How to Make the Background Blurry

by | Sep 20, 2013 | Tips & Tricks | 2 comments

Hello from Mexico! I’ve been working here in Tijuana for the past week with MissionTalk doing tons of design work and helping prepare for the launch of MissionTalks new LifeChange mission trips.

I’ve also been taking pictures of the children at the orphanage which MissionTalk sponsors. One assignment was to get a portrait of every child who is currently living there. There are a lot of things that I implement when taking portraits, but one of the main elements of a good portrait is a blurry background. Blur eliminates distractions, creates depth, and makes the person’s face stand alone from it’s surroundings. So how do you create that beautiful background blur? A combination of these four elements will get you good results every time!

4623_Tijuana-Baja California-Mexico_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 144 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

1. Zoom in as far as you can

This is the number one thing that I have found to be the most effective for getting blurry backgrounds. If I’m shooting with my 24-105, I’ll almost consistently shoot at 105mm. If I’m using my 70-200, which is my preferred lens for portraits, then I’m almost always shooting at 200mm.

4395_Tijuana-Baja California-Mexico_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 45 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 3200

I would consider this a wide angle shot. There’s not much background blur because I’m not zoomed in very far at all.

2. Get as close to your subject as you can

You may quickly realize that zooming in isn’t the only thing that you need to do. The first tip doesn’t help much if you are not close to your subject! The 70-200 has a minimum focus distance of 4 feet. So if I’m taking intimate nature shots of such things as flowers or bugs, I zoom in to 200mm and stand as close to 4 feet as possible. If I’m taking portraits, I have to stand a little further away than 4 feet because I’m not interested in filling the frame with their nose or eyeball. I simply back up until I’ve found that happy medium where I’m zoomed in as far as I can but am still far enough away to get what I want in the frame.

5081_Tijuana-Baja California-Mexico_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 105 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 800

Using a zoom lens means cropping different parts of your subject sometimes.

3. Use as wide an aperture as you can

Aperture makes a big difference when it comes to the amount of area that is in focus. As a rule of thumb, the narrower the aperture, the deeper the depth of field; and the wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field. So, because my two lenses have a widest aperture of f/4.0, that’s the number I use for shooting portraits most of the time.

4151_Tijuana-Baja California-Mexico_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 135 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 800

When working with such a shallow depth of field, pay special attention that the subjects eyes are still tack sharp.

4. Move the background as far away as you can

Naturally, the further away the background, the less in focus it will be. As opposed to natural inclination, move the subject far away from walls and backdrops. If someone wants flowers in the background, have them stand 10 feet away from them, use the first three elements I outlined above, and you will be amazed at the colorful bokeh those flowers will create! The same thing works beautifully for fields, pathways, and other patterns that make for nice backgrounds. A background in focus leaves the door open to a lot of background distractions.

4187_Tijuana-Baja California-Mexico_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 40 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 5.0, ISO 400

You guessed it! This background is very close to my subject
so it isn’t blurred out very much at all.

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  1. Alyssa Plocharczyk

    Thank you, lenspiration, everything I have learned so far has been very helpful and I have been enjoying practicing all the new things on my own camera.


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