How to Achieve Blurred Backgrounds in Portraits

How to Achieve Blurred Backgrounds in Portraits


A request I hear over and over from my students, is that they want to know how to create a beautiful, soft, blurred background like the image you see here.  There is a big misconception among new photographers that you need to go out and buy an expensive lens with a really big aperture to be able to achieve such a look.  While it is true that a larger aperture will give you a shallower depth of field, there are also two other factors involved that many people haven’t heard before or have forgotten.  In this article I’m going to show you the three factors to creating the lovely blurred background and how you can most likely do it with the lenses you already own.

The three factors that affect background sharpness are:

  • aperture
  • focal length of the lens
  • distance between the subject and the background

So to demonstrate how this works I’ve created some example photos of a friend’s daughter (because she was a more willing subject than my husband).  This first set of images was taken with her about two feet away from the front door of the house.  The lenses used for all the example shots are:  16mm, 35mm, 70mm, and 150mm.  I am purposely NOT divulging what aperture these are taken with, except that it is the same one in all 8 images below.

***Note:  keep in mind I used a Canon 5D MarkIII which is a full frame body, so if you use a camera that has a smaller sensor (one with a crop factor of 1.5x) the equivalent lenses for you would be approximately:  11mm, 24mm, 50mm, 100mm

This second set of images below was taken with her about 20 feet away from the house.  Each time I changed lenses I moved further away from her to keep her relatively the same size in the frame.

Notice in this second set of images how much softer the background is, especially in the one taken with the longest lens?   Seeing a correlation yet?!  Remember ALL EIGHT images above were taken with the same aperture.  The only thing I changed in the first set was the focal length of the lens.  The only factor changed for the second set of images was the distance to the background, by having her more several feet forward away from the house.

So what about the aperture?

As mentioned, I purposely did not tell you what aperture was used before you saw the images.  Would you be surprised if I said they were ALL taken at f5.6?  Well, it is true!  All the images above were made with an aperture of f5.6.  Not the first aperture you think of when someone says “blurred background” right?   Have you got f5.6 on your kit lens?  If so, did you think you’d never get those nice creamy backgrounds without investing hundreds, or thousands on a lens with a bigger aperture?   Think again, and read on!

One more comparison using f2.8

Just to prove the point here are two more sets of images both taken at f2.8.  The first with her close to the house, the second with her further away from the house.   Notice how much more the lens and distance affects the blur affect on the background, than does the wider aperture?  There is really not all that much difference between this set of images and the very first set at f5.6.

What we can learn from this

While using a wide aperture is a factor in creating a blurred background, it is not the only factor, and in my opinion it is not the most important.  If I’m doing a portrait I look for a location where I can place my subjects a good distance away from the background, and I’m usually using an 85mm or longer lens to photograph.  There is also a happy medium somewhere between that focal length, and using a lens so long that you have to go across the street to shoot it and end up having to yell just so your subjects can hear you.  For that reason a 300mm might be a little excessive for portraits.  However, using that 300mm for some wildlife or travel photos you should be able to create some nicely blurred backgrounds, knowing what you know now!

Now, go look at the image at the top of the article again?

It too was at f5.6!  Bet you didn’t guess that the first time you looked at it, am I right?  Can you tell what else is different in that image?   If you know, put it in the comments section below.  I’m not going to tell you and see if you can figure it out with the following images, taken in the same location.

Taken with a 200mm lens at f2.8

200mm lens at f2.8

200mm lens at f5.6

Practice and more Reading

I challenge you to go out and do this exercise yourself, don’t believe me.  Find a willing subject and starting with them close to a background go through lenses from wide to long, trying different apertures.  Then repeat with them moved several feet away from the background.  Consider this practice ongoing as well with everything you photograph.

Think about how you can use this new information to create images that more closely resemble the vision of how you saw the scene.

To learn more about the aperture in general and what it does, go read:  How to use Depth of Field.

Also related is How to Choose the Right Lens, which talks about what different lenses do optically and when you might choose to use each of them.   Knowing what aperture and what lens to use to create just the look you desire, is part of putting it all together.  The more you think about these things before you take the image, the better your final images will turn out.  I guarantee it!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Morocco and India. To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

  • wri7913

    For more cost, you get a F1.4 lens you will get more light. You can shoot in lower light settings and still get sharp images.

    F1.8 you will be borderline in some cases and have to put your flash on. If you can live with the drawbacks you will save yourself some money with the F1.8

    The question to ask yourself is whether you are professional or hobbyist. If you are hobbyist, save yourself the money and get the 1.8 and live with the drawbacks. If you are a professional, get the pro lens and enjoy the benefits of being able to shoot wide open in low light. You will NEED it as you will be shooting far more often especially with weddings and portraits.

  • wri7913

    Best thing to do is review on Amazon to see what other people say about the lens. Look at the positive and negative ratings and weight the value of what is said. You can always comment and ask those people to elaborate their reviews until you are satisfied with answers. You can also check out a lens borrowing company and rent it for one month. This will give you a hands on experience with the lens before actually sinking money into buying the lens.

  • wri7913

    Canon Rebel has decent SLR cameras. A good kit will cost you about $500 for pretty much everything. Once you know your daughter is defintely going to get into Photography as a career you or she can start sinking money into better cameras. Once 5DS hits the market the 5D Mark III should hit $1500 range for the serious cameras.

  • wri7913

    If you mean freeze by not allowing you to press the camera trigger button, then it may mean you are still too close. You could step back physically until you are able to press the button down. Many do this because you are too close to your subject matter.

  • wri7913

    Yes, use your lowest F-Stop on your lens.

  • wri7913

    Maggie both Nikon and Canon have Focus Lock Buttons. These are a good tool to use. Since i have Canon I can only speak from using these cameras. The Focus Lock is on the back of the camera on the right side behind the LED sitting on the top-right. On my camera it has the label AF ON. Just click that to focus and lock it that way. Press the button when you want to take the shot. It will prevent the Auto-Focus from re-adjusting the focus.

    This is also known as back plane focusing. Once you learn this handy little tip, you won’t go back to the regular way of focusing.

  • wri7913

    Learn to use your Back Plane focusing button. You can lock in the focus without the camera readjusting the focus on your picture when you go to push the button.

  • Ritesh Mishra

    hey .. I am a beginner…if have a 35mm f/1.8 standard lens wiil i be able to blur background….?

  • Diwakar Bhatt

    To what extend can this be achieved by smartphone Camera??

  • Joseph Abi Rached


    I was shocked I know the distance between the subject and background affects on the blur but not like that. I have never thought with f 5.6 you would get sharp background with low length, for me it is great tip because in most of my situations I’ve had to increase the ISO and aperature just to keep the high shutter speed and avoid blurring background. So now all I have to do is approaching to the subject and use low lens length. I know I have said too much however I have one more question when capturing a moving subjects for example someone jumping in water, should I use short or long length what’s the better? Note: I always use low f number with A priority mode.

  • samuel

    just statred to use a camera what do i need to know

  • Shannon Biehl Page

    What camera would be better canon 5d or nikon d3300

  • it is too complicated. I use Super Refocus to help me. It is really
    super to Add Focus and Depth to my Photos within a few seconds. Expensive camera is not necessary, nor any skill.

  • Super Refocus is available at appstore

  • XxX420DankLordXxX

    haha your last name is smallwood

  • Priyanjana Roy

    Will a 55-200 mm lens be good for blurry backgrounds. If yes, then do I have to be Far away from the subject ?? Or do I have tp place the subject far from the background ?
    Thanks in advance 🙂

  • Bilal Shoukat

    Change the lens…

  • patty

    Excellent article! I’ve fought stopping down for such a long time. No more! Thank you Darlene! Time to break out my 85 mm. 🙂

  • mattsapii

    of course, for sample this is mine.. using 35mm/1.8

  • Simon de Winter

    Although there’s a lot of truth to this article, we should bear in mind that we don’t always have the space available to us and opportunity to position our subjects (who aren’t at all always willing to work with you) where we want them compared to the background.

    Indoors where the walls are close and light is low the best lens is the one with the shorter focal length and the wider aperture.

    Coincidentally my favourite lens is a 40mm 1.8 which I use on an APS-C sensored camera.

    Just a second thought on a good article 😉

  • Tarun Lohumi

    Thanks for the nice clean article. I see so many comments but no answer to your question towards the ends of the article. Something else in the photographs that you wanted us to guess.
    Is that the distance between the subject & the photographer – because that too effects the overall bokeh?

  • Eric

    My guess is you used a 35mm in the main photo and posed your subject further away from the background.

