Inside: Want to take photos with a blurry background? These three tips will help you achieve a beautiful blurry background – and two won’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 A Blurry Background Is Appealing

A good photo captures a scene the way your eyes would see it. Let me explain this 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?

When a person or object is close to you, you’ll see a blurry background behind them.

Photo with a sharp subject and a blurry background.

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 your eyes 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 won’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 will be blurry.

For a simple to understand explanation of aperture, be sure to check out this Easy To Understand Photography Cheat Sheet for Beginners HERE.  

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 photo of the girl walking on the beach, the camera’s aperture was set at f/3.2.  This helped produce the blurry background. 

The photo of the mountain sunset above was taken at f/14 and it’s sharp throughout the image.

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

portrait blur

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

The Second Key to a Blurry Background

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The second key to a blurry background is to 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 because he’s further away from the wall.

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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The Third Key to a Blurry Background:

The third key to taking photos with a blurry background is to 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 of the 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.

portrait blur

Background Blur Simplified

To achieve a blurry background in your photos:

  • 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.

Do Photography Terms Sound Like A Foreign Language?  Let Me Simplify It For You: