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James Adhitthana

Math Internal Assessment


Investigating the Relationship between the Aperture of
a Camera and a Geometric Sequence

Name : James Adhitthana


School Name : -----
Candidate Number : -----
Examination Session : May 2016
Subject : Mathematics
Level : Standard
Assignment : Internal Assessment
James Adhitthana

Investigating the Relationship between the Aperture of a Camera and a Geometric


Sequence

1 INTRODUCTION

The aim of this investigation is to find the relationship between the aperture of a camera
and a geometric sequence. As a photography enthusiast, I wondered about how a camera is able to
turn a live scene and freeze it into an image. Photography used to be a time consuming and
complicated hobby. However, the development of technology has enabled anyone to take their
own pictures simply by using the devices they have in their pockets. As a camera becomes a more
common tool/feature with the era of selfie, it seems that we do not actually understand how the
camera itself works, especially how it is able to capture light and turn it into a digital image.

A camera is inseparable from light. An image’s exposure, meaning the amount of light per
unit area allowed to reach the camera’s sensor during the process of taking a photograph,
determines how bright or dark an image appears1. A factor that affects the exposure is called the
aperture. This is a controllable circle shaped opening in the lens which directly affects the sum of
light that gets in the camera sensor2. Aperture is measured in F-stop or f-number, with a larger
number signifying a smaller opening in the lens resulting in lesser light received by the sensor;
and a lower F-stop number creating a bigger diameter in the lens opening. It can be said that the
relationship between the diameter and the F-stop number is inversely proportional to each other.
Some examples of F-stop numbers and of the apertures can be seen in the picture below. The letter
“ƒ/” signifies that it is an F-stop number.

1
"Exposure." What Is ? Webopedia Definition. QuinStreet Inc. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
<http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/E/exposure.html>.
2
Cheney, Mack L., Robert J. Galla, and Tessa A. Hadlock. Facial Surgery: Plastic and Reconstructive. Boca Raton,
Fla.: CRC, Taylor Et Francis, 2015. Google Books. Google Books, 2 Dec. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
<https://books.google.co.id/books?id=z07rBgAAQBAJ>.

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James Adhitthana

Figure 1. Aperture and the inverse relationship of how the different f-stop looks like inside the lens
(modified image from: http://mitchmartinez.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Exposure-Graphics-Aperture.gif.png )

Aperture can simply be represented as the pupil of a human eye which dilates and contracts
depending on the amount of light that is allowed to enter the retina. F-stop numbers are the most
widely used sequence or set of numbers used in photography. However, the unique sequence of
numbers needs an explanation on how the abnormal sequence works. My main goal in this
investigation was to apply mathematics to investigate the sequence that lies behind the F-stop
numbers and to explore the relationship between F-stop numbers and the diameter and area of the
circular aperture opening in the lens. Other than that, the relationship between F-stop number and
lighting will be analyzed by looking at histograms. If these aims are fulfilled, this will help myself
and others understand how cameras work and give credit to the mathematics that cameras deserve.

2 APERTURE OR F-STOP NUMBERS

In any camera, the standard F-stop numbers are given by this set of numbers (“ƒ/” signifies F-
stop number). For example, for F-stop number 4, it will become ƒ/4.

ƒ/1 ƒ/1.4 ƒ/2 ƒ/2.8 ƒ/4 ƒ/5.6 ƒ/8 ƒ/11 ƒ/16 ƒ/22

To determine the sequence inside the numbers F-stop number, we can divide the numbers into two
sets:

ƒ/1 → ƒ/2 → ƒ/4 → ƒ/8 → ƒ/16

ƒ/1.4 → ƒ/2.8 → ƒ/5.6 → ƒ/11 → ƒ/22

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By dividing the numbers into two sets, it is visible that these numbers are actually mathematical
patterns or geometric sequences which is basically the set of numbers that is obtained by
multiplying the previous number by a fixed value called the common ratio (r). The sequence is
able to be found by using the geometric sequence formula. The formula is broken down into a1
which is the first term of the sequence, r being the common ratio, and n being the number of the
term to find.

