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How to Take Portraits with Blurred Backgrounds

How to Take Portraits with Blurred Backgrounds

Professional portraits often have a blurred background which really makes the subject stand out. It’s actually an easy effect to achieve with a DSLR from We’ll show you how to create beautiful, soft, blurred backgrounds that will allow you to look more professional while also helping to rid your photo of any potential distractions in the background.

This blurred effect is called a shallow depth of field.  With a shallow depth of field, just the subject is in focus, and the background is progressively blurry. In a longer depth of field, your subject and everything in the background is sharply in focus. These are the steps to follow when creating a shallow depth of field.


Wide Aperture
One of the first lessons in manipulating exposure is that the size of your aperture controls your depth of field. The larger the opening for each shot, the smaller the amount of your photo will be in focus. Choose lower numbers, like f/2 to f/4, to get the most dramatic effect. Remember that aperture f-stop numbers work in reverse; the lower numbers represent the larger openings.


Distance to Your Subject
While using a wide aperture is a factor in creating a blurred background, it is not the only consideration. Getting close to your subject is a great composition principle anyway, but it is even more important when you want to knock out your background. If you are 10 feet from your subject, it is much easier to create a shallow depth of field than if you are 50 feet from your subject. To further accentuate the effect, increase the distance between the subject and the background.


Amount of Zoom
When you zoom in, you compress the elements of your photo, so everything behind your subject becomes more dramatic. A wide angle lens might not create a shallow depth of field, but if you zoom in that telephoto lens to 100 mm to 200 mm, the results become far more dramatic. There is also a happy medium somewhere between that focal length, and using a lens so long that you have to go across the street to shoot it and end up having to yell just so your subjects can hear you.  For that reason, a 300mm might be a little excessive for portraits.  However, using that 300mm for some wildlife or travel photos will allow you to create some nicely blurred backgrounds.


If you really like the blurred background effect you should consider buying a lens which has a bigger aperture, and therefore a smaller f-number.  Lenses with smaller f-numbers can be expensive, but there’s one popular exception which is also perfect for portraits. Look out for a standard 50mm lens with an aperture of around f1.8 or even smaller like the Nikon 50mm NIKKOR Lens from Affordable 50mm lenses like this are available for every DSLR and can give a far greater blurred background effect than a typical kit lens. They may not zoom, but 50mm is an ideal length for portraits and will deliver better quality than most zooms. So, now that you know the specifics, here is a quick checklist to go by when you want to create that blurred background in your photos.
  1. Switch your camera to Aperture Priority mode by turning the mode dial to ‘A’ or on Canon models, ‘Av’.
  2. Stand back a little and zoom-in your lens – this will accentuate the effect.
  3. Choose the smallest f-number that’s available. If you’re using a kit lens and you’re zoomed-in, this will normally be around f5.6.
  4. To further accentuate the effect, increase the distance between the subject and the background. So keep the person relatively close to you for a head and shoulders shot, and position them against distant background.
Blurring out your background is a creative composition technique you can use to create great portrait photography.  With these easy tips, you can be on your way to taking outstanding pictures.
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