Updated date:

How to Take a Photo With a Blurred Background

Kymberly is a professional photographer with many years of experience. Macro, landscape, plant and animal photography are her favourites.

Why Would You Want a Blurry Background?

Photos with soft, blurry backgrounds are perfect for making the subject stand out. A blurred background does not compete for the viewer's attention and can make photos appear more professional. Portrait photos, macro photos (flowers, insects, and food), low-light photos, and photos where you want to focus on only one detail all benefit from having a blurred background.

What Affects Background Blur?

The following aspects majorly affect the blurriness of background clutter:

  • Aperture - Specified by an f-value or f-stops. Larger apertures have smaller f-values and allow more light to reach the camera sensor. When using a large aperture, the shutter speed should be faster to prevent the photo from being over-exposed. The lower the f-value, the softer the background blur.
  • Distance from your subject - Moving closer to and focusing tightly on your subject and ensuring the background is far away from your subject make it easier to achieve a blurred background.
  • Focal length - A short focal length has a wide angle of view which keeps details in focus both in the foreground and the background. Zooming in on a subject narrows the angle of view and makes the focal length longer, resulting in more background blur. To blur the background, use a long focal-length lens or a good variable-focus-length lens and zoom in on your subject.
  • Sensor size - A small sensor has a short focal length and wide angle of view. Cameras with larger sensors can achieve longer focal lengths, and subsequently better background blur.

Bokeh and Blur Quality

The type of background determines how well the background can be blurred. "Bokeh" occurs when light sections of the background are rounded and softened, typically seen with a background of trees or foliage.

Good bokeh—good quality blur—enhances and highlights the subject, with interesting light and dark patterns. Bad bokeh—a distracting blur—occurs when the lighting balance is poor or if there are too many light highlights in the dark background.

Bokeh can also be used to create artistic, blurry photos of lights on a dark background. The shape of the highlights can be altered by using creative bokeh attachments on SLR cameras.

Bokeh behind the old cockatoo. Canon Powershot S3 IS, in automatic mode.

Bokeh behind the old cockatoo. Canon Powershot S3 IS, in automatic mode.

How to Use Depth of Field to Blur a Photo's Background

Using a wide aperture and moving close to or zooming in on your subject means you have a shallow depth of field. This is also known as shallow focus or selective focus. Both the background and the foreground outside of the depth of field will be out of focus.

When you have a shallow depth of field, the further away you move from the focus point, the softer and more blurred the background (and foreground) will become.

DSLR lenses allow you to modify settings to achieve the depth of field you want, in manual and semi-automatic modes. Macro and close-up settings on DSLR cameras and on the higher-end point-and-shoot cameras automatically use a shallow depth of field.

Point-and-shoot cameras keep a large range of distances in focus. It is more difficult to achieve a shallow depth of field with a camera that does not have either a macro setting or the ability to modify the aperture and shutter speeds, but it can be done!

Super macro setting on Canon's Powershot S3 IS makes the background very blurry - perfect!

Super macro setting on Canon's Powershot S3 IS makes the background very blurry - perfect!

2 Ways to Blur the Background Using Your Camera's Settings

You can achieve a blurred background in a number of ways, depending on your equipment and camera settings. Here are two easy ways:

  1. Use the macro settings
  2. Use the aperture priority mode

Each of these is described below.

1. Use the macro settings to make the background blurry.

In the macro settings of your digital camera, preselect a wide aperture and a fast shutter speed. This will automatically result in background blur.

  1. Select the macro or super macro mode, and turn off the flash. Macro mode is usually represented by a small flower or tulip.
  2. Get close to and zoom in on your subject; try to get closer to the subject than the background is.
  3. Focus clearly on the subject, and hold the camera still.
  4. Take your photo.

This is much easier when using super macro settings, where you can get within a few millimeters of your subject. Be careful to make sure there is enough light and that you are not causing unintended shadows from your camera position. You may find a tripod useful if your camera or lens does not have built-in image stabilization.

2. Use the aperture priority mode.

Aperture priority mode is a semi-automatic mode, available on most cameras. When you change the aperture's f-value in aperture priority mode, the camera automatically chooses the appropriate shutter speed and ISO-setting.

Selecting a wide aperture (the smallest f-value possible), will make the background more blurry.

  1. Select the aperture priority mode (A or AV).
  2. If using a DSLR camera and lens, choose the smallest f-value you can. On most kit-lenses, when zoomed this will be around f5.6.
  3. Keep the subject closer to you than to the background.
  4. Zoom in on your subject.
  5. Take your photo.
AV settings to blur the other blossoms and focus tightly on the bee. Canon Powershot S3 IS, AV mode plus zoom.

AV settings to blur the other blossoms and focus tightly on the bee. Canon Powershot S3 IS, AV mode plus zoom.

How to Take a Portrait With a Blurred Background

When taking portrait photos, a blurred background removes distracting elements by focusing only on the subject.

  1. Select the aperture priority mode (A or AV) or manual mode (M). Aperture priority mode is better if your subject is moving, as the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed and ISO settings, to ensure the subject is correctly exposed.
  2. Select a small f-value if you can.
  3. Make sure your subject is closer to you than they are to the background.
  4. Zoom in on your subject. If you zoom in manual mode, you may need to increase the ISO and decrease the shutter speed.
  5. Take your photo.

Some Cell Phones or Small Point-and-Shoot Cameras Enable Background Blur

Some cell phone cameras can achieve a small amount of background blur if they have a setting for image destabilisation, where the lens and the sensor are moved together, remaining focused on your subject, but blurring the background (and foreground).

However, it can look more like motion blur than the traditional background blur.

Even if your phone or camera does not have these advanced settings, you can still take a photo with a blurred background.

  1. Choose portrait mode, and turn off the flash.
  2. Make sure the subject is far from the background.
  3. Get close to your subject, and zoom in.
  4. Take your photo.
Blurred background behind a dried seed head, Quedlinburg castle gardens.

Blurred background behind a dried seed head, Quedlinburg castle gardens.

Edit to Add Background Blur

Some graphics editors can create several different types of blurred backgrounds:

  • Simulated bokeh effect simulates the rounded quality of blurred highlights on the dark background.
  • Gaussian blur applies a soft and even blur throughout the background.
  • Unsharp mask blurs details around an area, commonly a circle in the center of the photo, which is useful when your subject is a (round) flower and is in the middle of the photo!
Background blurred with a circular unsharp mask in iPhoto. Original photo: Powershot S3 IS, supermacro mode.

Background blurred with a circular unsharp mask in iPhoto. Original photo: Powershot S3 IS, supermacro mode.

Choose a DSLR Lens to Blur Backgrounds

Kit lenses that are sold with most consumer grade DSLR cameras have small apertures (f4 to f8). You can achieve blurred backgrounds by zooming in and keeping your subject close to you but far away from the background. However, for the best blur effect, consider buying a lens with a large aperture (smaller f-values), often sold as low-light or fast lenses. An affordable choice for most DSLR models and brands is a 50mm lens with an aperture of f1.8.

  • Lenses with long focal lengths (or strong zooms) can be used further away from the subject, yet still blur background details. You do need to ensure the subject is further away from the background than you are from your subject.
  • A fixed aperture lens with a wide maximum aperture (low f-value) uses the same shutter speeds and ISO settings when shooting at different distances.
  • When zooming with a variable aperture lens, the shutter speed should be decreased and ISO increased to evenly expose the photo.
  • The aperture priority mode (A or AV) is the best way to achieve a blurred background in photo.

Which Is the Best DSLR Lens for Gorgeous Bokeh and Backgrounds?

My personal favorite is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens for Canon Digital SLR Camera. It has incredible sharpness, almost no distortion, and results in amazing background blur. All my photos in this article were taken with this lens. It can be used as a portrait lens, if you have enough distance, but you'll have to stand far away from your subject!

I've also recently found the cheaper Canon 35mm f2 IS USM lens, and I am very happy with how well it blurs. It also lets me get closer to my photo subjects than the 100mm.

Comments

Do you have any tips for achieving background blur and good bokeh?
Please leave them in the comments below!

