How to get a blurry background in portraits

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by David Em
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Blurry backgrounds are also known as bokeh, and it makes portraits look amazing. Learn how to get a soft and blurry background.

Person wearing a turtleneck and facing the side.

What causes the background to be blurry?

Professional photos, expensive gear, and blurry backgrounds are often thought to be connected.

Related: What is selective focus and how do you use it?

While they may be related, you don’t need expensive gear or to be a seasoned professional photographer to achieve a blurry background in your portraits.

A blurry background can be achieved by three things, aperture, focal length, and distance.

Learn how to create blurry backgrounds in your portraits by understanding each method.

Related article: How to create bokeh in your photos

Aperture

Aperture is the most well-known method for creating a blurry background.

It’s the opening in the lens, which you can control by changing the f-stop number.

Related: Understanding aperture in photography

A higher f-number means the opening in the lens will be smaller. A lower f-number means the opening in the lens will be larger.

The size of the opening affects the depth of field. It’s the distance between the nearest and furthest object that’s in sharp focus.

When you use a large aperture, it reduces the amount of space in your image that’s in sharp focus. It’s also known as a shallow depth of field.

In portraiture, a shallow depth of field allows your subject to be in sharp focus with a blurred out background.

An f-stop of f/2.8 and below is considered a large aperture.

If your camera doesn’t a maximum aperture of f/2.8, don’t worry because you can still achieve a blurry background.

The aperture you use plays a role. However, it’s not the most important factor in how blurry your background is.

When you use it in combination with the other methods, you’ll be able to achieve a soft and dreamy background.

Focal length

The focal length of your lens is one of the most impactful ways to create a blurry background.

It determines how zoomed-in or cropped your photo looks. A longer focal length means the image will look more zoomed in.

Related: Focal length comparison

A longer lens will create separation between your subject and the background, resulting in a blurry background.

Say you have two lenses, a 35mm and a 100mm lens. If you used an aperture of f/4 and took a portrait using both lenses, the portrait taken with the 100mm lens will show a blurrier background.

It also has a narrower view, meaning less of the background will be visible.

If your goal is to achieve a blurry background, use the longest focal length that you can. Just make sure you have sufficient space to take the photo.

Your camera, the subject, and the background

Aperture and focal length have to do with your gear. While they’re both great ways to create bokeh and blur, there’s another effective way that only requires you to move.

Related: Landscape vs. portrait orientation in photography

The distance between your camera and your subject versus your subject and the background plays a major role.

To create a blurry background, you must increase the distance between your subject and the background.

It has to be greater than the distance between your camera and the subject.

When you’re out shooting portraits, be mindful of the distance between your camera, the subject and the background.

Conclusion

Regardless of how expensive your gear is, you can achieve a blurry background in your portraits. Use the maximum aperture, a longer lens, and increase the distance between your subject and the background.

More resources:

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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