An idea for even further simplification…

If you wanted to simplify this further, just get a cardboard box and start poking holes of different sizes in it.  Shine a flashlight through the different holes and have your child observe the amount of light that enters the box.

A is For Aperture
Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

Well, that’s it!  I’m already looking forward to our next activity, which will be learning about Bokeh.


The ABCs of Photography - An Educational Series for KidsJoin Betsy as she works through the alphabet in this educational series for kids… The ABCs of Photography!  We’ll cover topics from A to Z, with activity ideas for both younger and older kids

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2 Responses

  1. Anne
    | Reply

    Love this activity! I’m trying to learn some better photography skills and my daughter asks a lot of questions. This will be fun to do with her so we’re learning at the same time.

    • Betsy Finn
      | Reply

      That sounds like a great idea, Anne! I know I always retain information better when there’s a hands on activity involved. I’d love to see your finished cameras 🙂 whenever you do make this project!

Leave a Reply to Anne Cancel reply