    Nice article. Illustrates the point well.

  • Sara Sechrest

    If I have a 18-55mm lens that came with my kit, am I actually shooting at 27-78mm? I have an entry-level Nikon with the crop sensor and much of the information is vague at best. Also, isn’t 80mm about the “ideal” focal length for portraits? How do I go about achieving 55mm (80mm since I have the crop sensor?), just by fully rotating the zoom lens?

  • Lou Delgado

    I understand, how sharp is sharp? I want a 1.4 so I can do more indoors.

  • Lou Delgado

    How sharp does it have to be — it will NOT be fuzzy. I want a 1.4 for more options indoors.

  • Lou Delgado

    Spot on, in my mind.

  • Lou Delgado

    YES, thank you Diane. Very timely as I have a portrait session today – semi- closed shade.

  • Lou Delgado

    Read the article people.

  • Lou Delgado

    Hello. My gosh.

  • Lou Delgado

    We all heart puns

  • vousplaisentezouquoi

    “using that 300mm for some wildlife or travel photos you should be able to create some nicely blurred backgrounds, knowing what you know now!”
    Well, I think that with a 300 mm it is way harder to have a not blurred background than to have it…

  • vousplaisentezouquoi

    “F1.8 you will be borderline” Just go up 1/3 of stop with ISO…………

  • Sarah Smallwood

    Wtf has that got to do with anything

  • Sarah Smallwood

    If you want to blur backgrounds use the widest aperture you can on my 70-300mm it’s about f4 from memory, get further away from your subject and zoom in, also if your subject isn’t right against the background you will get more blur, just experiment with it a bit.

  • Rick

    Focal length by itself does not affect depth of field. Crop background image to same field of view as telephoto and you’ll see.

  • Yves Gagné

    I guess, one of the best way to learn this, is with a 50mm lens. Even a cheap one with F/1.8 willl do the job. By moving your feet closer or farther from the subject will tell you a lot on the depth of field you are going to get and show you what is in focus and not so. Of course if you have the option on your camera to check this is even better. By looking through the viewfinder you should know what’s in focus.

  • Steven Addario

    For a blurry background you want to create a shallow depth of field. Use the 50mm lens and in Aperture Priority mode (AV on Canon, A in Nikon), set a large aperture, which is a low f-number, around f/1.8 or f/2. Put your subject as far away from the book case as possible, 10-15 feet if the room allows.

  • j238

    Good information in general, but…

    “This second set of images below was taken with her about 20 feet away from the house.”

    “The only factor changed for the second set of images was the distance to the background, by having her (move) several feet forward away from the house.”

    The subject was either at a fixed distnace, or she moved. Both can’t be true.

    I’m a newbie on this subject, so a detail like this is confusing to me.

  • Saurabh Sona

    Indeed the DOF is affected by both subject to camera distance (same lens focused closer has lesser DOF) as well as subject to background distance. Even if somehow the DOF was same for say a 35mm lens shot from very close to the subject vs 200mm lens shot from much further, the 200mm lens will include a much smaller portion of the background compared to 35mm. So if you were able to get the whole house in the frame with the 35mm, you get just a small portion of the house in case of 200mm. This gives you the ability to change the relative size of the objects in the background with respect to your subject. The moon in the background will appear much larger when the subject is shot with say a 300mm lens from far away vs shooting the same person using 30mm lens from close enough to keep the subject same size in the photo. Telephoto lenses can help clear the clutter by including lesser portion of the background compared to wider lenses.

  • Monch

    absolutely beautiful shot

  • Monch

    Very helpful.
    Thank You!

  • Dhananjay Kumar Singh

    Hi i am using Nikon COOLPIX S9900, and i want to click a blur background with sharp image(Image should be in focus) .what settings are required and how to achieve it?

  • Siddharth Oza


  • Siddharth Oza

    Hi there,

    Very helpful article, never thought of this point before and you mentioned I always assumed it was only the aperture that matter. I will test this theory on weekend.

  • Akay

    Bravo !
    The way U explained ‘from first principles’ of Physics(Optics) U must have been a teacher in some incarnation, and that too of junior classes.
    Believe me it’s a right handed compliment from a 72 y.o, a has-been-student of science n engineering!
    And I take pride in claiming to be a student of science to this date.
    I’m trying to study (and learn) the art n science of photography.

  • Petegeoff

    My maternal grandmothers name was Smallwood. Good English name!

  • Mark Miller

    Good article. How much does quality/direction of light affect bokeh? Maybe save for another article.

  • 1861man

    This is a great article on dof and gives good examples to compare. I am fortunate to have a range of lenses for my Canon 5dmkiii all capable of doing a good job blurring the background when used as shown in the article. Thanks

  • Akay

    I’m HIGHLY disappointed at seeing that inspite of 2 years since U asked the Q, no body answered U. Being a beginner like U, entry level camera and 18-55 lens etc. here below are my thoughts.
    In last 2+ years U must have learnt how to get 55mm full zoom !
    U R are right with NIkon crop camera the crop factor is 1.5 , meaning 18-55 lens is just what U wrote., 27-78mm lens
    80mm or near about is definitely good focal length for portraits . BUT do not fret , after all 78mm IS about 80mm :-p
    For high level money minting professionals there are 85mm f/1.2 and 1.4(soon-to-come by Dec. 2017) (Canon) lenses.
    Soooooo ! ?
    78mm or 80mm or 85mm ??????
    Believe me, there is nothing like a perfect measure of any photographic parameter ! 😀 🙂
    Thinking deeply, in present day DSLRs even the entry level cameras are very hi-tech involving dozens and dozens of variables ! Add to this the post production softwares like photoshop and its cousins ! ! It becomes as large as space / universe above us.
    Hope since U posted ur Q, U have moved a lot in past 2+ years

  • Häshim Pûdiyãpûr?

    Get both. 50/1.8 is cheap you can get a used one for 50USD

Some Older Comments

  • Darlene August 13, 2013 08:17 am

    @bean yes of course, how the lens focuses isn't a factor at all. Just the things mentioned in the article.

    What kind of lens do you have?

  • bean August 12, 2013 08:17 pm

    Here the article is very good for understanding. i have one question. Does autofocus lens is mandatory for blurred effect? can i do that with manual focus?

  • Lee July 1, 2013 05:57 am

    Well i enjoyed the article, thanks very much. When i go on holiday this summer and visit my niece I will definitely experiment with this! I will move her away from the BG and I will test out my different length lenses to see the effects - which was i think, the point - happy days.

    Isn't photography so emotive, lol. Thanks again.

  • Samuel Adhikari June 22, 2013 11:10 pm

    Thank you for the advice. Ive been trying that with my Nikon D 3200 with its kit lens 18-55 mm. Hope this tips will help me achieve a good blurred background. Thank you

  • Darlene May 10, 2013 03:43 pm

    @Dawn thanks for that. This isn't my main site though ;-) although I do write regular articles here as well, my main site is where you found those other articles (for other's reference). Thanks, keep reading!

  • Dawn Attewell May 8, 2013 07:31 pm

    Hi Darlene
    After downloading and reading your book, I find I'm excited about trying some of the challenges. I've had my DSLR camera for 12 months and am finely getting to understand how it works.
    I have a Sony 18 to 250 lens and a macro lens.(my camera is Sony SLT - A77v.) and I hope to purchase a wide angle lens soon..
    How to choose the Right Lens and How to use Depth of Field articles have been fantastic, I love it ! so easy to understand. Thanks you.


  • Darlene April 15, 2013 01:36 pm

    @prashant - very hard to answer. Do you want to do landscapes? macro (close ups)? studio product photography?

    hard to know without knowing your desired subject matter

  • Prashant Bhat April 14, 2013 04:19 am

    Informative for an beginner..thank you..
    Keep up...

    I would like to ask your advise .. I am more intersted towards object oriented photography and nature.(as in light painting)
    and rarely i take pics of human beings .

    Which kind of lens would you advise for me,i am thinking of upgrading my lens.(i use canon 600D).

  • Darlene March 21, 2013 02:35 pm

    @mallory I'd get a fixed lens with a really big aperture like a 50mm f1.2 or f1.4. Even the less expensive f1.8 will give you nice results. If you go to a much wider lens than that you'll have an even harder time getting any blrry backgrounds. It's also about picking your spots, where you stand so you can position the subjects against what's behind them. I've done lots of weddings and yes sometimes it's tricky. But also usually they are not expecting fine art prints from the candid shots at an event. So do the best you can with what you've got to work with.

