Quick Tips for Blurry Backgrounds

Everyone loves a good image where the background goes to blur. There’s almost something magical about it. This technique has been the most requested topic for the site, and I have a few simple tips that you can implement to enhance your images.

Please note: this post is NOT going to be very technical. It will only have practical tips and basic explanations, so if you want to learn more about aperture and depth of field, there is a ton of techy goodness out there on the interwebs. :)

Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode

The first thing you need to know is that the aperture is what controls the depth of field, or how much of the image is in focus. The bigger the number (f/8, f/11, etc), the more depth of field the image is going to have, meaning the background won’t be very blurry. Smaller numbers (f/2.8, f/1.4, etc) result in a shallower depth of field, so less of the image will be in focus.

When you’re shooting in Auto mode, the camera basically picks random combinations of settings that it thinks will make a good picture, but it doesn’t usually pick apertures of f/2.8. So, switch to Aperture Priority (A or Av depending on your camera), set the aperture to f/2.8, and you’re good to go. The camera is still in part auto so you can pretty much shoot without having to worry about the settings. Voila!

Note: most of the time I will say that gear doesn’t usually matter, but in this case, you DO need the right kind of lens. If you only have the kit lens that came with your camera, you will have a much harder time getting your backgrounds to go blurry because the lens wasn’t built for that. Most kit lenses will only go to f/3.5, and that’s at the widest focal length. When you’re all the way zoomed in, it’s only f/5.6, which is NOT going to give you the results you want. You can get a 50mm lens that goes to f/1.8 for around $100 (Canon here, Nikon here, affiliate links). Trust me, this is something you’ll definitely want if you’re serious about blurry backgrounds. I owned my camera for only 2 weeks before I decided the kit lens wasn’t cutting it and I needed the 50mm. Best decision ever.

Put Some Distance Between the Background and Your Subject

I see a lot of photos of people posed directly against a wall or other background. Sometimes this can work, but most of the time it doesn’t allow the background (aka the wall) to go out of focus because it’s not far enough away.

Check out these two images. When I had the couple standing against the wall, you can see that it’s pretty much all in focus. But when I turned them a bit, you’ll notice that as the wall gets further away, it gets blurrier. If, in the left image, I would have had them take a few steps forward, the wall would have been less in focus.

Get Closer to Your Subject

The final trick is to simply get closer to your subject. An image with the same lens and the same settings will have a blurrier background if it’s a headshot instead of a full length image. It’s kind of hard to explain why, but check out these examples. On the left, the background is a little blurry, but it’s much more blurry on the right. Same settings, just a closer shot. Easy peasy!

Still have questions? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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