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So you finally have that nice camera that allows you to switch the lens (also known as a DSLR camera) thinking you’re all set to take beautiful pictures. And, for the most part, you will get beautiful images. However, you’ll start to realize that you can’t get that blurred background you see all these other photographers get. I know when I first started photography, I really wanted to get blurry backgrounds. But, I was shooting on auto mode and didn’t understand anything about manual mode. When I discovered how to get that blurry background, my photography literally changed for the better and it just got better and better from there. Getting a blurry background is easy. I’ll break it down in five easy steps.
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I suppose the number one tip is to learn manual mode. Learning manual mode is the very first step. Manual mode is great because it allows you to control everything. It allows you to get the images you really want. And, yes, it will even allow you to get those blurry images you so desire. I really enjoyed Clickin Moms Mastering Manual Exposure class. It taught me all I needed to know about manual exposure, plus you get to keep all the material they give you for reference. After mastering manual exposure, here’s the steps to getting that blurred background you so desire.
1. get the right lens
When I first started out, I only had a kit lens. A kit lens is usually the lens that comes with the camera. They typically have a name of Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G. The part that makes this lens not the greatest is the aperture. Because it says f/3.5-5.6 it means that the aperture could change depending on the focal length (18mm versus 55mm and so forth). This makes it extremely difficult to learn manual, so if you’re trying to learn manual with a kit lens, I suggest you take the plunge and upgrade. A great first lens is the Nikon 50mm 1.8 for Nikon and the Canon 50mm 1.4 for Canon. They are literally the cheapest lenses out there. But they are good quality and great for starting out. I wrote a blog post about the best first lens to buy. These lenses allow you to have apertures of 1.8 and 1.4 which is what you want in order to get that blurred background.
Basically, you have to have a lens that will allow you to get a wide open aperture.
2. choose the right aperture
Getting the right lens will allow you to use a wider aperture (the lower the number, the blurrier the background. The higher the number, more of the image is in focus). When setting up your shot, make sure your aperture is about a 2.5 or lower. Shooting wide open (the lowest number your lens can go) will definitely give you a blurry background, however, it will be hard to get what you want in focus to be in focus. So I usually like the aperture to be around a 2.
Depending on what lens you are using, you could go even higher (closed down) on your aperture and still get a blurry background. Especially if you pull your subject away from the background (more on that in a second). When I’m photographing with my 85mm I can close down my aperture even more and my background will be blurry still. This is because of the compression this lens gets. The same thing goes with my macro lens.
3. pull your subject away from the background
Yes, that’s right, pull your subject far away from that background. I’m talking a few feet, if not more. The farther the background is from the subject, the blurrier it will be. And again, your lens choice will come into play here as well.
If you are using a wide angle lens, such as the 24mm 1.4, you will need to pull your subject pretty far away from the background to get a nice blur and separation to your background.
If you were using a lens like the 85mm 1.4, you could have your subject closer to the background and yourself.
4. depth of field
Depth of field is basically what we’ve been talking about this whole blog post! The distance to you and your subject, the distance from the subject to the background, lens focal length (50mm, 24mm, 85mm), and aperture all play a part in depth of field.
So, for me, I like to practice being far away from my subject and being close. Since I usually have my Sigma 24 1.4 lens on (literally the best lens in the world and everyone should own one!) I tend to stand pretty close to my subject if I want to blur the background. The reason I would have to stand closer is because the 24 is a wide angle lens, which means more of the scene can be captured. By standing far away from my subject, I won’t get as much blur as an 85mm lens would.
I could literally write a whole blog post on depth of field. There’s so much to it. But for this post, try standing close to your subject (while the subject is far away from the background) and then try standing a little further from your subject. Look and see how the background changes. Is one way blurrier than the other?
5. add it in post processing
I really don’t recommend doing this, because if you don’t do it correctly, it will look really bad. But you could add it in post processing if you’re in a pinch. I recommend doing the other tips first and try and practice getting the amount of blur you want in camera.
Don’t always rely on post processing to fix your images. You’ll spend a long time in post processing if you do this! And I am a firm believer that you should get it as close to possible in camera and spend little time in post processing. But, that is a creative choice on my part. I like to have honest photos. If you really like the post processing part of photography, that’s great. 🙂
Alyssa (sometimes going by Aly) is a hobbyist photographer who loves to teach. Her love of photography started before she ever had any kids. Now a mom of two, she loves to photograph her kids, flowers, and landscape. She specializes in capturing her everyday life. She loves to teach fellow beginner photographers how to take control of their cameras and get the images they dream about getting.