  • Darlene March 13, 2013 08:25 am

    @petra thanks so much, yes I know what you mean. Thanks for your support.

  • petra March 13, 2013 12:04 am

    Darlene, thanks so much - not just for the original article, but also for your persistence and patience in the forum. Your visual examples and clear explanations have finally have demystified the relationship between lens/focal length, distance, and aperture in a way that helps me REMEMBER them! Very pedagogical. Meanwhile, some of the subsequent long forum comments only create confusion.

  • Darlene March 11, 2013 03:13 pm

    @Mallory I'd use a 50mm f1.8 it is not an expensive lens but it's likely a much wider aperture than what you were using if you have a zoom lens. Then do the best you can with that.

  • Mallory March 9, 2013 04:24 pm

    what type of lens would you use if you were taking indoor pictures at a venue for parties, weddings,etc. and we're not able to get the distance needed to blur. I recently did a photoshoot of a graduation celebration and I could not use my longer lens because I was confined, HELP!

  • Sandra March 9, 2013 02:35 am

    Now that you mention it, it must be a photo shop issue. It looks fake so it probably is. Can anyone recommend some photography reference books for beginners?

  • Naftoli March 8, 2013 08:06 am

    sandra, maybe u are reffering to photos where the background was digitally blurred in photoshop to look as if there was a shallower Depth of Field, without examples we cant really tell u

  • Sandra March 8, 2013 05:01 am

    .... oops I forgot to ask... what mistake are they making when that is the outcome?

  • Sandra March 8, 2013 04:58 am

    I'm very new to digital photography and all this theory is yet to be learned but I really must say that I see a lot of amateur portraits online and the background is far too blurry. Over done. It makes the subject look like it was cut out and pasted onto another photograph. It looks awful. It resembles some sort of tacky decoupage!

  • Johannes February 19, 2013 10:02 am

    Great article.

    In fact, a nice tip is a little tool you can find at With this calculator you can compare different lenses, cameras, and subject sizes and see a visual comparison between their ability to blur the background.

  • Naftoli February 13, 2013 09:55 am

    Ram, yes the simple answer is that both the camera type and the lens have to do with how blurry u can make ur backgrounds, a T4i will not produce the same amount of background blurriness as a 5dmk2. see my above comments

  • Ram February 13, 2013 07:58 am

    Hi Darlene,

    Is it only the lense that matters or even the camera matters too to take nice blurry background pictures?
    I am new to photography and recently bought Canon T4i 55-250mm f/4 - 5.6.
    Would i be able to take similar pictures you posted with the same settings you did with 5D?

  • Steve February 3, 2013 03:05 am

    Wow Darlene...(my wife's name too) I must say that I got so much info from your article and comments.....thank you for trying to teach these techniques.....

  • Naftoli January 25, 2013 04:11 am


    Just to clarify something, you said " the 50mm prime lens since it acts like an 80mm-on-a-full frame" I get that ur using apsc size format for reference, thats fine. (which also proves my point further that most people on this site use apsc and refer to focal lengths using apsc as reference) But the correct way to say it would be " A 50mm on a crop sensor has a field of view like an 80mm on a full frame" b/c 80mm on a full frame will still result in a blurrier background

  • Darlene January 24, 2013 05:53 pm

    Jay - sorry you are right, I misread your last comment! We are saying the same thing.

  • jay January 24, 2013 05:47 pm


    You are saying the same thing but somehow, unfortunately, you seem to misunderstand my message. I'll try one more time and will move on:

    1. On a crop sensor

    A 50 mm lens acts like "an 80 mm" (if you use the full frame as the reference). The Rebel I was using as an example has a 1.6x factor. 1.6*50 = 80.

    2. On a full frame
    A 50 mm is a 50 mm (obviously, since that is the reference!).

    Have a good day.


  • Darlene January 24, 2013 04:34 pm

    Jay - right! and that is incorrect. A full frame sensor is exactly what it says, full frame. So if you put a 50mm lens on - it's a 50.

    But on a cropped sensor the sensor is smaller, so it's effectively cropping out part of the image making it seem like the lens is longer. It's not exactly like that but it's crop factor is usually 1.5 or 1.6x making a 50mm more like a 75mm on the smaller sensor.

  • Jay January 24, 2013 02:14 pm

    50 mm on a cropped sensor is like (using) an 80 mm on full frame, was my message.

  • Darlene January 24, 2013 11:56 am

    @Jay you said "I really like the 50mm prime lens since it acts like an 80mm-on-a-full frame. It’s also tack/ sharp and the colors are lovely. IMHO, a great bargain at around $100!" - other way around. The 50mm on a full frame is a true 50mm, on a cropped sensor it's more like 75 or 80mm. But you are right that is a great lens to pick up. Nice and light and small and fairly inexpensive.

    @Hannah - likely the 35mm is too wide and will not give you that blurred background you're wanting. The 50 will be better, an 85mm better yet. I'd say do yourself at 3/4 portrait (knees or waist up) instead of full body. You'll be able to see your faces better and you won't be so small, and you'll get more of that blur you're looking for in the background.

  • Jay January 24, 2013 10:01 am

    I have an iPhone app called Simply DOF and it says that at 9 feet the depth of field is 1'6" for this lens set at f2 (on a Rebel XTI).

  • Hannah January 24, 2013 08:51 am

    many thanks for your replies :-)

    So sorry I should have been more clearer with myself in my first post! The only reason i want to do a full body shot is b/c i will be going to Paris soon and would like a shot of the eiffle tower blurred out ...i want my partner and i to be in the frame as i will have the camera on a tripod and on a timer.....

    The distance from us to the camera is very important - prefably around 3 meters if possible to achieve full body shot and blurred out bg (this will give me enough time to run back to my partner and be in the frame - also i dont want it too far as it is a touristy place)

    I was thinking whether the Canon 35mm f2 lens would be suitable for what i am trying to achieve? I have looked into the 50mm f1.8 but i will have to set the camera back tooo far :-(

    Your help is much appreciated :-)


  • Jay January 24, 2013 08:31 am

    Ms Hannah,
    I'm not an expert, but wish to share my experience: I have an older crop sensor camera (Canon Rebel XTI) and a 50 mm 1.8. I'm able to get nice, blurred, backgrounds.
    Hope this helps you in some small manner.

    I really like the 50mm prime lens since it acts like an 80mm-on-a-full frame. It's also tack/ sharp and the colors are lovely. IMHO, a great bargain at around $100!

  • Naftoli January 24, 2013 07:41 am

    Hannah, Thank you for proving my point. I dont think buying a new camera is the solution here, if u do buy a new camera b/c you want to achieve more blurry backgrounds you must spend about 2000$ on a full frame model such as the 5D mkII which has a larger sensor ( besides purchasing a full frame lens to go with it ). For your needs assuming you are on a budget i would suggest starting off with a 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 lens (or perhaps 85mm), In any case invest in "glass" (lenses) first camera second. check out this short article on aperture will explain more in detail with examples of full body shots u are referring to

    Darlene i realize now that you did not intend to mislead, as you said above "NO I was no aware of the difference in DOF from full frame to cropped sensor, I certainly am now." I take that to mean that when you wrote the article you were not as informed as you should have been on a subject you are writing about. you also say " If someone cannot afford a full frame camera, I don’t think that adding that factor into the article will help them," how about a p&s camera shooters? With there tiny sensors and almost limitless DOF do u think its important for them to know that its almost impossible to get an oof background with such a camera b/c f2.8 will be equivelent of about f11 (dof wise) of a dslr ? (this isnt just about sensor sizes but also about camera to subject distance which you neglected to mention in you most recent comment) (and dont forget the sharpness of a kit lens wide open compared to a 2.8 zoom)

  • Darlene January 23, 2013 10:11 am

    Hannah - If you want a full body shot of one person you need two things:
    - a longer lens that what you have
    - distance from the background. A LOT of distance. If you have the person 20 feet away from the background that will help.

    Your camera is not the issue here. You also need to shoot at the lenses widest aperture (f4 if you have it). But that lens at 55mm (the most zoomed in) probably will still not give you much of the blurry background. As I mentioned here you need all three things.

  • Hannah January 22, 2013 11:24 am

    Fab article. I currently have a canon eos m 18-55mm. Am I able to achieve a full body shot with my lens? I have tried but it's not blurry bg :( please help.

    I'm thinking of returning it and finding a different camera. :(

  • Darlene December 22, 2012 06:19 am

    @naftoli - I do not wish to get into an argument over this or have anyone's feelings hurt. I don't think anyone is questioning your information, it's just the way it was delivered.

