How to blur the background in the photo: 5 tips for a beginner

Novice photographers often think about how to blur the background in a photo or video.

Of course, for this you can use the processing – today many smartphones programmatically blur the background in the pictures, and the photographer himself can do this by processing the photo on a computer or on the same smartphone. However, such “digital” blurring looks unnatural, spoils the quality of the image and adds artifacts. We will tell you how to get natural blur using the camera lens without resorting to Photoshop.

A blurred background is not just a special effect or embellishment. This is an artistic device that came from painting to photography, video and film. Due to blurring the background, you can select the main object in the photo, make the photo more voluminous.

System cameras, SLRs and mirrorless cameras are good because their lenses are interchangeable. We can be satisfied not only with the optics that comes with the camera, but also choose lenses with certain properties for our tasks. For example, there are lenses that greatly blur the background — we will talk about them below. And also for DSLRs and mirrorless mirrors with interchangeable optics – a large matrix. The presence of a large matrix, although it makes the camera more voluminous than the same smartphone, but it gives a lot of advantages. In addition to high quality images and better performance in low light, one of the consequences of using large matrices is the physical ability to blur the background. At the same time, aspiring photographers still often experience difficulties, wanting to get a beautifully blurred background. What to do?

There should be a distance between the background and the subject. Any lens is designed in such a way that when focusing it is aimed at a certain distance. All objects located at this distance will be sharp. Therefore, if the background is almost at the same distance as your model, it will not blur under any circumstances. For example, if the model poses standing close to the wall, and you want to blur the background, ask her to take a couple of steps forward from the wall.

Conversely, if you want to include both the subject and the background in sharpness, place them close to each other.

Come closer! In fact, the blurry background is a consequence of the shallow depth of field. The smaller the depth of field, the more blurry everything that is not at the focus distance. The depth of field also depends on the shooting distance – the smaller the distance, the smaller the depth of field, the more blurred the background. That is why the background when shooting close-up is so eagerly blurred. So, if you want to blur the background, do not take too general plans, come closer to your model.

Shoot with an open aperture. The third item affecting the depth of field is the aperture value . The stronger the aperture is open, the less (other things being equal) the depth of field and the more the background will be blurred. Yes to adjust the aperture yourself, you will have to learn how to shoot in A or M modes . It will be difficult at first, but believe me, it’s worth it!

Use a large focal length. Depth of field also depends on the focal length of the lens. Speaking simply (though not quite correctly) – from the zoom. Shoot at the maximum zoom of your lens – so the background will blur more.

Do not confuse the concept of shooting distance (focus distance) with the focal length. Focal length – a property of the lens that characterizes its viewing angle; it is indicated on the body of any lens, on a special scale. When zooming, we change the focal length of the lens. It’s simple: more focal length – less viewing angle, the lens brings closer. Conversely, the shorter the focal length of the lens, the wider the viewing angle.

Use a suitable lens.All three of the methods described above do not require any additional investments, just the ability to use the equipment that we have. These tips are true for any photo equipment. However, we can “run into” the limitations of our own equipment. So, entry-level cameras, as a rule, are equipped with lenses with a focal length of 18–55 mm (for example, Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm f / 3.5-5.6G VR NIKKOR). These are versatile, inexpensive, and beginner-friendly lenses. But, frankly, blurring the background is not their thing. Yes, we can set them to the maximum zoom (focal length 55mm), but this is not so much, and, together with the low aperture (about it below), the capabilities of such lenses in blurring the background are limited. But we remember that having a system camera, you can always choose a lens that is more suitable for our purposes.

Which lens blurs the background better? Two characteristics are important here – the focal length and aperture. But first things first.

For working with a shallow depth of field and a blurry background, telephoto lenses are better suited, which are able to bring the image closer in the frame. Photographers often call such lenses telephoto lenses, or lenses operating in the tele-range of focal lengths. And if they have a high aperture, then this, consider, is already a specialized tool, sharpened for shooting with a blurred background.

However, a high aperture here is optional: any telephoto lens, even with a low aperture, can decently blur the background.

The low aperture of the Nikon AF-S universal zoom lens NIKKOR 28-300mm f / 3.5-5.6G ED VR did not prevent to get a beautifully blurred background, because the shooting was carried out at a large focal length.

Of the available lenses with large zoom, the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f / 3.5-5.6G ED VR can be distinguished – it is suitable for Nikon DSLRs with a DX format matrix. This is a simple universal lens, which, incidentally, is sometimes found in whale trim levels (sold with the camera).

There is an even longer telephoto Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f / 3.5-6.3G ED VR . But the larger the zoom, the greater the distance you have to take when shooting, so that the entire subject is included in the frame. To shoot, say, a portrait from a distance of 15–20 meters is already inconvenient.

Nikon D5300 camera and two lenses that allow you to work with a blurry background: Nikon AF-S 50mm f / 1.4G Nikkor on the camera and Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f / 3.5-5.6G ED VR.

We mentioned that the more the aperture is open, the more the background is blurred. But with different lenses, the diaphragm (hole in the lens) opens up to different limits. The stronger the lens can open the aperture (the more the hole through which light passes through it), the more photographers say the lens is faster. So, the whale lens has a relatively low aperture – at the maximum focal length you can open the aperture to F5.6. And there are lenses with aperture F2.8 – they pass four times as much light through themselves!

Moreover, there are fixed lenses (they do not have a zoom, the viewing angle is fixed), which have an even higher aperture – up to F1.4! Such lenses transmit 16 times more light than whale lenses. That is, they not only allow you to get a noticeably more powerful background blur, but also make high-quality pictures in much weaker lighting. But there are also limitations: fast lenses can differ in high price, high weight or may not have zoom (fixed lenses).

AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f / 2.8E FL ED VR is a high-speed zoom lens, it is perfect for working with bokeh, for portrait shooting, and reporting. But there are nuances – a solid size and price.

With a fast lens, getting a shallow depth of field and a blurry background is much easier. In this case, it is not always necessary to use long focal lengths.

It turns out that a telephoto lens for blurring the background is good, a high-speed lens is also good, and a telephoto and high-speed lens at the same time are generally excellent!

Not for nothing that all lenses belonging to the portrait class (intended primarily for portraits) are fast telephoto lenses. For cameras with a sprinkled matrix, the TV range starts at about 50 mm and, for example, fast fixes with a given focal length fall – Nikon AF-S 50mm f / 1.4G Nikkor and the more affordable Nikon AF-S 50mm f / 1.8G Nikkor. And for a full frame, portraiture starts with 85mm: Nikon AF-S 85mm f / 1.8G Nikkor is a high-quality and affordable portraiture.

This does not mean that portraits can be shot only with such lenses, but they will provide not only a beautifully blurred background, but also the correct transmission of the proportions of the face and body of the model.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f / 1.8G is an affordable fast fix that can greatly blur the background.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f / 1.8G – portrait lens.

Bokeh, or blurry background, is an interesting artistic technique. Often photographers use it as a marker of the fact that they are professionals and make an “expensive” picture, because good blurring of the background is possible only with high-quality optics. However, often, to make decent shots, it is not necessary to have the most expensive equipment, sometimes it is enough to fully master the equipment that you already have.

But remember: the more we blur the background, the less depth of field we work with. And the less objects in the photo will remain sharp. Therefore, in such cases, you need to carefully monitor the accuracy of the focus , otherwise you can get a lot of blurry frames. Master your photo equipment and stay with us on Prophotos.ru!


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