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How to Get Blurry Backgrounds in Your Photos

Let’s talk about how to get blurry backgrounds in your photos. As people-centered photographers, we love the way blurry backgrounds look, because blurry backgrounds bring all the attention and focus to our subjects (which is where we want it) and it gives the overall image creamier, dreamier, softer, more romantic, better-than-real-life look, feel and vibe. In our Shooting & Editing Course, we have an entire module with multiple lessons dedicated to teaching the ins and outs of depth of field — which is just professional speak for the amount of an image that’s in focus (or how much is blurry.) So when you hear photographers saying things like, “Oh, I just love the depth in this image!” What they’re really talking about is the background blur. “Depth” and “blur” are synonyms.

When we were getting started in photography, we assumed that blurrier backgrounds were created with a certain camera setting or special lenses; and while both of those are important and affect the depth of an image, there’s more to it. Your feet actually have as much to do with the depth of an image as your gear.

Yes, your feet.

And you already have those… and they’re free!

So that’s good news, eh?

You don’t need to buy a new camera or lens after reading this. You just have to be willing to take a few steps. Literally.

Here’s what we mean…

Assuming the camera gear and settings don’t change, the depth of an image will be determined by two things:

1. The distance from us to our subject

2. The distance between our subject and the background

So, here are two rules to remember when you’re out shooting and want a blurrier background.

1. Get Closer to Your Subject

Rule:

The closer you are to your subject, the blurrier the background will be. The farther away you are from your subject, the sharper/more in focus the background will be.

Example:

In the image on the left, you’ll notice the structure and shape of the gate is sharp and defined. You can see a lot of detail in the greenery above our bride’s head and could even count the individual branches.

In the image on the right, that same gate is now blurry. It’s harder to see detail and make out straight lines. The edges are softer, and the trees have now melted into a beautiful bokeh (those creamy blurry circles of green) making counting individual branches on that same tree impossible!

Everything behind our bride is blurry, so she really pops out of the background, making the whole image just looks a little creamier and dreamier!

Here’s the thing… these two images were taken just seconds apart, by the exact same photographer, with the exact same camera, with the exact same lens and the exact same settings. Amy shot both of these images with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 50mm 1.2 with an ISO 200, a shutter speed of 1/500, and a an aperture of f/2.0.

The ONLY difference between these two shots is the distance from Amy to her subject.

In the image on the left,  Amy stepped back far enough to show off the entire dress, and more of the image is in focus — especially the background.

In the image on the right, Amy walked a few steps toward our bride, closing the distance between Amy and her subject, and less of the background is in focus — a lot less!

Isn’t is awesome that you can achieve a such a different look just by moving your feet?!

2. Move Your Subject Farther from the Background

Rule: The farther away your subjects are from the background, the blurrier the background will be. The closer the subjects are to their background, the sharper the background will be.

Example: In the two photos below, we didn’t move our feet. Our subjects moved closer to us and farther away from the background. These two images were both shot with the Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 50mm 1.2. Same aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

In the first shot, our subjects are a lot closer to the altar, so you see a lot more detail in the altar and trees behind it.

In the second shot, our subjects are much farther away from the altar, so you see a lot less detail in the altar and trees behind it. Just look at the detail in the flowers (on the altar) in the top shot, and compare it to the same flowers in the bottom shot. They’re much blurrier. Plus, the bride and groom just POP so much more in the second image. Right?! That’s because the farther your subjects get from the background, the creamier the background will become! So they next time you’re shooting, if you don’t want to see as much detail in the background and you want more depth and blur, remind yourself, “Pull them off the background.”

We will always have a love affair with creamy, dreamy, blurry backgrounds, and we hope these two easy tricks will help you get blurry backgrounds in your photos, too!

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  1. Jesica

    December 3rd, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Wonderful blog post! I love these images 🙂

  2. Kristi

    December 4th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    I’ve got a question for you! I understand that shooting at 2.0 in the first shot of the bride & groom keeps focus decently sharp because of your distance from them. However, if zoomed in at 100% on the second bride & groom shot, the focus would be pretty soft, correct? Because of your proximity to them?

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We help people take better photos and build successful photography businesses. We’re high school sweethearts, former elementary school teachers and professional photographers. We're experts at making the complex feel simple and believe education is serious business, but learning should be fun.

searcH

free shooting class

3 Proven Tricks to Shoot Better & Edit Faster

connect with us

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The Amy & Jordan Store

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hey, we're amy & jordan!

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