Comments

Salome.Nancy on April 14, 2020:

2596 N 91th Ct

ham on December 05, 2019:

Ok boomer

Big Remo on October 25, 2019:

Man's not hot

Thank you for the write up

blur background on October 02, 2019:

i like it great work by developer site. great news. blur background sl apps lab

Shahaalam on May 11, 2019:

Feke

Mubarak on March 27, 2019:

My mobile blur Camera Settings open

TX on December 18, 2018:

What she says about focal length is technically incorrect and commonly misunderstood. It is not longer focal length that lessens depth of field. It is greater image magnification that does it. If it were focal length then a 100mm lens at half life-size would give less depth of field than a 50mm lens at life-size. The opposite is true.

Emilie on May 03, 2018:

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge Kimberly. You are very generous in your teaching.

Joella Molson on October 31, 2017:

This is exactly the information I've been searching for. I cannot thank you enough for demystifying this for me! I have read other articles bud did not understand what they were talking about. Your explanation is easy to understand and apply to my camera. I'm so happy to have found this. Thank you again.

Avinesh Prahladi from Chandigarh on October 08, 2013:

Let me start by saying that I was on a lookout for such a hub. Though I am a novice in the photography arena, but I always wanted to have such effect in my clicks. Now, that I have found it, I would definitely try it.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on July 03, 2013:

Thanks lemonkerdz! There's no such thing as cheating!

lemonkerdz from LIMA, PERU on June 22, 2013:

Great tips and this is a great help for our photos on HP.

Or if you are a cheat you can use a Galaxy note for dummies like me.

Thanks

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on May 03, 2013:

Very helpful. I always appreciate photo tips like yours, because they are down to earth and easy to understand.Thanks!

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on April 19, 2013:

Thanks raydevlin! I haven't used Alien Skin, but have used various Photoshop, Gimp, iPhoto, Snapseed and even Instagram tools. You are right - they don't do as good a job as blurring the background in the real photo.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on April 19, 2013:

TrahnTheMan - the micro 4/3 cameras looked interesting - but I shook terribly when holding them! I went with a 650D, and am loving it!

Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on December 12, 2012:

This blows me away. I had no idea what that little tulip thing was for! I kept accidentally turning it on, getting annoyed and turning it off again, then searching for a way to blur the background by going in a couple of levels to change the speed. (lol) Every once in a while I would get the background I wanted and have no idea why. Thanks for the tip, nifwlseirff. I'm delighted.

Ray Devlin from Houston, Texas on December 04, 2012:

Great article - comprehensive and informative. I have occasionally used software, such as Alien Skin, to create a bokeh effect - but you cannot beat getting it right in the camera first. Thanks for sharing!

TrahnTheMan from Asia, Oceania & between on September 23, 2012:

You might be a candidate for the new micro 4/3 ("four thirds") format/sensor, which have interchangeable lenses, no mirror (so are smaller and lighter than a traditional DSLR), and cheaper. Canon, Nikon, Sony (NEX) and Panasonic (G2 & G3) have some well-regarded models.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on September 20, 2012:

Trahn - Thank you! I've used an older DSLR, but find them very heavy and they don't seem to have as good image stabilisation - many of my photos were blurry from camera shake, unless I used a tripod or rested my arms on a solid surface. The lightness of the Powershot with it's great image stabilisation is perfect for me at the moment. However, I do lust after some of the great DSLR macro lenses (and also the mega-zoom lenses). Perhaps some of the newer DSLRs are lighter, something to look into when I have funds available. ;-)

TrahnTheMan from Asia, Oceania & between on September 19, 2012:

Wow- it's still doing a great job! Imagine the quality of the shots you could take with a DSLR-- I think you'd put a lot of to shame! Thanks for the helpful hub.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on September 16, 2012:

Hi Trahn! I am still using my old Canon Powershot 3IS! It's been a fantastic camera for me - light enough to use one-handed, and great macro and distance shots, thanks to the fantastic image stabilisation. All of my photos at this site have been taken with the Canon Powershot 3IS.

TrahnTheMan from Asia, Oceania & between on September 16, 2012:

HI- are you still using a Canon Powershot? Is that what you used for the photo of the parrot?