𝑎𝑛 = 𝑎1 × 𝑟 𝑛−1

We can use this formula to find the first and second set of number. In this example, the first and
second value is used inside the formula.

First set of numbers Second set of numbers


2 = 1 × 𝑟 2−1 2.8 = 1.4 × 𝑟 2−1
2 = 1 × 𝑟1 2.8 = 1.4 × 𝑟 1
𝑟 = 2/1 𝑟 = 2.8/1.4
𝑟=2 𝑟=2

The common ratio (r) is 𝑟 = 2

Thus, the common ratio is proven:

The entire F-stop range can be found by multiplying by the common ratio (r) of 2. This geometric
ratio signifies how the diameter of the aperture is doubled. Yet, by grouping these numbers into
two sets, going to the next number in each set presents jumps in two F-stops.

In photography, the amount of light entering the lens depends on the area of the aperture
hole which is shaped as a circle. When we decrease an F-stop number to the previous stop, the
amount of light is doubled because the opening area of aperture is doubled. When the F-stop
number is increased by one, the opposite happens, the amount of light is cut by half. However, if
the diameter of a circle is doubled, then the area of the circle quadruples. The aperture becomes 4
times larger because the area varies in relation to the square of the radius. Thus, doubling the radius
is identically equivalent to saying 2², which is 4. Therefore, to double the area of the circle, the

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diameter of the aperture must be multiplied by the square root of 2 (rounded to 1.4) instead. 3 On
the other hand, to half the area of the circle, the diameter is divided by the square root of 2 (rounded
to 0.7). To summarize, every time we multiply the diameter by the square root of two, the area of
the aperture is doubled. If the diameter is multiplied by two, the area will be quadrupled.

From this information, we can create formulae to find the next and the previous F-stop
number. In the formula 𝑎𝑛 signifies the current f-stop number.4

We can find the next F-stop number by:

𝑎𝑛+1 = √2 × 𝑎𝑛

We are also able to find the previous F-stop number by:

1
𝑎𝑛−1 = × 𝑎𝑛
√2

For example, we can use this formula to find the next and the previous F-stop number of f/8.
𝑎𝑛+1 = √2 × 8
√2 × 8 = 11.313

1
𝑎𝑛−1 = ×8
√2

1
× 8 = 5.657
√2

When referring to the standard f-stop numbers, note that on the bottom row of the first formula of
finding the aperture number√2 × 8 = 11.313 and not 11 and on the second formula
1
× 8 = 5.657 and not 5.6. However, in the photography, the number is made 11 and 5.6 to make
√2

the figures convenient to remember although the actual aperture value used by the lens is 11.313
and 5.657 as proven by the recent formula.

3
Kumar, Sinu. "Relationship Between F-Stop Numbers and the Size of the Diaphragm Opening." : Relationship
Between F-Stop Numbers and the Size of the Diaphragm Opening Explained. School of Digital Photography, 27
Nov. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2016. <http://www.school-of-digital-photography.com/2013/11/relationship-between-
fstop-numbers-and-the-size-of-the-diaphragm-opening-explained.html>.
4
Saad, Tony. "Please Make A Note." : The Mathematics of F/stop Aperture Numbers. Tony Saad, 4 Oct. 2010.
Web. 11 Mar. 2016. <http://pleasemakeanote.blogspot.co.id/2010/10/mathematics-of-fstop-aperture-numbers.html>.

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James Adhitthana

It is now observable how the F-stop numbers are basically multiples of a fixed number of √2.

𝑎0 Initial F-stop number

𝑎1 = √2𝑎0 1 stop from 𝑎0

𝑎2 = √2𝑎1 = √2𝑎0 × √2 2 stops from 𝑎0

𝑎3 = √2𝑎2 = √2𝑎0 × √2 × √2 3 stops from 𝑎0

𝑎𝑛 = √2𝑎𝑛−1 = (√2)𝑛 𝑎0 n stops from 𝑎0

Therefore, we can then use the formula to find the next aperture numbers.

