How to Get a Blurred Background in Your Photos

One of the various techniques you can use to single out or put emphasis on your topic is to blur the backdrop. Do you need a specific lens to do so? Never in a million years! In this post, we will discuss some of the techniques that you may use in conjunction with virtually any camera and lens in order to get those dreamy, creamy backgrounds.

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Use a Wider Aperture

The aperture of a lens is the opening in the lens that may be adjusted to influence the amount of light that enters the lens. It is denoted by the f-number, such as f/2.8, and it is the ratio of the focal length of the lens to the size of the adjustable aperture that is visible to the naked eye. When all other factors are held constant, a more considerable aperture results in a more blurred backdrop. To illustrate this effect, below are four photographs taken with varying degrees of aperture:

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As can be seen, the use of larger apertures such as f/1.8 and f/2.8 is recommended when trying to achieve smoother and more blurry backgrounds. If this is the objective you wish to achieve, “fast” lenses, such as primes with an aperture of f/1.4 or zooms with an aperture of f/2.8, will serve you better. It’s possible that such lenses will cost more than their equivalents, but you should be able to get some reasonably priced f/1.8 or f/2 prime lenses for practically any camera on the market.

However, even if you want the backdrop to be more out of focus, it does not always make sense to choose a larger aperture setting. Why is this the case? To begin, the depth of field may be insufficient at larger apertures to cover your subject, even if you enjoy the way the hazy backdrop appears in other contexts. In addition, as has been demonstrated several times on Photography Life, a lens that is close to its maximum aperture typically displays poorer clarity and a more significant number of aberrations.

Although modern designs are far improved in this area, it is common for high-speed portrait lenses to suffer from a loss of clarity when using wide apertures. For instance, when using the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens, I frequently found myself afraid to shoot at an aperture of f/1.8, however when using the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 S lens for Nikon Z cameras, I would not have any such concern. The same may be said about the most recent 50mm prime lenses with an aperture of 1.8 from Canon, Sony, and other manufacturers.

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Get Closer

Robert Capa, who became famed for his combat photography, famously stated, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” It just so happens that moving closer to your subject not only tends to make images turn out better but it also causes more blurring in the backdrop. When you don’t have access to a lens with a fast aperture, this is a useful strategy to employ. Let us examine what happens if we go closer to the object while leaving all of the other parameters the same:

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Getting further closer has its benefits, but it also has its share of drawbacks. It makes it more challenging to capture photographs that are crisp by exaggerating problems such as camera shaking and missing focus. In addition to this, moving in closer will dramatically alter the composition and perspective of the scene. Because approaching too near to a human face can exaggerate closer characteristics like the nose, portrait photographers need to be extra cautious about perspective. Or, if you are going to picture a King Cobra and you are a nature photographer, you might not want to get too near to it at all.

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Keep the Background Far Away

One of the most effective strategies for producing a blurred backdrop is to keep the background as far away as possible. The House Finch was relatively close to me when I took the following picture, while the background was a forest with a river in the background further away:

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When photographing wildlife, you should pay attention to the backdrop and shoot from a variety of angles to avoid getting too near to items in the background in order to get the effect of a blurred background. In the following illustration, the only thing that was different about the second photo was that the background was moved closer to the subject by one-half the distance:

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It is also essential to give careful consideration to the sort of context in which your subject is situated. More significant buildings, such as thick trees, will continue to be discernible even if they are located further away, but smaller structures, such as thin grasses, will likely vanish quite fast.

Blurring in Software?

I don’t want to talk about software, but the techniques used in software these days are becoming increasingly complex, and they can now generate a more realistic blur than they ever could before. I was looking for something different to try, so I discovered a picture of a Black-capped Chickadee that had a relatively active background:

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After that, I utilized an application for smartphones that utilizes artificial intelligence to generate a depth map and makes an effort to imitate the blurry look that is produced by a genuine lens:

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Although the outcomes are not flawless, and despite the fact that I had to tweak the depth map on the chickadee’s bill manually, they are not terrible for something that is nearly entirely automated.

Phones that build depth maps as photographs are taken are even more advanced. These depth maps are then employed by algorithms to deliver more realistic background blurring from relatively modest sensors. During the post-processing phase, you may also make use of tools such as the Lens Blur tool in Photoshop.

Using such instruments does come with a small amount of risk. For instance, there were some artifacts in the photograph of the chickadee that I displayed before. Additionally, sections of the image that were in the same plane of focus as the bird were blurry, giving the impression that they were located at a great distance. Because I believe that such postprocessing goes beyond the scope of what I consider to be nature photography, I never use it. The only exceptions to this rule are very modest modifications such as noise reduction, tone curves, and color correction. However, the wise use of such tools might generate intriguing outcomes, and in the end, one needs to make a personal judgment about how they should be included in their artistic practice. Regardless of the choice that you make, one piece of advice I would provide is to make an effort to obtain what you want in camera as often as you can.

To Blur or Not to Blur?

We have seen that we have control over the amount of blurring that occurs in the backdrop. However, the degree to which the image is blurred needs to be a deliberate choice. Instead of constantly looking for backdrops that are blown out to their full potential, you could pick a level of blur that will complement the subject of your photograph.

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A greater amount of blur draws attention to the intriguing textures and details that are present in your subject, whilst a lesser amount of blur draws attention to the environment and creates a contrast with smooth subjects. And naturally, there are certain photos that do not require any blur at all. Photos without any background blur whatsoever are rather typical for photographers to capture while photographing topics such as landscapes or architecture, and photographers will often go to extraordinary measures to avoid capturing images with this blurry effect.

To ensure that you get the most out of your subject, you should give some thought to how you want the backdrop to be blurred.

Conclusion

In this post, we looked at a number of different techniques to generate a blurred backdrop, including changing the settings on your camera, changing the composition, and even using the software. You will be able to determine the amount of blur that is most suitable for your photographs using these strategies, and you will also have fun doing it. I would really appreciate it if you could share your ideas on blurring the backdrop in the comments section below.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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