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How to Take Photos with a Beautiful Blurred Background

Updated on May 24, 2020
Photography Focus profile image

I am passionate about photography and love to teach what I've learned during my 30+ years of working as a professional photographer.

Blurred background photography is very popular. But many people have to ask ‘How do you make a background blurry?” It’s actually easy when you know how to.

In this article I will teach you the best camera settings for a shallow depth of field (DOF). This is the correct term for blurred background photography.

Many people think a shallow depth of field is controlled by the camera’s aperture. The aperture setting does affect the DOF, but so so a few other factors that are important to understand.


What is Shallow Depth of Field?

Let’s start with the essentials by answering the question, what is a shallow depth of field?

Photos with a shallow DOF do not have much of the composition in focus. This style of blurred background photography can be controlled by camera settings so it appears more natural looking.

Some phones also simulate the shallow depth of field look using a setting called Portrait Mode. This is a gimmick that fakes a blurred background and is not really about controlling the DOF.

The depth of field in a photo is the amount of the composition that is acceptably in focus. This varies depending on:

  • The aperture setting
  • The focal length of the lens
  • Distance between the camera and the subject
  • Distance between the subject and the background
  • Type of camera
  • Best Depth of Field Aperture Settings

Aperture settings affect how much of your photo is acceptably sharp.

Using a wide aperture setting you have a better chance of creating blurred background photography. You can set a wide aperture by using a low f/stop number. The lower the number, the wider the aperture, the more blur there is.

Some lenses have apertures such as f/1.4 or f/2.8. Using this type of lens it is much easier to get photos with a blurred background. Many kit lenses have widest aperture settings of around /3.5-f/5.6. These are not so wide apertures so it’s more challenging to do blurred background photography with them.


Best Lenses for Blurred Background Photography

The longer your lens, the more blurred you can make your background appear. Using a wide-angle lens it’s more difficult to take photos with a shallow depth of field.

Many photographers like to use a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Zoomed in to 200mm it’s easy to capture photos with nice soft backgrounds. The combination of using a wide aperture and long lens creates a very shallow DOF.

Prime lenses, ones that do not zoom, often have wider aperture settings than zoom lenses. A 50mm lens is a common, standard prime lens. These come with a widest aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.8 and are great for blurred background photography.


Get Close To Your Subject for A Shallow DOF

Shallow depth of field settings also includes where you stand. The closer you are to your subject, the shallower the DOF is. This is true with every lens and every aperture setting. If you stand further back you’ll get more in focus.

Coming in close to your subject means there will not be a deep depth of field. The closer you get to your subject the more challenging it is to keep enough of it sharp.


Move Your Subject Away from the Background for More Blur

The further your subject is from the background, the more blurred the background can appear.

If you can move your subject then you have more control over the DOF. It’s common to see portraits where the person stands right up against the background. This means the background will be in focus too.

Moving the person further from the background makes it easier to make it out of focus.

Some Cameras Can Make Blurred Background Photography Better Than Others

The size of the sensor in your camera affects how much you can control the DOF. The larger the sensor the easier blurred background photography is.

Phone and compact cameras have very small sensors. This is why they have to create a fake DOF look. The physical size of the sensor is what matters, not the number of megapixels.

A phone may have a sensor with 20 megapixels, so can a DSLR or mirrorless camera. The real camera will create better blurred background photography. This is because the physical dimensions or the sensor are so much larger than the sensor in a smartphone or compact camera.


How do you get a shallow depth of field?

Blurred background photography happens when you combine these shallow depth of field settings.

Use a standard to long lens with a wide aperture. Stand as close as practical to your subject. Have your subject as far away from the background as you can. When you combine these factors, you will have photos with a blurred background.

It is still possible to make blurred background photography with a wide-angle lens and when your subject is close to the background. But you’ll need a lens with a very wide aperture.

You can use a kit lens to take photos with a shallow depth of field. But you’ll need to make sure your subject is far from the background and you are as close to your subject as possible.



So, as you can see, it’s not a matter of what setting on a camera blurs the background. It’s a combination of settings.

It also depends on distances. The closer you can be to your subject and the further the subject is from the background have a definite affect on the DOF.

If you want to learn how to do blurred background photography it’s a good idea to experiment. Put into practice the techniques I have taught you here. Discover what lens you have is the best for getting a shallow depth of field with.

Try various settings in different situations to get more of a feel for when you can create photos with a shallow depth of field.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Photography Focus


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