Blurring out my backgrounds was the first thing I wanted to learn when I started learning photography. Additionally, it’s also one of the most commonly asked questions I get whenever I post photos on Facebook. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s pretty damn cool! It also helps draw attention to your subject matter – whatever that happens to be for you.
The technical term for this is Depth of Field or in our case, creating a Shallow Depth of Field considering our goal is to blur out as much as we can. This is determined by your F-stop (A.K.A. your “aperture”.)
There are a couple of components to this and how it works. For anyone that doesn’t care about HOW or WHY, here’s a quick and dirty process to blur the backgrounds:
1) Set your Camera to AV or M mode
2) Set your F-stop to the smallest number it allows such as 1.8, 5.6 or whatever number your camera goes down to (which is dependent upon the lens)
3) Check your other exposure settings such as your ISO and shutter speed to prepare your shot.
4) Move your subject a few feet away from the background
5) Take your photo and BHAM! You’re done.
Now while that all seems nice and easy, the challenge depends on the type of lens you use. The type of camera you own doesn’t necessarily create your F-stop. Your lens does. So if you have a lens that only allows your camera to go to 5.6, then you’re not going to get as blurry of a background as someone that owns a camera with a lens that goes down to 1.4. If you don’t own the type of camera that allows you to swap lenses, then unfortunately you’re stuck with whatever you own. 🙁
Now for those of you that want to know what it all means and how it works, the below in-depth explanations are just for you! 🙂
Step #1: Open your aperture (a.k.a “F-stop”) to the largest it will go.
Seems easy enough, right? Changing the setting is easy, but explaining what your aperture is in the first place is a little more detailed. Especially for anyone reading this that’s currently thinking “an F-WHAT?”.
Explanation of your F-stop (Aperture):
When you click the shutter button on your camera, a hole opens up that allows your camera’s image sensor to catch a glimpse of the scene you’re wanting to capture. The Aperture (F-stop) that you set impacts the size of that hole.
Think of your eyes as a camera aperture. When it’s really bright outside, your pupils close and allows less light in so you see more clearly. In the darkness, your pupils open to let more light in. So think of your Aperture as the pupil of your camera that you have complete control over.
In order to create a more shallow (blurry) depth of field, you need to be able to allow the MOST light to come in as possible which means OPENING your Aperture (f-stop) to the LARGEST opening. If you want more of your background in focus (such as a landscape shot) then you do the opposite by CLOSING your Aperture to the SMALLEST it will go to allow LESS light in.
Open Aperture = More blurry
Closed Aperture = Less blurry
Make sense? If not, here’s a little example of what the same picture looks like with two different Aperture (F-stop) settings:
The F-stop Settings:
The numeric value associated with your Aperture settings are read using decimals such as 1.4, 4.0, 7.1 and the like. So if you’ve ever noticed these numbers on your camera and/or photos – now you know what they are.
What can make this so confusing is that smaller the number, the larger the Aperture. The larger the number, the smaller the Aperture. So it’s incredibly counter intuitive until you get the hang of it.
Below is a basic chart of the more common f-stop settings with a visual guide of the actual appearance of the aperture. The white space in the circles is the opening. You can see that f22 is very closed down whereas f2 is very wide open.
How to set your F-stop on your camera:
Unless you’re familiar with ISO and Shutter speed, I would probably discourage you to use your Manual (“M”) settings on your camera because regardless of your f-stop is, you need to have a correct exposure.
Instead, use your “AV” mode (or sometimes “A” mode) which stands for “Aperture Priority”. This allows you to choose your own f-stop and ISO but your camera will choose the shutter for you based on the lighting conditions.
Set your F-stop to smallest number your camera will allow you to set.
Step #2: Create more Depth (space) between your subject and the background
Longer lenses create a more shallow depth of field than shorter lenses. So if you have a lens that you can’t swap for a longer one, zoom in as much as you can while protecting the clarity.
Also, move your subject away from the background. If you’re taking a picture of a person and you want the wall to be blurry, have your person stand a few feet away from the wall to give you maximum depth of field.
Master these basic principles and you’ll be blurring backgrounds before you know it!