How To Take Photos With Blurred Backgrounds

Last Updated on April 27, 2016 by PixelPluck

How To Take Photos With Blurred Backgrounds

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s pretty damn cool! It also helps draw attention to your subject matter – whatever that happens to be for you.

The technical term for this is Depth of Field or in our case, creating a Shallow Depth of Field considering our goal is to blur out as much as we can. This is determined by the F-stop (Aperture).

There are a couple of components to this and how it works. Just follow these simple steps to achieve blurred backgrounds.

“Before we start remember one golden trick to get the effect. Background should be far from your subject. Camera should be relatively closer to the subject. You should zoom in on your subject with widest possible aperture.”

effect of aperture on depth of field
Effect of aperture on depth of field

1) Set your Camera to AV (Canon) A (Nikon) or M mode. AV/A are called Aperture priority mode.

2) Set your F-stop to the smallest number it allows such as f1.8 , f5.6 or whatever number your camera goes down to. It depends on the type of lens you are using. Normal kit lenses go down till f3.2 and prime lenses like 50mm may go upto f1.8 or even f1.2 depending upon model. A very large part of a blurry background is caused by a wide f-stop like 1.8, 2.8 or as wide as your lens will go be it 3.6 or even 4. The wider your f-stop is, the smaller the depth of field will be. Depth of field is the amount of the photo that will be in focus. So, if you focus on your subject’s eyes with a very shallow depth of field, the focus will not cover the background.

3) Check your other exposure settings such as your ISO and shutter speed. If you’re in AV/A mode your shutter will automatically set itself and you only need to set your ISO; However, if you’re in M mode then you need to set everything yourself. Set things until the exposure is correct.

4) Prefer a long lens with large aperture. They are expensive but totally worth it. The longer your lens, the more background blur you can get! A longer lens allows you to get further away from your subject and zoom in, which will create greater amounts of blur. You can get amazing background blur with 50mm f1.8, 85mm f1.8 or the 70-200mm 2.8. 50mm f1.8 is a must have lens for beginners who cant afford the other expensive lenses. It costs less than US $100. Check here.

Now while that all seems nice and easy, the challenge depends on the type of lens you use. The type of camera you own doesn’t create your F-stop. Your lens does. So if you have a lens that only allows your camera to go to 5.6, like the 18-55 or 18-104 or 18-140mm, then you’re not going to get as blurry of a background as someone that owns a lens that goes down to 1.8. If you don’t own the type of camera that allows you to swap lenses, then you’re stuck with whatever you own. But that’s not the end. You can always try the golden rule !!

“Background should be far from your subject. Camera should be relatively closer to the subject. You should zoom in on your subject with widest possible aperture.”

Now for those of you that want to know what it all means and how it works, the below in-depth explanations are just for you!

Step #1: Open your aperture (“F-stop”) to the largest it will go.

Seems easy enough, right? Changing the setting is easy, but explaining what your aperture is in the first place is a little more detailed. That way you know what the difference is between “open” and “closed” and all of the settings in between. Especially for anyone reading this that’s currently thinking “an F-WHAT?”.

Explanation of your F-stop (Aperture):
When you click the shutter button on your camera, a hole opens up that allows your camera’s image sensor to catch a glimpse of the scene you’re wanting to capture. The Aperture (F-stop) that you set impacts the size of that hole.

Think of your eyes as a camera aperture. When it’s really bright outside, your pupils close and let less light in so you see more clearly. In the darkness, your pupils open to let more light in. So think of your Aperture as the pupil of your camera that you have complete control over.

In order to create a more shallow (blurry) depth of field, you need to be able to allow the MOST light to come in as possible which means OPENING your Aperture (f-stop) to the LARGEST opening. If you want more of your background in focus (such as a landscape shot) then you do the opposite by CLOSING your Aperture to the SMALLEST it will go to allow LESS light in.

So basically:
Open Aperture = More blurry
Closed Aperture = Less blurry

Make sense? If not, here’s a little example of what the same picture looks like with two different Aperture (F-stop) settings:

The F-stop Settings:
The numeric value associated with your Aperture settings are read using decimals such as 1.4, 4.0, 7.1 and the like. So if you have ever noticed these numbers on your camera and/or photos – now you know what they are.

What can make this so confusing is that smaller the number, the larger the Aperture. The larger the number, the smaller the Aperture. So it’s incredibly counter intuitive until you get the hang of it.

Below is a basic chart of the more common f-stop settings with a visual guide of the actual appearance of the aperture. The white space in the circles is the opening. You can see that f22 is very closed down where as f2.8 is very wide open.

Camera Aperture Tutorial

How to set your F-stop on your camera:
Unless you’re familiar with ISO and Shutter speed, I would probably discourage you to use your Manual (“M”) settings on your camera because regardless of your f-stop is, you need to have a correct exposure.

Instead, use your “AV” mode (or sometimes “A” mode) which stands for “Aperture Priority”. This allows you to choose your own f-stop and ISO but your camera will choose the shutter speed for you based on the lighting conditions.

Set your F-stop to smallest number your camera will allow you to set which means wide open.

Step #2: Create more Depth (space) between your subject and the background

Longer lenses create a more shallow depth of field than shorter lenses. So if you have a lens that you can’t swap for a longer one, zoom in as much as you can while protecting the clarity.

Also, move your subject away from the background. If you’re taking a picture of a person and you want the wall to be out of focus, have your person stand a few feet away from the wall to give you maximum depth of field.

Now that you know the theory, lets see some practical examples and effect of different lenses and focal lengths on background blur.

50mm f1.8 vs f1.2 vs 85mm f1.8
50mm f1.8 vs 50mm f1.2 vs 85mm f1.8 (notice the background) via @clartephoto

You can notice that 85mm f1.2 is a clear winner here. But even the mush cheaper 50mm f1.8 does exceptionally better than your kit lens.

Below is an example of how zooming into the subject will enhance the background blur (shortens the depth of field).

zoom in means more background blur
Same lens at 70mm and at 200mm. Notice how zooming in increased bg blur. Tamron SP AF70-200mm F/2.8                  via @Alexander Zaplacinski

Master these basic principles & practice a lot and you’ll be blurring backgrounds like never before!! Good luck !! By now you have learnt How To Take Photos With Blurred Backgrounds. Leave a comment below or share with friends if this was helpful. Need any explanation or help with bokeh? Ask us in comments below.
Check out the Top 10 Dream lenses here. These professional lenses will help you to get fantastic image quality and pleasant bokeh.

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  1. Could you please explain to De-focus the background in Sony HX200V…?

    • Defocus mode in a sony bridge camera does not work optically. Its the software that differentiates between subject and background. Then the software applies blur to background part. But the transformation from sharp to blurred part will not be gradual.

  2. This is very helpful. Great post. I’m not a pro photographer but I really like photography. I’ve been seeing these numbers on dslrs lenses but I never knew how to correctly use them. thanks

  3. This Article was very helpfull to me . I really like it.
    Please provide us such helpful information.

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