    YES I have owned a non-full frame camera, my first DSLR was a Canon 10D in 2004.

    NO I was no aware of the difference in DOF from full frame to cropped sensor, I certainly am now.

    NO I can't change the title of the article, I'm a guest author and not the owner of this site. So I submit it and they publish it. If you want the title changed you'll have to contact the site administrators. I highly doubt they will do that now though as links to the article and SEO will be messed up if you do so after the fact. As a matter of fact I did NOT make that title the site did. My title was slightly different if I recall something like "3 tips for creating blurred backgrounds". They changed it not me.

    Again, I'm not going to defend myself about the "misleading" thing as that was not intended nor do I think the article is misleading. If someone cannot afford a full frame camera, I don't think that adding that factor into the article will help them, but rather will just make those folks feel bad - like they can't achieve good photos. Will they ever be exactly like my examples - perhaps not. Will they be better than before they read the article - possibly! THAT was my goal and intention with the article.

    I think the reason Brian came to my defense is because it seems like your comments are of an attacking nature and not helpful. Perhaps you want to consider how you write things and how they are perceived. If you perceived my article as "misleading" and I was defensive of that - perhaps now you can understand what it feels like when your words are misunderstood.

  • Naftoli December 22, 2012 05:48 am

    Hello Brian, i must say i am a bit insulted how u just put down and belittle my comments and criticism and just label it as "inappropriate rants" even if what i was saying were incorrect and utterly ridiculous, calling it inappropriate is wrong. the fact that i actually took the time to express my opinion and to help others shows that im not a complete bigot as u suggest. Brian did u even read my comments ? did u click the link i left to Cambridge in

    Brian, and jcsnyc, are u using a full frame camera? from ur comment u mention kit lens i would assume not. i advise u to read my "rants" again with an open mind. u cannot achieve the same background blurriness as Darlene with your camera in the same situation! i suspect that Darlene never owned a non full frame camera and thats one of the reasons she never realized that there is a large difference btwn the 2.

    Darlene, said " I agree, no matter what camera you use, taking my tips into account will help you blur the background more than if you did the opposite." i agree as well. the article was well written and had some solid tips. besides for omitting a few factors and misleading on a few points which i mentioned above. you may now argue that u didnt want to go into all the technical ways u can blur the background. if so you can at least change the title to "A FEW TIPS on how to achieve blurry backgrounds"
    Lastly u may be wondering why am i taking the time to comment. what compelled me to write my original comment was the want to give back. A good portion of my photography knowledge came from free sources such as blogs, forums, etc. there's allot of free information out there and when i c information that is wrong or misleading i feel bad being quiet allowing unknowing amateurs to be fooled. just as when i didnt know much when i read article somewhere if i found someone who disagreed with the author i would at least look into what they were saying, at least before outright insulting them ( btw i never did insult anyone to my recollection)

  • Darlene December 19, 2012 02:00 pm

    @brian - thank you that means a lot. You'll notice I stopped replying as I won't take part in it any more. Thanks for your support.

  • Brian December 19, 2012 03:06 am

    Darlene - I too want to express my appreciation for your work in providing this very well written article on the topic of DOF. I especially appreciated your simple, yet comprehensive explanation about how to create shallow depth of field even when using a kit lens. I look forward to your future contribution here. Please don't let the inappropriate rants of one reader discourage you from continuing to help those who are new to the wonderful world of photography!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt December 8, 2012 04:28 am

    @jcsnyc - thank you for that! I agree, no matter what camera you use, taking my tips into account will help you blur the background more than if you did the opposite.

  • jcsnyc December 6, 2012 06:36 am

    Darlene - Thanks for the article. I have found it very helpful.

    I agree that this is valuable information regardless of the camera used. I have been taking photographs for over 30 years - and still consider myself to be an advanced beginner when it comes to composition and the end result. I think this has largely come from my focus on the "technical" aspects, such as DOF, Aperature, Lens used, etc. rather than really understanding composition and perspective.

    By simply separating my subject from the background and considering the actual composition - rather than getting caught up in aperature, DOF, focal length, etc. - I expect to get some better photos.

  • Naftoli December 6, 2012 03:35 am


    "What makes you the expert and how do we all know that what you’re saying is correct?" i never claimed to be the expert, remember im not the one writing an article on DOF.

    " I have no idea who you are" I left a link at the end of my previous comment to my facebook pg, there u can see all the info about me as u like my photos, where i live, etc.

    "That makes NO sense to me what so ever." Thats part of the problem, this may come across as harsh but i dont think u are knowledgeable enough to write an article on Depth of field. b/c u apparently dont understand the fundamentals on how it is controlled. I will try again to explain how sensor size affects dof. as well as link to the source of the info.

    In order for the readers of this forum to reproduce equivalent depth of field on there apsc sized sensor camera as that attained on your full frame camera at f/5.6 they would have to open up the aperture to f/3.5 (something they cant do with a kit lens). Conversely on an apsc sized sensor camera at f/5.6 will give u equivalent depth of field of images had u used f/9 on a full frame camera. Thats more than 1 whole stop difference of aperture (regarding DOF) btwn using full frame and apsc! here is a well written article that should help clarify your confusion

    "As for the 50mm vs the 85mm and which is a nicer “portrait” lens." i think u misunderstood me, I did not "counter it and tell me i should be doing somthing else" i didnt say that the 50mm will give u portraits with "Nicer" perspective and "Nicer" background than an 85mm. even when i shot dx i opted for the 85mm over the 50mm for portraits when possible. I meant that as far as perspective, an 85mm on a full frame is near equivalent of 50mm on an apsc. Especially for a beginner, its easier to frame up a photo with a 50mm(85mm on full frame) then an 85mm(136mm on full frame).(Besides a 50mm costs 100$, and an 85mm costs 500$) FYI 95% of the time im using my 70-200 in the 150-200mm range as well (outdoors).

    "Please let’s just agree to disagree" what exactly are we disagreeing about? Do u disagree with me that sensor size and camera distance to the subject have a large impact on Depth of field? (I can agree to disagree with u regarding recommending a 50mm vs an 85mm lens to an amateur apsc sized sensor dslr user)

    By now u probably realize that you made a mistake, you are realizing that you neglected to mention two important Factors for "getting blurry backgrounds". the right thing to do would be to do a little more research, read the article in the link i posted, perhaps do new tests with ur camera set to f/9 to replicate the dof of an apsc sized sensor, and edit in omitted information, or remove the article from dps altogether which would be a shame because it can be a very nice article.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt December 4, 2012 06:22 am

    @naftoli - just curious, what training and do you have in all this? What makes you the expert and how do we all know that what you're saying is correct? I cannot see a web site for you, mine is linked to everywhere and I'm transparent about who I am. I have no idea who you are or where you get your information from.

    "Essentially the larger sensor in your camera enables u to stand 1.6x closer to the subject u are photographing than had u been using a non full frame DSLR! this means that for any given photo taken on ur camera if u were to shoot the same photo on a apsc sized sensor DSLR you would get 1.6x more DOF." - how do you figure that? That makes NO sense to me what so ever.

    So if I put on a 100mm lens and stand 10 feet away, you're saying that with the same lens on an APS-C sensor camera with lens factor of 1.6 it becomes a 160mm lens so they have to stand further away (yes true). But how do you figure they get MORE dof? They are further away so by your logic stated earlier it also has to do with distance to the subject.

    As for the 50mm vs the 85mm and which is a nicer "portrait" lens. I come from the days of film and used to shoot with a Hasselblad (let's not even go there in re: dof). On 35mm film a 135mm was consider a "portrait" lens not an 85mm. 100mm for sure the shortest. So I stand by my opinion, and it's just that, MY opinion. I prefer the 85mm on my camera, and often use my 70-200 at about 150mm. So when I say something is my preference, please don't counter it and tell me I should be doing something else. My preference is just that, mine.

    I'm not going to critique your work but my point is made. I've been doing this 25 years and teaching classes and workshops for two years. I have many repeat students that have taken all my classes, done tutoring with me, and taken my travel tour workshop. So I'm not going to debate this any longer. Please let's just agree to disagree and move on, this is a waste of time.

  • Naftoli December 4, 2012 05:45 am

    Darlene, ok in that case i apologize. You are not intentionally trying to trick ur readers, u just don't fully understand how DOF works, How it is distributed and how sensor size affects it. and perhaps most importantly how distance to the subject affects it. Essentially the larger sensor in your camera enables u to stand 1.6x closer to the subject u are photographing than had u been using a non full frame DSLR! this means that for any given photo taken on ur camera if u were to shoot the same photo on a apsc sized sensor DSLR you would get 1.6x more DOF.

