How Do I Control a Blurry Background?

We have all seen beautiful photographs where the subject is beautifully in focus and the background has a lovely blur to it. This makes a photograph look far more professional and gives it a sense of quality and control. You might also have seen fantastic images where the beckground, in fact everything from the front of the frame to the back is in sharply in focus and again this is a great looking professional technique.

So, how do you do it?

Well, by controlling your depth of field. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds and the depth of field just refers to the amount of the picture that is in focus from from front to back. An image with a narrow depth of field has the subject in focus and the background blurry and an image with a wide depth of feild will have more in focus from the front to back.

Find your aperture – firstly you need to find the aperture control on your camera. It might be a ring around the lens or more likely an electronic control – have a look in your manual if you’re not sure. Basically all the aperture control does is change the size of the hole in the lens that the light comes through. Generally it goes from low numbers like f1.4, f2.8, f4 for example up to higher numbers like f11, f16 and f22. These are called stops and the higher the number of thr stop the smaller the aperture or hole n the lens and the smaller the number the larger the hole.

Blurry backgrounds – Pop your camera into aperture priority mode. Most cameras will do this apart from very basic point and shoots. Select the f stop with the lowest number possible. Focus on your subject which should be in the foreground and shoot away. You will find that the background is blurry.

You might find that it is only a very subtle effect depending upon the camera and lens that you are using. If your lens won’t open up much below f5.6 or f4 for example it will reduce the effect. A “faster” lens – one that will open up wider – will create a much better effect or you can try getting closer to your subject, this will throw the background more out of focus. You can also try using the telephoto end of a zoom lens if you have one as the effect is better when you zoom in as well.

Sharp backgrounds – Again in aperture priority mode, this time select a higher number f11 or f16 should work well. Focus somewhere in the middle ground of the image and you should find that the resulting picture is sharp from front to back. You can test out the likely effect of the aperture you have selected on most DSLRs by pushing the depth of field preview button.

Again there are a number of things you can do to enhance the effect. Using a wider angle lens or the wider end of a telephoto will help, getting low down on the subject will also give you plenty of foreground or using a smaller aperture such as f22 will give you an increased depth of field.

You might find that, as you “stop down” the lens – or make the aperture smaller, that your shutter speed has to increase to compensate – possibly so much so that you won’t be able to handhold the camera effectively. In this case you can increase the ISO or, more effectively, put the camera on a tripod to keep it steady.

Happy photographing and feel free to comment or get in touch if I can help you further!

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