How to get blurry background photos

So you want to learn how to get those dreamy, blurred background photos right?  I can tell you exactly what you need to do including what settings to use. The blurred background, or bokeh, photos are incredibly easy to achieve once you know how.  The tricky part is your subjects and I will explain more about that below. So let’s jump right in. By the way, if you don’t care about the technical mumbo jumbo, just skip down to the settings part!

Technical Explanation of Blurred Background

Achieving the blurred background has to do with depth of field.  How you set the depth of field in your camera is with the aperture setting.  The aperture or f-stop is how big or small the opening of your lens is. The quick and dirty version to get the blurred background is to set your aperture as low as your lens will allow.  The standard lenses generally only go down to around an f-stop of 4, sometimes a little lower with the right lighting conditions. This can produce a blurred background with proper scene setting (meaning where you position your subject in relation to items in the background).  A prime lens, on the other hand, can go as low as 1.4 which can really blur the background in almost any situation. If you want to read more about prime lenses, you can go here: https://livesnapcreate.com/how-to-use-a-prime-lens/ or read How To Pick a Camera Lens.

Aperture Explained Diagram

Settings to Achieve a Blurred Background

When you are just starting with your DSLR and haven’t mastered manual mode, I recommend using one of the “semi-manual” modes.  In this instance, you want to use the Aperture mode. On a Canon camera it is mode Av and on a Nikon camera it is mode A. This mode will allow you to choose your Aperture setting, or f-stop, and the camera will figure out the rest to get a properly exposed photo.  

To get the blurry background you will want to start with a low Aperture.  I would start with an f-stop of 5.0 or below. The lower you go the more blurry the background will be.  The low-end number will be dependent on the lens you are using. Standard lenses go down to 3.5 sometimes and prime lenses go down to 1.4.  So follow the steps below to get a blurry background:

Steps to Get a Blurry Background

  • Set your camera to Aperture priority mode:  AV or A
  • Set your ISO to 200 for a bright sunny day, 400 for a cloudy darker day, or 800 for a low light shot
  • Set your f-stop (aperture) as low as your camera will allow
  • Take the picture

Things to be Mindful of

  • In low light conditions, the subject needs to be fairy still or there will be blurring of the subject.  This is because the camera will choose a slower shutter speed to try and get the exposure correct. If your shutter speed is too low try increasing your ISO.  This will tell the camera to also increase the shutter speed.
  • Alternatively, if it is really bright and sunny outside, the photos run the risk of being overexposed.  The reason behind this is the lower the aperture, the more light is being let into the camera. If this is the case try lowering your ISO to the lowest it can go, probably 100, and re-shoot.  If this continues to happen you will need to raise your f-stop until the exposure is correct.

Below are some examples of how the f-stop is affecting the bokeh in the picture.

Blurry Background Examples

As you can see in the above examples, a lower f-stop will produce more blur in the background.  I hope this helps you all get those photos that you want.  Here are some more articles that you can reference and as always if you have questions just pop them in the comments below.

Free DSLR and Mirrorless Settings Cheat Sheets and more!


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