A coworker recently asked me about how to get a blurred background behind the subject when taking pictures, and I thought it would be a great topic for a blog post! If you just got yourself a new DSLR for Black Friday, or if you just want to learn more about your camera's settings, this post is for you!
Your camera comes with a kit lens, likely one that zooms from 18-55 mm. This lens is great for starting out, but it probably won't get you the blur effect you're looking for. The aperture on your kit lens doesn't open up very wide, and as you zoom in your aperture is even more limited. If you really want to step up your photography game you might look into purchasing a 50 mm, 35 mm, or 85 mm prime lens, depending on what you'll be shooting.
Here are three techniques to consider when you want to get a nice soft background behind your subject!
Keep the Subject Farther from the Background
Moving the subject farther away from the background is an easy way to achieve some separation. This is a technique that will help you achieve a little bit of blur even before you're able to get your hands on a better lens.If I've ever photographed you for a playbill, I've probably asked you to take a few steps away from the wall behind you.
In the top image below, both my husband and his car are equally in focus, since he's on the same focal plane as the car. In the bottom image, he's stepped out away from the car and the background is softened behind him.
Another technique is to get closer to the subject when you're taking a picture, so the subject is closer to you than he or she is to the background.
In the pictures below, my husband took a picture of me from far away and close up. You can see in the close-up, when he was standing much closer to me, the background is much more blurred and there is more separation between me and the city behind me.
Use a Wide Aperture (small f-stop)
The aperture on your lens (measured by the "f-stop" number) affects the amount of light your camera lets in. A low f-stop lets in more light and a high f-stop lets in less light. This obviously affects the brightness of your photos, but it also affects how much of the image is in focus. A low f-stop will produce more blur behind the focal point or subject.
For portraits of a single subject, I generally keep my f-stop at f/3.5 or lower. The image below was taken with an aperture of f/2.2.
You can set your camera in Aperture Priority mode so the rest of your settings will adjust automatically around the f-stop you select. This will give you control over the aperture, and let the camera do the rest to make sure your pictures come out properly exposed.
Use a Long Focal Length
A longer focal length will create more blur in the background behind your subject, while a wider angle will keep more of the background in focus. For portraits, I usually use a focal length somewhere between 50 mm and 100 mm. I also have a 35 mm which I use when I'm in a small or tight space.
The first image below was taken at a focal length of 50 mm, and the image below it was taken in the same spot zoomed in to 100 mm. You can see in the second picture how the bridge detail is much more blurred behind the subject.
It might take some time to get comfortable with these techniques, but that's okay! Experimenting and trying different combinations of settings is the best way to learn about your camera.
I have more photography tips where these came from. Sign up if you want to follow along!