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on August 27, 2012:

jainismus - thanks! Happy you liked it!

sradie - I hadn't played too much with the aperture priority mode of my camera before writing this (the programmed settings are really good for my usual subjects), but had a lot of fun tinkering. Glad it was useful!

sradie from Palm Coast FL on August 16, 2012:

I like it. I have been doing photography for years and already knew most of this. But, you have increased my knowledge of the AV, aperture priority mode which will now be more useful to me. Clearly written, good job.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on August 08, 2012:

photostudiosupply, pringoooals, belleart - thank you so much!

EyesStraightAhead - Photos can certainly convey heaps of emotion! I like your idea of notecards, and would love to know how your customers respond!

Ingar - This also works in reduced light. Perhaps not complete darkness though! You will need to increase the ISO setting in low light, which may introduce more noise. And you'll need a steady hand or a tripod - it's much harder to focus in low light and keep the camera still enough to avoid blurring the photo.

Ingar Filinn from Ireland on August 06, 2012:

Would this also work in darkness or reduced light?

Nice pics

Shell Vera from Connecticut, USA on August 04, 2012:

Great hub. I am learning photography as an art but enjoy it very much. I know how to take a picture I will enjoy but would like to learn how to take good pictures that others may enjoy as well. I would then like to create my own line of notecards to help people with their customer relations management. I think photos, when taken the right way, can convey such emotion. I look forward to applying these tips next time I try shooting with a blurry background, which is my favorite type of shooting for people and children.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on June 28, 2012:

Darryl - Sigma lenses are definitely reasonably priced. Thanks!

Darrylmdavis from Brussels, Belgium on June 10, 2012:

A good and very informative hub. Sigma has a couple of good lenses which offer good quality at a democratic price such as their 50mm and 70mm macro lenses

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on May 20, 2012:

Cablemanagements - thanks! Which camera do you use? I'm glad these tips were useful!

S K Sinha from India on May 19, 2012:

Great tips ! Till date I knew that it can be done through the help of add on lenses or filters only. Never tried these options before but going to try it immediately. Thanks for this !

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on May 19, 2012:

Natashalh - thanks! I love background blur, and bokkeh highlights. I'm glad the information was useful!

Natasha from Hawaii on May 19, 2012:

Awesome tips! Thanks for including information about achieving the blurred background effect without a fancy camera.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on April 02, 2012:

Turtlewoman - thanks! I'd love to know which camera you choose, and if you are happy with its capabilities.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on April 02, 2012:

Rajveer - You can blur the background relatively easily with the Fujifilm S2950 Finepix camera, because it has a range of settings and functions. It has a manual mode (M) and an aperture priority mode (A) on the shooting mode dial, and the camera can focus at macro and super-macro distances.

rajveer on April 01, 2012:

sir i have a semi slr fujifilm s2950 camera ... plz tell me that is blur blackground future is available semi slr camera

Kim Lam from California on March 24, 2012:

I'm in the market for a DSL camera so I've bookmarked this article. Thank you for sharing your photography skills! Great layout, and a very thorough tutorial.

Voted up!

cardelean from Michigan on March 07, 2012:

Excellent hub filled with fantastic information. I have a decent camera but don't know what all of those buttons on the top and in the menu mean. Guess I'll be bookmarking and rereading this hub when I have some time to play around with my camera!

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on March 04, 2012:

cclitgirl - good photos are possible with all sorts of cameras, although getting detailed macro shots can be difficult (or impossible with my old phone camera!) I look forward to seeing more of your photos in future hubs!

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on March 04, 2012:

Thanks Ruby! I'm happy to have written a useful hub!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on March 03, 2012:

I'm going to bookmark this. As I do more and more hubs, I find that quality pictures are key. I have an idiot camera, though. It's a Kodak Easyshare. I consider myself an artist, but I feel so challenged when it comes to good photos. I know enough about not using flash, but the details are great. I'll have to check if you have more photo hubs - this was so helpful to me. Voted up U/A/B/I.

Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on March 02, 2012:

Thank you so much for this informative hub! Now I am going to go practice my photography using some of your ideas and see what I come up with. Fantastic sharing. Look forward to more of your writing and great pictures.