    For example, say u had an 85mm lens on an FX body (5dmkII) and an 85mm lens on a DX/APSC sized sensor body (Rebel T4i), Now take a standard head and shoulders portrait with the full frame DSLR, now take the Rebel and frame up the same photo you will notice that while with your 5D u had to stand (for arguments sake)10 feet away from ur subject now u will have to backup 6 feet too take a portrait with the same framing (subject the same size in the viewfinder) this is why DX/APSC sized sensors are called cropped sensors by many people b/c for all intents and purposes thats exactly what it is. The difference in distance to the subject is a very important factor in controlling DOF and background sharpness.

    "As for the 50mm f1.8 I recommend that lens too but not for portraits it’s a bit short for my tastes and preference" Again this is b/c u are shooting Full Frame. on a non full frame sensor the 50mm acts as a perfect portrait lens giving no distortion whatsoever, put a 50mm on a Rebel and you will get equivalent field of view of an 80mm lens on your 5DMKII. (An 85 is still a nice portrait lens for DX (136mm equivalent on fx), but besides being 2x the $$ its a bit harder to use since perspective is more compressed, it can be difficult to make an educated guess of how far away you should stand before looking through the viewfinder, (similar to using the 135 f2 lens on FX.))

    "where do you teach?" i have not taught any formal classes/workshops per se, i mostly do 1 on 1 sessions, i also help out alot of photographers and amateurs for free who call, email or message me, my website is being worked on, it is not up now, but here is a link to my Facebook pg. if u would like to see some of my work.

  • Nuno December 3, 2012 07:31 am

    Thank you Darlene. By the way, great article, really appreciatted it. All the best!

  • Darlene December 2, 2012 05:40 pm

    @nuno - when your subject is close to the background it's harder to get it blurry. You'd have to have a super large aperture like f1.8 or even f1.2 and even then you will still get better results moving them away a little bit. It's much easier, and less expensive to just move them apart than buy a bigger and more expensive lens. If you have such a lens, that's great - but I don't even own such a thing.

  • Nuno December 2, 2012 05:18 am

    I understand these scenaries, however I guess then this wouldn't work being near the subject and with little distance to the background. Is it possible to get blur with these conditions? With what kind of equipment?

  • Darlene December 1, 2012 04:56 am

    @naftoli - I'm sorry you feel like I'm trying to trick the readers here, as I explained that is not my intention. It is my experience that the whole full frame vs APS-C sensor thing is confusing to most people, and admittedly somewhat to myself also. So I try not to get into discussing what camera was used because it really doesn't make as much difference as the other factors mentioned.

    I also do not own a Rebel or a kit lens and I cannot afford to go out and buy them just to write an article. If you have both a full frame and a cropped sensor camera and would like to go to a comparison for us using the specs you described I'd LOVE to see it and be proven wrong. Show me what I'm missing here.

    As for sharpness and contrast of the better lenses, that also has to do with post processing. You can take a really good lens and still destroy the images in processing. So sharpness in that respect is not 100% dependent on the lens and gear.

    As for the 50mm f1.8 I recommend that lens too but not for portraits it's a bit short for my tastes and preference. I recommend the 85mm f1.8. But again if people can't afford anything I help them work with what they have. You teach also? What is your web site, or where do you teach?

    I'm not going to keep defending myself on this. I stand by my article. If you disagree with some of the points that's fine but I don't really appreciate that you're suggesting that I intentionally am trying to "trick" the readers of this article when that couldn't be further from the truth. I put about 6-8 hours into every article I write. I think it out ahead of time, what shots will I need to demonstrate my point. I go shoot them, process them and do the article to support it. If I miss a point, I'm human, please help me out and add it in the comments as others have. But please don't suggest that for some bizarre reason I'd purposely try and fool people - what would be the point of that?

    As for 99% of readers or my students having cropped sensor cameras that percentage might be a lot lower than you think. If my students in class are any representation I'd say it's more like 60-70%. I find that a third of people DO have full frame cameras.

  • Naftoli December 1, 2012 04:14 am

    Darlene, i apologize that my tone may have come across a bit harsher than i have may have wanted, thank u for taking the time to reply.

    “but notice that the last photo has a tighter crop, the author moved the camera closer to the subject thereby achieving equivalent DOF to the photo before even thought the aperture is half the size of 2.8.” yes u are correct, the aperture is 1/4 the size not half the size at 5.6 that was a typo on my part

    "I moved in maybe ONE FOOT, not enough to affect DOF that much." at 200mm to get the same tighter crop of the last photo IMO u had to have move forward more than 1 foot especially at the longer focal length of 200mm where the distance is compressed, moving 1 foot forward the crop would be almost identical to the photo above, id say u moved at least 3 feet closer, and even if u did "Move maybe 1 FOOT closerr" DOF will still decrease, as u can clearly see the background is softer in the last photo taken at 5.6 the only variable that changed btwn thlast photo and the photo above it (besides aperture) is distance to the subject. (if distance to the subject had remained constant the background in the last photo would be less out of focus than the one before due too smaller aperture)

    "you seem to think that I’m trying to “get one over” on the readers," i feel like u kind of are, like i stated in my previous comment "the author was using a 2,500.00 full frame camera which has a larger sensor than the cameras that 99% of the readers that r reading this article have. what this means is that at any given aperture and focal length if the subject fills the frame the same amount (Meaning with a non full frame sensor (apsc/dx sensor) u move back from the subject to keep her the same size in the frame) the DOF will be 1.6 times smaller than taken on an apsc sized sensor camera such as the canon rebels, 7d, d3200,d7000,d300s etc." for a fair comparison u have to shoot these photos in dx mode or even better shoot these photos with a regular prosumer dslr such as a Rebel. (the resulting photos will have 1.6x more DOF than ur 5DmkII, and dont forget using kit lenses u wont have the sharpness/contrast of 70-200 2.8 stopped down to 5.6, like the photos u posted above)

    "Gene’s example of how he used the tips given and his kit lens to achieve a very nice result which he was happy with." genes example is exactly what i mean by distance to the subject, Gene had to fill the frame with the subjects head to get dof similar to ur wider headshot examples, (besides for the not to great contrast, color and sharpness due shooting wide open with cheaper optics)

    "So while I could suggest they all run out and get full frame bodies and high end lenses" no i dont suggest that but i tell my students to get a 50mm 1.8 for sharp pro quality portraits on a budget with shallow DOF

    Lastly, i started a few years ago with a d5000 an 18-55 and 55-200, i loved my 55-200 for getting softer backgrounds, but it was limited to mostly tight (somewhat soft) closeups, due to a dx sensor and 5.6 max aperture, i have come a long way in a relatively short time, before i was able to afford or justify purchasing a 70-200, i was shooting with an 18-200 and a 50 1.8, i would use the 50mm all of my outdoor portraits as the results were much better, i am a working Pro constantly looking to build up my knowledge and gear, i now shoot with the d800, 24-70, 70-200 etc.

  • Darlene November 30, 2012 10:06 am

    @naftoli - you can also address me by my name which is given above and I've answered all of the comments and questions above. Please note Gene's example of how he used the tips given and his kit lens to achieve a very nice result which he was happy with.

  • Darlene November 30, 2012 10:04 am


    "Focal length of the lens: this one affects doesn’t really affect DOF although for all intents and purposes it does b/c it affects apparent DOF" - yes you are absolutely correct. However . . . I didn't want to get into that as it's a bit complicated and didn't feel it was necessary to get into that part of physics and optics of lenses here. I also did not claim that the longer lens had less DOF, just that it would blur the background more because of how the optics work.

    "Distance from subject to background: this one should be obvious although this obviously does not affect Depth of field" - ah but it's NOT obvious to beginners which is why I wrote the article. I teach classes on travel and portrait and I see it over and over again. Putting the subject away from the background is NOT something they think to do.

    "but notice that the last photo has a tighter crop, the author moved the camera closer to the subject thereby achieving equivalent DOF to the photo before even thought the aperture is half the size of 2.8." - I moved in maybe ONE FOOT, not enough to affect DOF that much. Also I do not believe that f5.6 is 1/2 the size of f2.8. It lets in 1/4 of the amount of light but I'm not that up on my math and physics but I'm pretty sure it's not 1/2 as small. Yes distance to subject does matter and my shots actually do clearly illustrate that because in the wide shots I'm about 8" from her face and with the 150mm or 200mm I'm several feet back. I just didn't feel it needed to be mentioned because to get that much closer as to crop out part of her head is not in keeping with the cropping you'd generally do for a portrait and I wanted to show her all the same size in the frame for that factor consistency.

