How to Take Pictures With a Blurred Background

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Whether in macro or portrait photography, blurring the background is one of the best ways to emphasize the main subject and make your photo aesthetically appealing. Knowing how to take pictures with a blurred background will help you eliminate the visual distractions from your photos. 

How to Take Pictures With a Blurred Background 

A blurred background picture refers to an image where the background is out of focus, and the main subject is in focus. Unlike cropping or entirely removing the background, which requires photo-editing software, blurring the background allows you to blur the unwanted elements in the background when taking the photo. 

Person adjusting his camera settings

In most cases, blurring the background works well when shooting small subjects that occupy only a portion of the frame. For instance, you can’t blur the background when shooting an exterior real estate or landscape photo as you will need everything to be in focus.

Usually, image blur is related to the Depth of Field, which refers to the closest and furthest distance between objects in focus. Regardless of your photography skills, you can use the following tips to capture images with a blurred background.

Use a Wide Aperture 

Using the maximum wide aperture is one of the most popular camera settings for shooting photos with a blurred background. The lens aperture refers to the opening that regulates the amount of light that goes through the camera lens.

Almost all modern lenses allow you to adjust the size of this opening. Usually, the aperture is indicated as a ratio of the lens’s focal length, such as f/1.8. Opening the aperture widest results in a shallow depth of field, which makes the background blurry. 

However, it is not advisable to use the widest aperture as you might not get the best image sharpness. Instead, use your lens aperture sweet spot, which is around 2 to 3 f-stops from the widest aperture.

Increase the Background to Subject Distance

Keeping the background some distance away from the subject is one of the easiest ways to blur the background as it doesn’t require a high-end camera or special camera settings. Usually, when you focus on the main subject, you will also be focusing on the background as long as they are at the same distance. 

For instance, if you are shooting a portrait of a person leaning on a wall, it can be challenging to focus on the person’s face without focusing on the wall, especially when using a low-end lens. When the person moves some distance away from the wall, the wall will automatically be out of focus.

Move Closer to the Subject

Another easy way of getting a background blur is by moving closer to the subject if you don’t have a zoom lens. Usually, when you are far away from the subject, there are so many elements in the frame, and it can be challenging to single out the main subject and blur the rest.

When you start moving closer to the subject, the main subject becomes prominent, and the background becomes blurry. However, it is not advisable to move too close to the subject as you might not get sharp photos due to the amplification of distortions and camera shake effects. 

Woman taking a photo of someone

For instance, moving too close to the face when capturing portraits can make the nose look distorted. You might also have focusing issues when you’re too close to the subject, especially if you use the autofocus mode.  

Use a Longer Focal Length 

Like when moving closer to the subject, a longer focal length helps to zoom in on the subject and increase the background blur. The main advantage of using a longer focal length is that you don’t need to be physically close to the subject. 

Keeping in mind that the focal length uses the principles of light to zoom the subject optically, you won’t alter the image quality by zooming in on the subject using longer focal lengths. However, you should avoid using digital zoom as it crops the image, making it look pixelated and low-quality. 

Shoot With a Full Frame Camera

Unlike the crop-factor cameras, full-frame cameras feature a larger sensor size, equivalent to the traditional 35mm film. This sensor size makes a full-frame camera have a bigger field of view than a crop-factor camera. 

Typically, this allows you to get the same framing as an APS-c camera while you are much closer to the subject. Like when moving closer to the subject to make a shot, this enhanced field of view results in a beautiful bokeh quality. 

Take Advantage of a Motion Blur

The motion blur effect is the blurring that results from subject movement when the shutter is still open. Although this effect is problematic in photography, use the following motion blur tips to make the background of your photos blurry.

  • Physically move the background with the main subject remaining stationary. For instance, if you are shooting jewelry, you can place a colored piece of paper behind it and then move the piece of paper when taking the shot.
  • Use slower shutter speeds so the movement will occur while the shutter is open.
  • Ensure the main subject is stationary to avoid blurring the main subject.
  • Use a tripod to prevent the camera shake effect that can blur the entire photo.
  • Since you will be using slower shutter speeds and probably with the aperture wide open, it’s advisable to use base ISO and avoid bright lighting to avoid overexposing the photo.

Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode

Since you will need a wide aperture to shoot a photo with a blurred background, you will need to make adjustments to the other members of the exposure triangle to avoid overexposing the photo.

Bookshelf photo with a blurred background

Instead of using the camera in fully automatic mode, where it automatically adjusts the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, it is advisable to set it to aperture priority mode so you can manually set the aperture. In most cameras, the aperture priority mode is labeled as Av or A.

Typically, the aperture priority mode allows you to set the aperture you want, and then the camera automatically decides on the best ISO and shutter speed to use depending on the subject and lighting condition.

Use a Photo Editing Software 

Whether you’re using a low-end lens or thought of blurring the background after shooting, you can use a third-party photo editing software such as Photoshop to blur the background of your photos.

Open the photo in Photoshop, and navigate to the background layer in the Layers panel. Select the Filter menu and choose the Blur tool. Select the type of image blur you want and then use the blur slider to adjust the effect.

You can also blur the background separately by first separating it from the main subject. However, regardless of the method, you will use to blur the background and add the bokeh effect in Photoshop, the resulting photos might not look as natural as those with a natural lens blur. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Can I Do if a Part of My Main Subject Is Blurred?

If a part of your main subject is blurred, you can sharpen it using a photo-editing application such as Photoshop. Open the photo in Photoshop, take measurements of the blurred area, sharpen it, and refine the edges.

Can a Smartphone Take a Photo With a Blurred Background?

Some smartphones can take a photo with a blurred background using the image destabilization feature that moves the sensor and lens together. Usually, this kind of blur looks like a motion blur instead of a lens blur.  

Final Thoughts

Blurring the background of a photo helps eliminate distracting elements that might prevent the viewer from focusing on the main subject. Learning how to take pictures with blurred backgrounds will help you determine the right aperture to use to get a background blur with the optimal image sharpness.