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How to Get Blurred Backgrounds in Your Photos

One of the photography questions I hear most often is, "How can I get a blurry  background in my photos?"  That dreamy, out of focus blur helps make your subject pop out from the background and creates beautiful portraits.

There are a few different ways to achieve that blurred background look with your DSLR, and they are very simple.  You don't have to be an experienced photographer or know a million photography terms to do this. I'll try not to get too technical but will just give you the nuts and bolts of what you need to do to get those blurred backgrounds.

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One very simple way to get a blurred background is to use a wide aperture (low f-stop number.) For instance, f/1.8 or f/2.8 will give you a much more blurry background than f/8 or f/16.

The photo below left was shot at an f-stop of 7.1, while the one on the right was shot at 2.8.   The 2.8 aperture  gave a more blurred background than the first picture with the 7.1 aperture.  

How to get blurred backgrounds in Your photoshow to get blurred backgrounds in your photos

  • To use this first method for getting a blurred background,  you will need to use Aperture Priority Mode (AV on Canon, A on Nikon) or Manual Mode.  If you don't want to have to adjust all of the settings, Aperture Priority will be more simple.  It's a semi-automatic mode.

(If you've only been using Auto, don't be nervous about switching to Aperture Priority mode on your DSLR.  You will only have to choose the aperture (f-stop); the camera will choose the shutter speed for you. You may want to set your camera to Auto-ISO, if you don't want to have to change it, as changing the f-stop will affect exposure.)

  • Now, change your f-stop to a low number. For example, try 2.8, if your lens goes that low. If not, just go to the lowest f-stop your lens allows.  Play around with different f-stop numbers, to see the results you can get.  The amount of background blur you'll get will depend on several factors, as you'll see later in the article.  (If you're unsure how to change your f-stop (aperture), check your manual, or just look online. It is typically done by moving a thumbwheel or dial on your camera.) 

(Note: A low f-stop number means a larger (wider) aperture. That confused me to death back in the day.  So, shooting "wide open" means shooting at the biggest (maximum) aperture of the lens, but the lowest f-stop number. Ugh.)

  • Next, keep your subject closer to you than to the background, and shoot.

This method works best with a fast prime lens, as most kit lenses don't allow as wide  an aperture. (Prime lens = no zoom.  Fast lens = a lens with a large maximum aperture (small f-stop number.)

I love my 50mm 1.8 lens for this reason (among others!)  See the bottom of the post for resources.

But, no worries, you can still get blurred backgrounds with a kit lens, especially outdoors, where there is more light and space.  You'll see more tips for that later in the article.

My DSLR skills were still new when I took this picture in 2008.  The lens was my 50mm 1.8, and I had the f-stop(aperture) set to 2.8. 
How to get blurred backgrounds in your photos

Another one with f-stop set to 2.8.  This also was back when my DSLR skills were new.  The focus wasn't perfect, and Lucy wasn't looking at me,  but we still love this old picture of my daughter with our Lucy kitty.  As you can see, you don't have to be experienced to get that background blur.

How to get blurred backgrounds in your photos


Distance between the camera, subject, and background will affect the amount of blur also.

  • The closer your subject is to the camera, the more blurred the background will be. Also, the farther you keep your subject away from the background,  the more blurred the background will be.  These points are true, regardless of the aperture (f-stop.)

This shot of Sunny has a blurred background, even though the aperture (f-stop) was 5.6, and not more wide open like 1.8 or 2.8.   The background is blurred simply because I was seated so close to her.  (I was even a little too close, as not all of Sunny is even in focus!)
How to get blurred backgrounds in your photos

Zooming In/Focal Length

Another way to get a blurred background is with a zoom lens.

  • Here's how to get background blur with a zoom lens:  Still using a low f-stop number, (the lowest your lens will go), zoom in all the way with your zoom lens, and then back up until you have your subject framed the way you want.  Fill the frame as much as possible (get close) with your subject, focus on your subject, and shoot.  (And, make sure your subject is positioned away from the background. Remember, the farther away from the background the subject is, the more the background will go out of focus.)

I've done this a lot with my kit lens, and it works great, especially outdoors. This even works with a point and shoot camera that zooms.