    "it seems from the purpose of this article is to teach beginners that with cheap lenses on apsc sized sensors such as the 18-55 kit lens, one can still take photos that appear as if they were shot by professionals with big expensive lenses," - close but not exactly my intentions. I did want to show that if you are limited by gear such as a kit lens you are not out of luck creating a blurry background if you use some of the other tips outlined here. I'm also not suggesting that you can get photos just like the pros, but you can get a lot closer. My point is - it's not ALL about buying the top lenses, it's about knowing what to do with them as well.

    "lastly dear reader do not be deceived. there is a reason professionals use lenses and cameras that cost over $2000 dollars. an 18-55 or 55-200 will not give u photos like those shown above" - you seem to think that I'm trying to "get one over" on the readers, nothing could be further than the truth. However, I teach classes full of people that would love to get those pro lenses but just cannot afford it or justify it if they aren't making money at it. So while I could suggest they all run out and get full frame bodies and high end lenses I teach them techniques that they can do with their current gear and still get reasonable decent results. Is it going to be exactly what I got here? Perhaps not. But is it going to be better, probably?

    I'd love to hear from someone that has used these tips and had some success. My goal is to help, and encourage people to learn (not just run out and buy a bunch of stuff they may not need or know what to do with) and as they expand their learning and experience level, then they can make educated decisions as to whether they need those high end lenses or not. If you disagree, fair enough, but please don't suggest that I'm attempting to deceive anyone.

  • Naftoli November 30, 2012 08:40 am

    Im sorry to say that on quite a few points this article is incorrect and misleading, the author writes "The three factors that affect background sharpness are: Aperture, Focal length, and distance from subject to background,"
    Aperture: this one you got right aperture does indeed affect depth of field, use a large aperture like 2.8 for a "Shallow" DOF thereby having the focus fall off quickly enabling a more out of focus background than had a smaller aperture been used like f5.6 or f8. the focus would fall off slower in turn having a sharper background.
    Focal length of the lens: this one affects doesn't really affect DOF although for all intents and purposes it does b/c it affects apparent DOF. Focal length affects distribution of DOF with shorter focal lenths having the DOF extend 2/3 behind the focused area and longer focal lengths distributing the Dof more evenly with roughly 1/2 in front and 1/2 behind the focus area, also focal length will magnify the background making the DOF appear shallower, so yes focal length of the lens will contribute to background sharpness.
    Distance from subject to background: this one should be obvious although this obviously does not affect Depth of field

    now heres some factors that were not mentioned

    Distance to the Subject: the closer the the camera is to the subject the less depth of field there will be. had the author taken a tighter shot by moving closer to the subject perhaps of just the girls face the amount of background blur would increase 2 fold as u can clearly see in the last photo taken at 200mm f5.6, while the focal length and subject to background distance remains constant to the photo right above it the aperture is smaller which means that the background should be sharper, but notice that the last photo has a tighter crop, the author moved the camera closer to the subject thereby achieving equivalent DOF to the photo before even thought the aperture is half the size of 2.8. the camera distance was closer to the subject then in the photo just above it
    Sensor size: sensor size indirectly affects DOF. Using a larger sensor allows the distance from camera to the subject to become closer due to the wider angle of view

    In conclusion it seems from the purpose of this article is to teach beginners that with cheap lenses on apsc sized sensors such as the 18-55 kit lens, one can still take photos that appear as if they were shot by professionals with big expensive lenses, first of all the author was using a 2,500.00 full frame camera which has a larger sensor than the cameras that 99% of the readers that r reading this article have. what this means is that at any given aperture and focal length if the subject fills the frame the same amount (Meaning with a non full frame sensor (apsc/dx sensor) u move back from the subject to keep her the same size in the frame) the DOF will be 1.6 times smaller than taken on an apsc sized sensor camera such as the canon rebels, 7d, d3200,d7000,d300s etc. Furthermore kit lenses r not very sharp at there widest apertures of f5.6, u must stop the lens down to a smaller aperture just so that what is in focus is sharp! even further these sample photos were not taken with an 18-55 or a 55-200 kit lenses, they were taken with lenses like the 24-70 2.8 and the 70-200 2.8 (both lenses are in the $2,000.00 range) these lenses can shoot at f5.6 and even at 2.8 and have the subject tack sharp no problem due to there superior optics and design. lastly dear reader do not be deceived. there is a reason professionals use lenses and cameras that cost over $2000 dollars. an 18-55 or 55-200 will not give u photos like those shown above

  • Darlene November 9, 2012 04:10 pm

    @deen - well yes and no. Using a 70mm lens won't give you as much blur as the 200mm will. That's point #2. It's the combination of all three that really does it:

    1 - big aperture, wide as you got
    2 - distance of subject to background, more is better
    3 - focal length - longer is better

  • Deen November 9, 2012 03:21 pm

    Darlene .. Thanks for clarifying and patiently responding to all the comments.

    I misunderstood the question.. I thought you were asking about the difference between f2.8 and f5.6 images.. since since you were able to produce almost similar blur effect with different apertures .. keeping the other two factor constant ( 1. distance between subject and background and 2. focal length, e.g. your 70mm or 150 mm image take from f2.8 and f5.6 have similar blurring effect. )

  • Darlene November 9, 2012 10:14 am

    @deen my question was actually about the very first image at the top of the page that was taken at f5.6. Yes I'm further away from her because it is done using a longer lens at 200mm, AND she is very far away from the background.

    "Assuming the distance between the Subject and Background is constant. In case of f5.6 you are closer to subject. I thinks what you have tried to demonstrate with your hint as well."

    No the distance between the subject and the background was NOT constant. That was one of my points. So no, not exactly what you've said above. It's the combination of the longer lens (200mm) AND the subject's distance from the background that have created the blur in the top image. Had she been close to the background and I'd shot with a wide lens the background would NOT be blurry.

  • Deen November 8, 2012 03:34 pm

    Darlene..just trying answer your question in the Post regarding which other factor is different between the images taken from by f2.8 and f5.6, I think is the distance between the you and the subject is different.

    Assuming the distance between the Subject and Background is constant. In case of f5.6 you are closer to subject. I thinks what you have tried to demonstrate with your hint as well.

  • Darlene November 5, 2012 05:56 pm

    @Gene nicely done, good job! That's a perfect example of what I'm showing

    @Johan yes and I go more into that in the article I mentioned on my site - that might help you understand more about that issue

  • Johan November 4, 2012 08:30 pm

    The first thing I noticed is that the girl's face is quite badly distorted in the first two pictures. I noticed this because this (distortion) happened to me once when taking pictures of my daughter.

  • Ryan Murzyn October 30, 2012 11:47 am

    The other difference in the photo is that the subject is much further away from its background, giving you a nice blurred background.

  • Darlene October 30, 2012 02:46 am

    @Sandeep the 30-110 will give you a little bit more length but the 70-200 or 70-300 will give you more range. The 10mm is not for your camera it is for Nikon's 1 series cameras which are mirrorless, not SLRs. The 55-200 is a good choice, but probably a bit pricier for the f4 aperture.

  • Sandeep October 30, 2012 02:38 am

    HI Darlene,

    Thanks for the feedback :), Appreciate your time.
    I was researching some lenses today. From a starter point, would a 70-200/300 would be appropriate to add to my camera?

    I also saw the following. What would be your recommendation -
    1. NIKKOR 30-110mm f/3.8-f/5.6 Telephoto Lens
    2. NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8 Lens for Nikon 1 Cameras
    3. Nikon - 55-200mm f/4.0 DX AF-S ED Zoom


  • Darlene October 30, 2012 02:14 am

    @Sandeep yes you've got the right idea. Once you can get a longer lens it will be even more enhanced.

  • Nicholas October 29, 2012 06:14 pm

    I suppose besides having the background further from the subject is one way to create bokeh.

    I found out that moving the lens near the subject would make the background blurred as well.

  • Gene Scofield October 29, 2012 09:30 am

    Great advice! Combining distance from the background as well as a less defined background is the way that I too have found to be most effective.
    I used a 55-200 kit lens for this shot. f5 at 1/200 and a fast ISO of 2000 due to low light.
    Thanks, gene
    [eimg link='' title='Wessie 2' url='']

  • mrinal biswas October 29, 2012 03:37 am

    In the following image i felt that the distance between the subject from the background helped to bring the
    blurr effect.