ƒ/1 ƒ/1.4 ƒ/2 ƒ/2.8 ƒ/4 ƒ/5.6 ƒ/8 ƒ/11 ƒ/16 ƒ/22
𝑓 𝑓 𝑓 𝑓 𝑓 𝑓 𝑓 𝑓 𝑓 𝑓
/(√2)0 /(√2)1 /(√2)2 /(√2)3 /(√2)4 /(√2)5 /(√2)6 /(√2)7 /(√2)8 /(√2)9

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Figure 2. Illustration showing the diameter of a lens and the focal length.

To find the diameter value of the aperture, another factor that affects the size of the aperture
is the focal distance called the focal length (ƒ) or the distance from the lens to the camera sensor
in millimeters. In photography, the focal length is how much zoom the lens makes. The bigger the
focal length, the more zoom the lens makes. A lens has several F-stops because there is a variable

5
Burden, Robert. "What Is an F-stop and Why Is It Important in Photography?" The Canadian Nature Photographer
-. The Canadian Nature Photographer, 8 Aug. 2008. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
<http://www.canadiannaturephotographer.com/fstop.html>.

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James Adhitthana

diaphragm inside the lens that is controllable. Therefore, ƒ/4 is essentially ƒ divided by 4. We can
use this information to find the diameter of the lens aperture.

𝑓𝑜𝑐𝑎𝑙 𝑙𝑒𝑛𝑔𝑡ℎ
𝐷𝑖𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑡𝑒𝑟 =
𝐹 𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑝
Let’s say that the focal length of the lens or the distance from the lens to the camera sensor is
50mm (the most common focal length in photography) and the F-stop number is ƒ/4. We can then
find the diameter of the aperture by using the formula above.

50𝑚𝑚
𝐷𝑖𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑡𝑒𝑟 =
4

𝐷𝑖𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑡𝑒𝑟 = 12.50𝑚𝑚
Therefore, the F-stop value ƒ/4 means that the aperture diameter for a given lens has an effective
maximum opening of one fourth of its focal length. With this information, we can also find the
radius of the current aperture.

𝐷𝑖𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑡𝑒𝑟
𝑅𝑎𝑑𝑖𝑢𝑠 =
2
12.5
𝑅𝑎𝑑𝑖𝑢𝑠 =
2
𝑅𝑎𝑑𝑖𝑢𝑠 = 6.25𝑚𝑚
Since we know the radius, we are now able to find the area of the current aperture.

𝐴𝑟𝑒𝑎 = 𝜋 × 𝑟 2
𝐴𝑟𝑒𝑎 = 𝜋 × 6.252
𝐴𝑟𝑒𝑎 = 122.65𝑚𝑚2

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James Adhitthana

We can make a table for the calculations:


Lens focal length Aperture Diameter Radius Area
F-Stop Number
(mm) (mm) (mm) (mm2)
1 50 50.00 25.00 1962.50
1.4 50 35.71 17.86 1001.28
2 50 25.00 12.50 490.63
2.8 50 17.86 8.93 250.32
4 50 12.50 6.25 122.66
5.6 50 8.93 4.46 62.58
8 50 6.25 3.13 30.66
11 50 4.55 2.27 16.22
16 50 3.13 1.56 7.67
22 50 2.27 1.14 4.05

From the table, we can observe that even though the lens’ focal length to the camera sensor is the
same, the aperture diameter is getting smaller when the F-stop is increased resulting in a smaller
radius and smaller area of the circle. This is one of the reasons why a photo taken is too dark. It is
because the diameter of the aperture is small and therefore it lets less light into the lens and to the
sensor. Thus, in photography moving forward from one F-stop to the next one will cut the amount
of light reaching the sensor in half because the diameter of the aperture opening is halved, letting
in half as much light to the sensor. On the other hand, moving backward from one F-stop to the
previous F-stop would mean that the amount of light reaching the sensor is doubled because the
diameter and area of the aperture opening is doubled. The table clearly shows the inverse
relationship between the F-stop number and the aperture diameter where the F-stop number is
inversely proportional to the diameter of the aperture.

