The Raging Question:
Today I want to answer the question that I probably get asked the most.
How to get the perfect background blur?
There are many scenarios where you can use background blur for interesting results. You can use it while taking portraits, so that the subject is well isolated from the background and any unwanted element like a tree or a pillar can be easily avoided. Background blur also sometimes give rise to bokeh!! Use it well in images or videos any you can get stunning results.
But the big question still remain….how do we get that beautiful blurring? Lets answer it now…
Well there are many ways to get the perfect background blur in your photographs. Photos with blurred out backgrounds looks very artistic and professional. Many people think that it can only be achieved by plonking down huge amounts of money on camera gear and accessories; but that is NOT the truth, it is very very simple to create.
Here is how…
Dial down to your lowest aperture number:
If you have a point and shoot, look in the menu where it would allow you to dial down the aperture number to the lowest value (remember, lower aperture number represents a larger aperture and vice- versa).
Nowadays there are many third party apps too that would work with your android and IOS devices to help you input the camera aperture number manually. Try and keep it to f/1.8 or f/2.
If you have a DSLR use the mode dial to select the aperture priority mode (‘A’ in Nikon and ‘AV’ in Canon) and dial down the aperture number as low as possible. Generally on a kit lens the minimum aperture number would be f/3.5. Again to drive home the point; as you are using the lowest aperture number on your lens you are choosing the largest aperture the lens has.
Increase the distance between the subject and the background:
Many times what we tend to do in our day to day photography is place our subjects right in front of a wall or a sign post and click away. This would not help at all if you are trying to get a good background blur.
Try and increase the distance between the subject and the background. If you are shooting in a room try to move the subject towards the camera as much as possible; so that the distance between the subject and the back wall is maximized. If you are out in the open; position your subjects such that the background is not an immediate wall or structure.
Blur gets stronger and stronger as it gets away from the focus point. So, even when you are using a low f-number, say f/1.2, a wall right behind the subject will not appear blurred out at all whereas a distant horizon will appear blurred out even when you are using a larger aperture number say f/5.6. Keep this in mind.
Take some time to place your subjects well. Move around and hunt for the right angles so that you achieve this before your start to shoot.
Decrease the distance between the camera and the subjects:
Now decrease the distance between the subject and the camera. Fill up the frame only with the amount of the subject that is absolutely needed to tell the story. If you try and include everything you would invariably have to increase the distance between the camera and the subject this would affect the background blur you are after in a bad way. Typically while shooting portraits, head-shots have way more background blur than a full body shot because of the reason I just discussed; increased camera to subject distance.
Busting some myths now:
Now to help out people who think that it is impossible to get good background blur with kit lenses like the 18-55mm or 18-105mm. Have no fear, I am here to help you out with just that. There is just a little trick to it, follow it now and you will amaze yourself.
The trick is pretty simple, the first two “rules” above still applies, i.e. try and move the subject away from the background as much as possible and move in close to the subject with your camera. Now comes the tricky part, move away from the subject a little and then zoom back in all the way. You will now be on f/5.6 (generally most kit lens have f/5.6 as the maximum aperture value), not too bad for a good background blur, if you know how to use it to your advantage.
Take a picture like this and have a look, it should have a lovely background blur to it.
Try Out a New Lens:
You may want to try out a new lens as well for better background blur. Prime lenses are very cheap these days and they usually have low f-numbers like 1.8 and 1.4. Some very popular choices are:
These prime lenses are absolute legends. They are not only great for background blur
- They are exceptionally fast in auto focusing.
- The images they produce are very sharp and crisp.
- They are extremely light and easy to carry and as they have such a large aperture (low aperture numbers of 1.8, 1.4, 1.2) that makes them brilliant in low light conditions.
- They allow so much light in through the lens that now you can shoot in much lower ISO, reducing noise and also with much faster shutter which would in turn help with the accidental camera shake, if at all.
All the same reasons are valid for videos too!
I got my first Nikon 50mm f/1.8G many years ago and it is still my go to lens. Well one important reason is that I am a street photographer and using a big zoom lens is a cardinal sin here. But even then I have used my Nikon nifty fifty for many project that were not even near street photography and I was glad with the images that came at the end of it.
And when you have mastered the art of photography, you can always try these f/1.4 and f/1.2 lenses for some serious background blur and bokeh. They are a little pricey but they are worth every rupee you spend on them. Here are a few of my favorites.
Lastly a thing to remember is even when you are trying to get the background blur as much as possible; DO NOT think that you can put anything in there and get away with it. Many things like a graphic, a brightly colored or oddly shaped object may still look bad in your photographs; even when they are blurred. If it is possible to remove them from your shot when you are shooting by simply changing the angle, just do so. Always try to opt for a background which is plain (like a bush) or repetitive in pattern, this will look so much better than ugly sign boards and light poles.
Let me know how you used these quick tips and how your photographs came out. Don’t forget to share with me your experiences.