Inside: Want to take photos with a blurry background? These three tips will help you achieve a beautiful blurry background – and two don’t require you to change your camera settings!

 

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Years ago I kept a personal family photo blog, before I knew the first thing about photography.

Back then, I didn’t know how to take good photos, but I did seem to recognize when I got lucky on my auto settings.

When I look back I see the photos I loved and shared most had a sharp subject in the foreground and a blurry background.

Those photos garnered lots of attention and compliments from others.  I remember the rush of excitement I felt to share my best photos. I knew they looked good, yet I could never pinpoint why those photos came out so well. 

I had no idea how I’d done it!

blurry background

Now I know how to get consistent results from my camera and how to take photos with a beautiful blurry background.

Why We Love Photos With A Blurry Background 

A good photo mimics the way the human eye sees.

Let me explain with a quick exercise.  Hold your hand one foot in front of your face.  Without taking your eyes off your hand, notice what you see beyond your hand.

It’s blurry, right?

A good photo captures a scene the way your eyes would see it.

I encourage you to pay attention to this the next time you’re talking with someone. Notice how they look sharp and what’s behind them looks blurry.

Which of these photos looks most natural to you (or, which appeals to you most)?

If you stood and looked down at the fern frond, the first image looks more like what your eye would see.  Your eyes would blur the table and doily as you focus on the fern.  The entire scene wouldn’t be in focus like the second image.

On the other hand, if you look at a scene far from you, such as a landscape, notice how most of the scene appears in focus as you gaze over it.

A good landscape photo will have the whole scene in focus because it mirrors how the human eye would see it.

As you learn to take good photos, you can think through the way your eyes would view a scene to evaluate how well you captured it.

The First Key to a Blurry Background

You can increase the blur of your photo’s background with two methods I’ll share below.  These don’t require any change in camera settings.

But one camera setting is crucial to a blurry background – your aperture.

Aperture is one of the legs of the exposure triangle.  Aperture, also known as f/stop, controls how much of your image is in focus.

For a simple to understand explanation of aperture, be sure to check out my EASY TO UNDERSTAND PHOTOGRAPHY CHEAT SHEET FOR BEGINNERS.

The wider the camera’s aperture opens, the lower the f/stop number will be, and the blurrier the background of the photo will be.  

The more the camera’s aperture closes, the higher the f/stop number will be, and the less blurry the background will be.

In the example with the ferns above, the photo with a wide aperture of f.2.8 has a blurry background.  The photo with a narrow aperture of f/13 has a sharp background.

The first key to a blurry background: choose a lower f/stop setting, like f/2.8 or f/3.2.  

This photo, taken at aperture f/2.8, has a beautiful blurry background.

 

 

Here’s Second Key to a Blurry Background:

increase your subject’s distance from the background behind them.

The further the subject’s distance from the background, the blurrier the background will appear.

Check out these two photos.  I took them both at aperture f/6.3 with the same lens, my favorite 35mm.  But notice how much blurrier the background in the second photo looks due to the subject’s increased distance from the background:

How to Take Photos with a Blurry Background on your iPhone

With your camera phone you can’t control your aperture.  The phone chooses the aperture for you.

But you can use your subject’s distance from the background to get a blurrier background.

The next time you’re taking a photo of a person take a moment to move them into a position where the background will be as far behind them as possible.

Another option: use your phone’s portrait mode to generate a blurry background.  The phone uses an algorithm to create the blur.  On closer examination the blur may not look as natural as it would if taken with a DSLR, but overall, it’s a nice option to improve your iPhone photography.

Here’s a great tutorial on iPhone portrait mode.

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And The Third Key to a Blurry Background:

use a lens with a long focal length.

You can achieve a blurry background with a wide angle lens.  In the example below, I used one of my favorite lenses, a wide-angle 35 mm lens:

blurry background

But a longer lens, like an 85 mm, 135 mm, or 200 mm compresses the background.  That is, the focal length lens causes the background to appear closer to the subject and blurrier.

In the photo below I used my 135 mm at aperture f/3.5.  I love the creamy background.  The trees behind her are across the street but it looks like she’s in the middle of the forest.

 

Background Blur Simplified

To achieve a blurry background:

  • choose a wide aperture (low f/stop number)
  • increase your subject’s distance from the background
  • use a long lens

All 3 employed together are a powerful combination for beautiful photos with background blur.  No luck required.

Need all these photography terms simplified? Click on the image below to download a Free Easy to Understand Photography Cheat Sheet for Beginners:

 

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