Focal length:  A note here about focal length.  Lenses with longer focal lengths will always produce more background blur. (That is why a zoom lens that is zoomed in all the way to its longest focal length will produce more blur than when it is not zoomed.)  Likewise, prime lenses of a longer focal length will always produce more background blur than those with a shorter focal length. So, for instance, a 50mm lens has a longer focal length than a 24mm lens, which means you'll get more background blur with the 50mm, and so on.

But, remember, even if you only have one lens, your kit lens, you can still use the tips above to blur the background.  There is almost always a way to make the equipment you have work for you.

How to get blurred backgrounds in your photos

How to get blurred backgrounds in your photos

Depth of field can be tricky sometimes, with multiple subjects, etc. For instance, if you are using a very low f-stop number,  you might get frustrated at the very narrow depth of field that causes more of the image to be out of focus than you had planned, etc.

But, it doesn't need to be complicated; just practice with inanimate objects like a toys or flowers, and you will get the idea.

If you do want to understand more about the basics of photography and the "exposure triangle," one of my favorite books is called Understanding Exposure.  It's an excellent book that helped me so much when I was first starting out in photography. It teaches the fundamentals of light, aperture, and shutter speed, and how they influence each other.

I recommend a 50mm 1.8 lens as a great, "won't break the bank"  lens to get those blurred backgrounds.  It's a prime lens, (so it doesn't zoom), but it gives crisp, professional looking photos.  It was the first lens I bought, after my kit lens, and I use it a lot.  It has a 1.8 maximum aperture, so it's great in low light too.  Enjoy!

Staying Calm and TFT #433

Welcome to the Thursday Favorite Things link party!

My blog and this link party have given me a sense of normalcy in an otherwise completely not normal time.

I'm an introvert, so for me, social distancing is probably a little easier than for some others. But, even for me, seeing so much of the inside of our house has been a bit too much. I miss going out to breakfast and/or dinner with my husband and our church service each week.  But I'm grateful to be safe at home!  And, we've had some beautiful weather to enjoy. I hope you are all safe and well.

I love having this party time today to connect with other bloggers and readers and share fun things.

My features today are posts that made me feel calm and/or comfort!  Now I'm off to have a cup of tea.

Thursday Favorite Things #432

Welcome to the Thursday Favorite Things Link Party!

Crafts and Activities for Kids (and You!) During Quarantine

So, how are you all holding up during these days of COVID-19 and quarantine? Strange days for all of us!

This week, I've been thinking about all of those who are home with kids and are responsible for their schooling.  As a former homeschool mom, I think about what an abrupt challenge that must be.

(My two cents on that is, unless there are strict requirements that your school is having your kids follow, let them read as much as they want, let them watch science shows on t.v., let them bake with you, and most of all, make this time a memory that isn't all scary and terrible for them.)  These few weeks without school will absolutely not affect their academic future, I guarantee you!

I have rounded up some crafts and activities from my blog that might be helpful for you, if you are trying to find ways to keep kids busy and creative.  Most of these require things that you may already have around the house. (My way of saying, stay home.  Don't go out and buy stuff for these!)

Make Marbled Paper with Shaving Cream

Thursday Favorite Things #431

It's Thursday and time for another Thursday Favorite Things (TFT) link party.  I'm really glad you're here, and I look forward to your posts.

It's been quite a week, hasn't it?  We just never know when a global pandemic is going to throw our lives into a surreal, altered version of life as we know it!  I wish you all health and peace as we journey through this.

I've heard some upsetting stories this past week, of people acting their worst,  hurling insults from cars, etc. that have made me sad and worried.  I've also heard some touching stories of selfless acts and helping that have made me so happy.

I'm glad to say, we can all experience some fun today at the party, and all from a safe social distance too!

How to Store Brush Markers

To say I have a lot of brush markers and markers in general would be an understatement. Along with some fountain pens, calligraphy nibs and holders, gel pens, etc. etc.  I love them!  They allow me to create fun things!

These are Faber Castell brush markers. They should be stored horizontally, because they have pigment ink.

Thursday Favorite Things #430

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Favorite Things (TFT) link party!

Every week, so many wonderful ideas are shared, and it is really difficult to choose the features.  It's a fun effort, though.

Last week's party was full of things I want to make and do.  The Spring crafts, food, and decor made me especially happy. The promise of sunshine and flowers is putting a smile on my face, even through some of the more difficult days!

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