3 HISTOGRAM

Aperture and the various F-stop numbers allow a digital camera to control how much light
goes into the camera sensor that affects the brightness or darkness of the image taken. However,
how does a photographer determine how much he or she needs to adjust the F-stop number so that
the image is perfectly exposed (neither too bright nor too dark)? It turns out, in photography the
usage of histograms is very important in order to get a perfectly exposed image. A histogram is a
type of graph that sanctions a photographer to discern how the values of some data are distributed.

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James Adhitthana

In photography, a histogram of the values of black and white is used to analyze how dark (black
color) and how bright (white color) an image is. Most digital cameras will blissfully show a
histogram of values for the image a photographer is about to take. If the camera is in automatic
mode, it will automatically adjust the camera settings to take a perfectly exposed image.

The question is, what are actually these values that the histograms show us? In order to
understand what the histogram means to the camera and photographer, we need to know how
digital pictures are made. A digital image captured by a camera is fundamentally a two-
dimensional grid of numbers, each of which belongs to a single pixel in the image. Every one of
these pixels represents the brightness of a given spot in the image.6 Computers store numbers in a
binary format, meaning that all signals inside a computer have two (and only two) different
therefore binary values: 0 and 1.7 In computer terminology, one piece of information which can
store either 0 or 1 is called a bit.8 In a digital image, every single pixel of an image uses 8 bits of
memory to store each value.

Therefore, we can calculate how many possible values of a shade of color (in the case of image
brightness: black and white) for every pixel of an image:

𝑃𝑜𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝐶𝑜𝑙𝑜𝑟 𝑉𝑎𝑙𝑢𝑒𝑠 = 𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑏𝑖𝑛𝑎𝑟𝑦 𝑣𝑎𝑙𝑢𝑒𝑠 𝑏𝑖𝑡𝑠

𝑃𝑜𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝐶𝑜𝑙𝑜𝑟 𝑉𝑎𝑙𝑢𝑒𝑠 = 28

𝑃𝑜𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝐶𝑜𝑙𝑜𝑟 𝑉𝑎𝑙𝑢𝑒𝑠 = 256

Basically each pixel has one of 28 = 256 possible color values from 0 which is the darkest tone of
black to 255 which is the brightest value of white. The closer the number is to 0 the darker the
pixel is and the closer the value is to 255 the brighter the pixel is.

6
Marshall, Jason. "How to Use Histograms to Take Better Pictures." The Math Dude. Quick and Dirty Tips, 18 Dec.
2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016. <http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/math/how-to-use-histograms-to-take-
better-pictures?page=1>.
7
Watson, Gray. "The Story of 256." The Story of 256. Gray Watson, 2002. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
<http://256.com/256.html>.
8
Ibid.

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James Adhitthana

Figure 3. An example of a histogram with a visualization of the data presented. In this example, the image is said to be over-
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exposed (too bright)

A histogram is a bar graph that is compacted together with no spaces between each bar.
Since an image has millions of pixels (this is why cameras have “megapixels”), we are not able to
see each individual bar in a photo histogram although it is actually there. In essence, the photo
histogram shows how properly exposed an image is and tells the camera to automatically adjust
the aperture and other settings so that the final image taken is not too dark nor too bright. In theory,
a perfect image should have a bell curve or a normal distribution. We do not want an image to be
too dark or too bright, but we want it to have perfect brightness where most of the image details
are visible.

9
Hildebrandt, Darlene. "How to Read and Use Histograms - Digital Photography School." Digital Photography
School How to Read and Use Histograms Comments. Digital Photography School, 2012. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
<http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-read-and-use-histograms/>.

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James Adhitthana

4 PROVING THE THEORY/APPLICATION

Aperture: ƒ/2.0 Aperture: ƒ/2.8 Aperture: ƒ/4

From the example photos above, it is made possible to see the relationship between aperture and
the histogram. From the series of pictures shown above, it can be concluded how the aperture
affects the amount of light that enters the camera. The histogram proves how going from one F-
stop number to the next cuts the quantity of light entering the camera in half by showing how the
𝑥 axis, which represents the brightness of pixels, is shifting. The 𝑦 axis which represents the
number of pixels is also shown to keep a similar shape when the 𝑥 axis changes.