  • Sandeep October 27, 2012 04:56 pm

    HI Darlene,
    I tried to get the blur effect using the lens i have - Do let me know your feedback



  • Darlene October 27, 2012 05:18 am

    @tom - try a longer lens and see what happens!

    @amir - good job!

  • Darlene October 27, 2012 05:16 am

    @Melissa - awesome! Use what you have and invest in education, then make a decision on what you NEED to purchase not a wish list of WANTS.

    @Suzanne - "I would remind them that I had been hired to photograph the people, not the lake." Exactly, it's a portrait OF people, not a landscape photo with people IN it.

    @jacki - "You are closer to the subject in the top picture." - closer than what? I'm actually several feet away from her in that image using the 200mm lens. In the images using the 16mm I'm quite in her face, less than a foot away. Sorry I'm not sure what you mean there.

    @tammi - your issue is not that you need an f1.2 lens, unless it's an 85mm f1.2. You will likely want to invest in a LONGER lens than your 55mm. Go for something that goes 55-200 or something in that range and even at f5.6 you will get results more like the ones in this example second row:

  • Darlene October 27, 2012 05:16 am

    @rakesh - "I agree with @Anna. The subject is across the street from the background which is the house and trees." - yes in the last example images that's how I made it really soft.

    @Ed - thanks. You still want something slightly longer than a kit lens unless it goes to 150mm or 200mm. If it just goes to 55mm you may still want a longer one but you can certainly start with one that is less expensive and not invest in the f2.8 right off the bat until you know for sure that's what you want to do and you need it.

    @robert - "Can you tell me what was the shutter speed at different focal length having the same aperture F/5.6" the shutter speed is actually irrelevant to the results other than you need one fast enough to not get a blurry photo from hand holding too slow. I can tell you I recommend at least 1 over your focal length so when I was at 200mm I would have been at least at 1/200th or faster. But other than keeping the image sharp the shutter speed will not change the look of the image in this case because she is not moving.

    @indranil - yes exactly, good example!

  • Darlene October 27, 2012 03:04 am

    @danielle - sorry, what do you mean I was closer to the subject? Closer than what?

  • amir paz October 27, 2012 03:03 am

    i love the blurred background portraits

    where i can, i shoot with a wide apperture:

    or from a distance:

    the blurred background enhancing the subject makes great photos

    great post


  • Tom October 27, 2012 01:52 am

    Thanks, been using a 50mm lens and opening f 2 for years now. I have also used the highest f stop to achieve detail in the foreground when needed. Thanks Again

  • Chris October 27, 2012 12:58 am

    I have learned so much from this post that I can use with my middle-of-the-road, fixed-lens camera. Thank you very much.

  • danielle October 26, 2012 11:56 pm

    Very good post. I think you were closer to the subject.

  • Indranil Bhattacharjee October 26, 2012 11:52 pm

    Wonderful Demonstration. Here is one from my Camera:

    f5.6, 300mm,

  • Nuno October 26, 2012 11:40 pm

    Darlene, great article, many thanks for this. I'm a beginner so a lot of things are quite new to me. What shutter speed was used? Is it necessary to alter the speed when changing from f5.6 to f2.8? Supposing the camera is on a tripod, does shutter speed it affect the blur, or only the exposure to light? Thanks again, Nuno

  • Sandeep October 26, 2012 08:11 pm

    HI Darlene,
    i’m a newbie to fotography and just recently bought a Nikon 5100 with a 18-55 lens.
    I’ve been very keen to get this blur effect.

    Is my lens too small to get this effect?

    Any guidance on how to do this.



  • Guigphotography October 26, 2012 06:44 pm

    Thanks for the post Darlene. I was particularly pleased to see the exchange with Nancy W as that's a common problem/mistake for a lot of people (trying to shoot groups or couples that aren't side by side), but again tied in with the point of your post. I like to use the dof with the subject sometimes, too, as in this example:

  • Robert Pinto October 26, 2012 05:39 pm

    Can you tell me what was the shutter speed at different focal length having the same aperture F/5.6

  • Gaurav K October 26, 2012 04:54 pm

    Really Nice Article ! I was struggling earlier for trying to have blurred backgrounds in my portraits. This really helped me a lot, thanks.

  • Darlene October 26, 2012 04:01 pm

    @tim So my point was NOT to make perfect portraits. I generally do not centre my subject, but when I do photos for examples I want to show how the background changes and I choose to centre it for consistency purposes. The first image you say is perfect is actually at f5.6. I'm not sure what grey matter you mean. Again my goal was to demonstrate not create a "perfect" image. However I personally think the ones at the bottom are pretty good. ;-)

    @Emil This article and my philosophy is always to get it as close to you want the final result in camera as top priority. I disagree about entry level cameras and lenses not being able to replicate these results. I teach photography classes and do this same assignment with my students and they produce the same or very similar results.

    @Ed and Anna yes exactly, thanks!

  • Ed October 26, 2012 02:23 pm

    Very good article Darlene! I've wanted to know this for a couple of years, and it was hard to understand. Then I thought I needed a high aperture lense with more zoom then my kit lens, and that is still out of my price range. Your demonstration and explination very clearly express your point, and I greatly thank you for that.

    Very well done.

  • Rakesh October 26, 2012 01:21 pm

    I agree with @Anna. The subject is across the street from the background which is the house and trees.

  • Tammy Ogden October 26, 2012 12:31 pm

    okay, I have a question. This too is my goal but I have been unable to achieve it. I am already to run out and buy a lens that will give me 1.4 apeture but I have no money for such a purchase. I would greatly love to master this skill by simply adjust distance between the subjet and the back ground. But here is my question; is there a rule of thumb for this a technique such as distance verses back ground per lens length? My lens is a 35-55 kit lens.

  • Jacki October 26, 2012 12:16 pm

    You are closer to the subject in the top picture.

  • Anna October 26, 2012 10:37 am

    simple, the subject is over 50 to 60 feet away from the background (trees) the furthur you are away the blurier the BKG will be and that's when you get nice shallow depth of field a.k.a. bokeh.

  • Suzanne October 26, 2012 10:00 am

    For twenty years I went to the homes of my clients and did portrait work. Everything was shot in black and white (film only). To be certain that my subjects gently emerged from the background and the viewer was not distracted by the background, I first controlled the point of view so that the background was a non issue. My basic rule was NO STRAIGHT LINES in the background. No wooden fences, dark bricks with light mortar, or straight edges of any sort. My ideal background was any kind of plant life, something that would blur easily. Clients sometimes freaked out when I set up in unattractive places to the air conditioning unit. When I invited them to look through the lens, they were astounded. What they saw was an image of a loved one....clearly rendered. For single portraits, I needed no more than 3-4 feet. Controlling the point of view let me give all of my attention to the person (or persons) I was photographing. When folks would say something like, "Oh, we have a beautiful lake" I would remind them that I had been hired to photograph the people, not the lake.

  • Melissa October 26, 2012 09:14 am

    Darlene -
    Your explanation, examples and assignment are great. I had a pricey lens on my wish-list, had to delay purchase, but will now go work with kit lens. Thank you.

  • Nancee October 26, 2012 09:03 am

    I'm not sure I understand Andrew's answer - "for shorter focal lengths there is more distribution behind the lense than in front, this changes as focal lengths become longer." Isn't the distribution of the DoF from in front of to behind the focus point? I may be totally misunderstanding what is being said.

  • Emil Ems October 26, 2012 08:38 am

    This is a nice article that summarizes in a pedagogical way the main issues with blurred background involved in traditional film photography.

    What you left out, however, is the essential technique nowadays, to introduce lens blur in post-processing. With modern small digital captors, this is most of the time the only way to get a reasonably blurred background with the cheap moderate zoom lenses that come with digital SLRs.


  • Di Howden October 26, 2012 08:22 am

    Thank you, very helpful information.

  • Ranjith October 26, 2012 08:11 am

    Very interesting article! I never appreciated the blurred background portrait of my daughter until i read this! I will shoot more with my kids this weekend.

    Heres my daughters pic in flickr.

  • Felipe October 26, 2012 08:04 am

    I think that you have introduced some lighting concepts in the last photos to make it stand out even more.

  • Tony Smith October 26, 2012 07:49 am

    The point being made is a good one that would have been made more convincingly If the contributing elements had been the same in all the shots. For me the best shot is the first 200 at 2.8 but spoiled by having the subject in the centre of the frame. The bokeh here is quite pleasant with nothing really distracting. In the next two images the grey matter on the right of the model is too imposing and the specular highlights take the eye away from the subject. It's a shame that just one image wasn't perfect - to prove your point.

