A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Blurred Backgrounds in Photos

by SomeGirl on November 30, 2011 · 91 comments

Ever wanted to know how to make that blurry background you see in cool, creative photos?

For the sake of this post, I’m going to assume you said, “Yes!” ;)

Now get your camera out and get ready to learn…

How to create a blurred background (formally called “Bokeh“)

First, look at the settings on your camera:

Turn the dial to “AV” on a Canon and “A” on a Nikon.

(The following camera shots were taken with my iPhone late at night, please excuse the quality)R

 

 

Now your camera is on Aperture Priority mode, which means you only have to worry about setting two things: your ISO and your aperture (also called f-stop) – I’ll walk you through both in this post.

The more blur you want to have, the lower your aperture needs to be set. With a standard lens you’ll be able to go down to about 4.0, but with a 50mm lens you’ll be able to go down to 1.8 or lower (see examples of photos taken at these aperture settings at the bottom of this post).

I use a Canon EF 50mm 1:1.8 which costs $103 on BHphotovideo.com (a great place to buy camera equipment online… I get no commission, just sharing what I think).

 

 

We normally buy through BHphoto, but actually got this 50mm lens on Craigslist for $50.

Btw, when you drop your camera while taking pictures for a post (like I did a few minutes ago) your lens will break. :(

I’m now in the market for another 50mm lens.

(If you happen to have a company that would like a little PR, I’d love to mention you in exchange for a new 50mm lens.) :)

Ok, back to the tutorial… be careful with your camera!

Set your aperture as low as your camera will allow. For Canon users, you will set your aperture by turning the dial next to the shutter release button to the left or right. I’ve not used a Nikon before so I can’t speak to that, but it’s probably similar.

You will find a number on your display screen (on the back of your camera or on the top of your camera) with an “F” by it. That’s your aperture (also called f-stop). In the following photo mine is set to F1.8 (the lowest my lens will go).

 

 

In order to get a good picture you will need to set your ISO to the appropriate level. Here are some basic guidelines/places to start.

100 in bright light outside

400 in the shade

1600 inside in low light

6400 in a dimly lit room

You will know your ISO is set correctly by looking at your shutter speed (see the number in the photo just above that reads 1/20).

Opinions vary, but I like to keep my bottom shutter speed number above 80 (1/80) to avoid camera shake/blur on the subject of my photo (much different than background blur). If my subjects are moving I like to have my bottom number above 125 (1/125) to keep from having motion blur on my subjects.

If your shutter speed is consistently below 80 (or 125 for motion) increase your ISO.

Btw, your shutter speed is shown in your view finder (the little hole you look through) with every half-press of the shutter release button (the picture taking button).

 

 

In the above picture, the number on the left is the bottom number of your shutter speed (in this case 1/40), the second number is your aperture (1.8), the third number is your ISO (100), and I have absolutely no idea what the last number (9).

Keep  your eye on the far left number (your shutter speed), if you see it consistently drop below 80 increase your ISO. If you see it consistently go above 200 (unless you’re shooting action) decrease your ISO (move it in the direction of 100).

…………

Now, you’re set!

Here are some examples and what my camera was set on (all photos were taken on AV mode):

ISO 1600 f/1.8 shutter speed 1/60 (a little lower than I normally like it)

ISO 100 f/2.8 shutter speed 1000 (it's high, but my ISO couldn't go lower)

ISO 100 f/2.8 shutter speed 1/500

ISO 100 f/4.0 shutter speed 1/60 (again lower than I'd normally like, but most photos were shooting above 80)

 

Btw, you may wonder why you’d want to blur the background. Let me give you a few reasons why…

It makes nearly anything look cool!

ISO 100 f/2.8 shutter speed 1/1600

 

It makes the subject stand out.

ISO 100 f/2.8 shutters speed 1/1250

 

And it detracts from a less than appealing background (photo taken by my littlest one while I took an instagram picture of him)

ISO 100 f/4.0 shutter speed 1/200

 

Btw, I’m curious… do you prefer written tutorials or video tutorials? I’d love to hear from YOU as I plan future photography posts. Thanks! ♥

 

 

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{ 27 comments }

Danielle

Thank you for posting this blog. I have a nikon camera but just purchased a canon. I can’t wait to try out all these ideas!

Rafael

helo ver y good tutorial I prefer write tutorial and a cheat sheet of the tutorial
Thanks

Jennifer

How come my Canon won’t let me set the f-stop lower than 4? Is there a fix for that? Thanks for the tips.

: )

SomeGirl

It’s all based upon which lens you use. I recommend getting a 50mm fixed lense which will let you go down to at least 2.8 :)

Eirwen

Thanks, this is a great help. Very concise about a puzzling subject for beginners re f stop, shutter speed and ISO.
Now all I need is to master that pesky EV.
Eirwen

Janet

Do you offer this in a print out? I would like a cheat sheet to keep in my camera bag.
Great pictures!!

Terry Kelly

Beginner on canon 40d trying to learn blur

Avadh

This one was really nice and easy to understand. I prefer written tutorials and the one posted by you is perfect.

Thanks

Enrique Rosales

If the manuals I have were as simple as your explanation , photography will be a piece of cake and not the pain it has been!!!

Francisco Rios

Thank you for the written tutorial! Gotta go shoot some pictures now. Thanks!

chandi

This was helpful. You spelled things out clearly. I am not able to see any of the comments….? I am wondering what to do if I want the background extra blurry.

Ana

hi, I’m glad you are opened to post things like this for us first timers. I’ve paid for classes before and didn’t get this good of info step by step. I’d like more info if you can help and possibly videos.
Thanks so much!

Jen

Brilliant tutorial. I prefer written if I have a small knowledge base of the subject or video if I’m sailing totally blind and have no clue what I’m doing. XX

Karan Sharma

thank u this works a bit

Jackie Burton

THANKS for this quick lesson! I am very new to photography and currently taking a series of 3 classes at the community college

Vivian

Enjoyed your tuition and explanation. Better reading and doing at the same time than watching a video and stopping etc. The green dot and number on the far right: Shows you how many shots you have left (max burst) before the buffer is full. (PS I read it in a book)

Humbeerto Morales

excellent information I’m new on photography so I’m learning little by little but I do prefer video tutorials if you don’t mind.
Thanks

Marlene Padigso

I’d love to have both written and video…. thanks for the tutorial.

PURVI

Great help this article was! I return I would share.. Written articles according to me are better as one can view it at their own speed and convenience.

Lisa Therrien

Thank you so much for the tips! I prefer both written and videos! Hope to hear from you! :)

Kristin

Thank you for this post! I am taking newborn pics of my friends baby today and this will be so helpful for me :)

Jennifer

I thought this was perfectly written! I have read a lot of them and this is by far the best.
Thank you

Erin Williams

Hi there! Thank you for posting this! I just got a Sony DSLR camera a-330 and i feel so overwhelmed with all there is to learn!! I prefer a video tutorial as I learn better being shown than reading directions but I think your directions were really really east to follow! Also, so sad to read that you broke a lense!!! :( Thanks again!!

Carrie Green

Thank you, I appreciate a tutorial that simplifies things enough for me to understand!

Gregory Smith

Great tutorial. Thank you. I definitely prefer written tutorials. The photos were a great help. Its easier to reference a writing tutorial. When you need a quick reminder while out shooting.

Lisa

Ok, so I just got this camera. I can get to the AV mode on my Canon, but how do I change the number?!?! It doesn’t change when I hit the circle on the back…I need using your camera for dummies, haha! Just trying to figure out how to blur the background

Jane

Very helpful!!

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