5 CONCLUSION

This exploration has allowed me to explore the application of mathematics in our daily lives
that too often are there without us realizing it. It turns out that the F-stop number that controls the
aperture of a camera does not come from a random number, but is based on a geometric sequence.
The standard F-stop scale is essentially a geometric sequence of numbers that corresponds to the
sequence of the powers of the square root of 2 because an aperture is shaped as a circle. Just like
a pupil, the aperture is in charge of controlling the area of the aperture or the opening of the lens
that lets light in to the sensor controlled by the F-stop number. Decreasing the F-stop number by
one stop will double the brightness of an image because it will increase the diameter of the aperture
and in turn increase the area of the aperture letting double the amount of light into the lens and

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into the sensor. Increasing an F-stop number by one stop will half the brightness of an image
because it will decrease the diameter of the aperture and in turn decrease the area of the aperture
letting half as much light into the lens and into the sensor.

This relationship between the F-stop number and the area of the aperture hole is an inverse
relationship. To prove how increasing the F-stop number halves the amount of light going into the
sensor, a histogram of the values of black and white is used to analyze how dark (black color) and
how bright (white color) an image is. The histogram maps out each pixels that has one of 28 = 256
possible color values from 0 which is the darkest tone of black to 255 which is the brightest value
of white. The 𝑦 axis represents the number of pixels. On the 𝑥 axis, the closer the value is to 0, the
darker the pixel is; and the closer the value is to 255, the brighter the pixel is. How increasing the
F-stop number decreases the amount of light of an image by half is shown in a histogram by the 𝑥
axis shift without the 𝑦 axis shape changing significantly. In theory, a perfect image should have
a bell curve or a normal distribution. We do not want an image to be too dark or too bright, but we
want it to have perfect brightness where most of the image details are visible. Thanks to this
mathematics exploration, I have learned a lot in order to take better photos and to determine
whether a photo is too dark or bright. Mathematics do permeates our daily life.

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James Adhitthana

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Burden, Robert. "What Is an F-stop and Why Is It Important in Photography?" The Canadian
Nature Photographer -. The Canadian Nature Photographer, 8 Aug. 2008. Web. 02 Apr.
2016. <http://www.canadiannaturephotographer.com/fstop.html>.

Cheney, Mack L., Robert J. Galla, and Tessa A. Hadlock. Facial Surgery: Plastic and
Reconstructive. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC, Taylor Et Francis, 2015. Google Books. Google
Books, 2 Dec. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
<https://books.google.co.id/books?id=z07rBgAAQBAJ>.

"Exposure." What Is ? Webopedia Definition. QuinStreet Inc. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.


<http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/E/exposure.html>.

Hildebrandt, Darlene. "How to Read and Use Histograms - Digital Photography School." Digital
Photography School How to Read and Use Histograms Comments. Digital Photography
School, 2012. Web. 08 Mar. 2016. <http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-read-
and-use-histograms/>.

Kumar, Sinu. "Relationship Between F-Stop Numbers and the Size of the Diaphragm Opening." :
Relationship Between F-Stop Numbers and the Size of the Diaphragm Opening Explained.
School of Digital Photography, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2016. <http://www.school-of-
digital-photography.com/2013/11/relationship-between-fstop-numbers-and-the-size-of-
the-diaphragm-opening-explained.html>.

Marshall, Jason. "How to Use Histograms to Take Better Pictures." The Math Dude. Quick and
Dirty Tips, 18 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.
<http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/math/how-to-use-histograms-to-take-
better-pictures?page=1>.

Saad, Tony. "Please Make A Note." : The Mathematics of F/stop Aperture Numbers. Tony Saad,
4 Oct. 2010. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
<http://pleasemakeanote.blogspot.co.id/2010/10/mathematics-of-fstop-aperture-
numbers.html>.

Watson, Gray. "The Story of 256." The Story of 256. Gray Watson, 2002. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
<http://256.com/256.html>.

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