  • Pauline B October 26, 2012 07:24 am

    Great article for someone like me - just learning and trying to resist buying a new lens every time I can't get the effect I want! It all made sense until I started reading the comments - going back to re-read the article ....

  • Darlene October 26, 2012 07:21 am

    @bill yes it usually is. However I wanted to show that even with an aperture that's smaller like f5.6 you can still achieve a decently blurred background. Of course you'll get more bokeh with a 2.8 or 1.8 lens but not everyone can afford those options.

    @scottc - very clever!

    @daves - hmm, not sure about that. When you put on extension tubes it shifts the focus range of your lens so you may not be able to focus far enough away to make a portrait. You'd have to try it with your equipment. If you get it to work show us!

  • Melanie Evans October 26, 2012 07:18 am

    Thanks for this info about focal length and depth of field. I guess I probably knew that but I sure had forgotten.

    I think the thing that is different is the use of natural light or at least no additional light.

    What a darling little girl. So sweet to give you a beautiful expression in all of those pictures.

  • raghavendra October 26, 2012 02:27 am

    very fine with each step explained beautifully

  • Daves alpha October 25, 2012 11:34 am

    Thanks for the great article. I was wondering, for longer lenses if it would be possible to use extension tubes so you’re not so far back and if would cause the background to be more out of focus. I've used them for macro and noticed that the dof is more shallow. I’ve got extension tubes for my Sony a55 and my daughter won’t be here till the weekend. Looks like we could be busy this weekend.

  • Scottc October 25, 2012 10:36 am

    Great photos and an informative article, I'm not much of a potrait photographer but the tips here are easy to grasp as presented.

    There is another way to soften the background, not trying to be "smart" and remember....I'm not a portrait guy.....

  • Bill Fast October 25, 2012 09:25 am

    I noticed that the bokeh with the larger aperture is more pleasing.

  • Darlene October 25, 2012 08:34 am

    @pedro - yes exactly! that's what a long lens does, it compresses perspective.

    @nancy I generally don't use 2.8 for groups of people. If they all stand exactly side by side and their eyes are all equidistant to the lens it will work. But that's hard to do. Usually groups I'm using f5.6 or so. But the other two things still apply - use a longer lens and step back a bit, and get them away from the background. Both will give you a more pleasing softened background,

  • Nancy W October 25, 2012 05:30 am

    What I find the hardest is using the F2.8 for when you have more than one person. I know a lot of photographers do that, but I haven't mastered it and have a problem with others being out of focus.

  • Pedro October 24, 2012 07:20 am

    With the telephoto lens the background get flat, the other way round with the wide angle lenses. The perspective perception changes. Is that what you mean Darlene

  • Pedro October 24, 2012 07:18 am

    With the telephoto lens the background get flat, despite the wide angle lenses. The perspective perception changes. Is that what you mean Darlene?

  • Jay October 24, 2012 07:01 am

    Pretty good photos and ideas.
    I benefitted greatly from the responses.

  • Darlene October 24, 2012 06:52 am

    @andrew - perfect explanation, thanks!

    @Luis - thanks!

  • Luis Macedo October 23, 2012 10:38 pm

    Excellent Post. Simple! Right on the money!
    Very well done!

  • Nicolas October 23, 2012 07:04 pm

    4th factor missing :
    - the sensor size / film size

    It's almost impossible to achieve blurry background with a digital compact camera (unless using very long focal length with great distance between subject and background).

  • Andrew October 23, 2012 05:47 pm

    I think the variables that are missing from the explanation is focal length has no affect on DOF where the subject is kept the same size in the frame. However the distribution of the DOF IS different for different focal lengths, for shorter focal lengths there is more distribution behind the lense than in front, this changes as focal lengths become longer, also a longer focal lengths APPEAR to have a shallower DOF because they magnify the background in relation to the foreground, this makes an out of focus background look more out of focus as its blur has become enlarged. Hope that fills some of the gaps for those of you with more questions. If you want more info google "circle of confusion".

  • Darlene October 23, 2012 03:57 pm

    @Des - "With everything constant (f stop, focal length, distance from subject to background), by moving the camera close or further to the subject might actually changes the DOF" - I forget the math on this, I studied this stuff way back in the day when I went to photography school. But f5.6 has the same DOF no matter what lens you use. It just SEEMS like the wider lens have more DOF than the longer ones. But that's also part of the point. By changing distance to subject, it also makes the background further away from the lens. It's all about proportions.

    @jorge, not exactly - my points were her face LOOKS different and you SEE less of the background. I was looking for a comparison of the first 4 images to the second four as a set.

  • Jorge October 23, 2012 01:25 pm

    In the last two images you asked if we see another difference other than the aperture size. Since they're both at 200mm, you got slightly closer to the subject when reducing the aperture to 5.6. But I'm guessing the answer you're really looking for is that the subject is further away from the background, thus increasing the blur although the aperture is now at 5.6

  • Des October 23, 2012 12:18 pm

    I kinda of agree with @someone point on DOF. With everything constant (f stop, focal length, distance from subject to background), by moving the camera close or further to the subject might actually changes the DOF. However, what I learn something new today or probably unconsciously all the while was the distance of subject to background. Good sharing.

  • Darlene October 23, 2012 08:12 am

    actually - @someone - why don't you do that experiment for us and share your results. I'd be interested to see what you mean.

  • Darlene October 23, 2012 08:11 am

    @someone - yes the point of moving back was to keep her the same size in the frame. Assuming you were doing a head and shoulders portrait - it will give you a much better idea of how each lens handles the background. If I just changed lenses and didn't move back I'd have a close up of her eyeball with the 200mm lens and likely it wouldn't even focus that close. For the 16mm I was less than a foot from her face.

    I'm not sure what is the point of your example. If she stays put, and I keep the same lens on using the same aperture - the entire scene will change - yes that is true. But what will that demonstrate?

  • someone October 23, 2012 07:42 am

    Very interesting. In fact I'm a little confused. So the purpose of moving back with different lenses was simply to keep the subject relatively the same size in the frame? I suppose then there's also a forth factor if I'm correct by moving closer to the subject, changing the size of the subject in the frame, but holding everything else constant (aperture, focal length, distance of subject from background)

  • Deb October 23, 2012 07:31 am

    In the first shot, were you father away from the subject, and zoomed in more?

  • anganga October 23, 2012 07:10 am

    "Do you see how the different lenses change perspective? Like I said, that’s my whole point."

    The title is: How to Achieve Blurred Backgrounds in Portraits.

    You are leading to other way, mybe this article is pointless.

  • Darlene October 23, 2012 06:47 am

    @Khan - the first set is all about 2 feet from the door, I moved back with each shot as I've indicated. So the proportions of the background WILL change. That is part of my point actually.

    The second set is all taken with her 20 feet from the door, I moved back with each shot again.

    Do you see how the different lenses change perspective? Like I said, that's my whole point.

  • Khan October 23, 2012 06:37 am

    From looking at the 35mm image taken 20 feet away, her head is the same size as the door. And in the initial shot, the relationship from her head to the door is about the same. Given that you told us the aperture was 5.6 for that original shot, and from the implication that they were taken with the same 200mm lens (your hint: "taken in the same location"), I'm guessing you would have had the subject come closer. Another possibility is for you to have also moved farther away, but you said it was in the same spot. :)

  • Greg October 23, 2012 05:01 am

    The framing is different in that first shot (and the shots at the end): the subject is not centered.

    Great article! I'm definitely guilty of trying to get a blurred background with just wider aperture.

  • Darlene October 23, 2012 04:45 am

    @Steve - exactly!

  • Steve October 23, 2012 04:31 am

    This is a good article and the methods can apply not just to portraits but any object especially when you want it to stand out from the background

  • Darlene October 23, 2012 04:28 am

    Thanks for your comments.

    @Jai she's a cute one for sure. The background through the fence behind her is certainly blurred but not the fence. Pretty tough to get the fence blurry too with it that close to her. It's more of a prop beside her than background though so it works.

    @Mridula - what do you mean, in which shot? You sent a link to your site but not one specific image. Is there one you were meaning to point out?

    @Joan, thanks, glad it's clearer for you now

  • Joan Nova October 23, 2012 03:52 am

    Excellent post. Makes it clearer when you can see the visual examples.

  • Mridula October 23, 2012 03:50 am

    I will give this a try but for the life of me I can't figure out what else is different in that shot!

  • Jai Catalano October 23, 2012 03:16 am

    What a cute child. Great photos and tutorial.

    Here is one with a blurred background and a little golden hour light to it.

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