Beginner's Guide On Creating Blurry Backgrounds

Photography teacher, JP Pullos shows you how to create blurry backgrounds in your photos.

| General Photography

Article by JP Pullos, Photography Teacher, NYC and online -

Beginner's Guide On Creating Blurry Backgrounds:

Photo by Peter Bargh.

Photographing an object with a blurry background is one of the most effective tools in your photographer's tool-belt. Portraitists use this effect a lot since it makes the subject of the image really pop from its surroundings. Achieving a blurry background, what the pros call a shallow depth-of-field, is not as easy as it looks, as most of you have probably experienced. Here's a complete run-down on how to get there.

The camera and/or lens you're shooting with will make a difference in how easy it is to get this effect. The following cameras are listed in order from easiest to hardest:

  • SLR camera with a lens that either has a lot of zoom or big apertures (easiest!)
  • SLR camera with a standard lens (harder)
  • Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras (harder)
  • Point-and-shoot cameras (difficult to achieve blurry background but not impossible)

Here's the exercise. After you've tried it, watch the video to see an example of an image done the right way and then some examples of images that are NOT done the right way. I'll explain how to fix images like that.

It's best to do this exercise in a brighter environment. Direct sunlight on your subjects would be best or try to find the brightest environment possible. Trying this indoors or late in the day might both prove difficult. (The reason for this is that you want to avoid the slower shutter speeds your camera will default to in darker environments since slower shutter speeds will make your pictures look blurry all over. If you do end up getting blurry images, try adjusting your ISO to a higher number, if you're able to. You won't, for example, be able to adjust your ISO on a point-and-shoot if you're in portrait mode so a bright environment will be crucial if you're using a small camera. Another solution, instead of adjusting your ISO, is to put your camera on a tripod or even just stabilize it on any surface to keep it still.)

Choose a small object, no bigger than a pineapple, and place it in front of a background that’s at least 15 meters (50 feet) away from the object. Choose your background wisely. It shouldn’t be the sky, for example, since there’s no way to tell if a clear sky is blurry or not. If you happen to be shooting an image indoors, don’t use a plain wall as your background since, again, it’s hard to tell if that wall is blurry in an image. Choose a background where it will be clear if the background is in focus or blurry.

There are three rules to creating a blurry background:

  1. Choose a small-numbered aperture. If you're using a camera that allows you to manually set your aperture, you'll want to put the camera into "A" or "Av" mode and choose an aperture of f/5.6 or lower. If your camera doesn't allow you to set the aperture manually, your best bet is to put your camera into "Portrait" mode which is your way of telling your camera that you want it to use a small-numbered aperture.
  2. Zoom in as much as possible. I would love to report to you that depth-of-field is only controlled by aperture but it’s more complex than that. How much you’re zoomed in will also effect your depth-of-field. If you’re zoomed out, you’ll have a hard time creating the blurry background.
  3. Be as close as possible to the subject and have the background be as far away from the subject as possible. Remember when I wrote that you should choose an object no bigger than a pineapple? You want to be close enough to that object so that the object is taking up at least 50% of the image. When I say the background should be as far away as possible, again, I want you to choose a background that's at least 15 meters (or 50 feet) away from the subject.

Once you've tried the exercise, you should have at least one image to look at on the back of your camera, assuming you're using a digital camera. (If you're using a film camera, the rules are the same, so you can still try the exercise.) If you achieved the effect, great! If not, take a look at the video segment and I'll show some common examples of what can go wrong with this exercise and the solutions for those problems.

Video no longer available.

Once you figure out how to create this effect consistently, you'll want to try it with lots of objects in lots of places. Be aware, though, that creating blurry backgrounds will only work for small subjects unless you have a camera/lens combo that gives you more flexibility. For most camera/lens combos, you'll need to stick to the rule of not picking anything bigger than a pineapple. (This means if you want to create a blurry background with a portrait, choose a head shot rather than a full-body shot. If you're shooting nature, choose a leaf instead of a tree.) If you want to create the blurry background when shooting larger objects, you'll either need to get a lens that allows you to go to f/2.8 or lower when you're zoomed all the way in or you'll have to get a lens that zooms to 300mm. Either will help you get the effect with bigger subjects.

Happy shooting!!

ePHOTOzine will be reviewing JP's video tutorials so keep checking our review section for when the review goes live.

Article by JP Pullos, Photography Teacher, NYC and online -


Beginner's Guide On Creating Blurry Backgrounds:
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jayatu Avatar
jayatu 12 India
6 Nov 2011 4:23AM
its great for beginners. thanks nikon

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