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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{ 64 comments }

Eryn {mamahall}

awesome tutorial, lady! thank you for teaching us what you know. i like both written and video, actually i prefer written WITH video :)

SomeGirl

Thanks, Eryn! Ok, I’ll do a written with video for you in the future. :)

Michelle@Special Mom Space

Great tutorial. I wonder. do you have a tutorial for how people create videos with an older video playing on the side (now sound) and then the current video as the main video playing on the same screen? Hope that makes sense.

SomeGirl

Sorry it took me so long to reply. I don’t have a tutorial for that. When I embed a video I use youtube or vimeo and they have videos on the side, I think. Wish I could help more with that.

Michelle @Special Mom Space

No worries. Guess what? I figured it out! Well actually, it took a little time. I posted a question in the YouTube groups and someone said that you do it in your video editor. So I went to YouTube and searched for how to do it. It’s called Picture in Picture. I have a Mac and did it there. It’s really easy too :-)

Jacque @ Mercy Found Me

Thank you, thank you for this! You are such a blessing to me and I’m learning so much from you. Thank you for taking the time to write such informative AND visually beautiful posts. I love the post just as you have done it…all laid out as a resource I can continually refer to, complete with pictures to SHOW me what to do! I’m SO thankful to have had the privilege to meet you at relevant, blessings to you my friend!!

SomeGirl

You are SO SWEET, Jacque! Thank you! xoxo

SomeGirl

(Hit send before I was done replying…)

I, likewise, am so thankful to have met you, sweet sister!

Richard Hall

So the secret’s out – I’ve always wondered how to do this and been overawed by professional photographers achieving this effect (but assumed it was reserved for $1k + cameras). Thanks – I plan to use your tips!

SomeGirl

You’re welcome. :) Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Heather (@hmacmomma)

yea!! Now I can read these posts and actually try them out! just took some cute ones of my 6 yr old with the tree in the background then a pic of his newborn Christmas ornament on the tree. love it! Now I think I need to ask for a better lens that can zoom more and have a lower F stop. The lowest I could get mine was 3.8. When I had the ISO at 6400 it wouldn’t go lower than 5.8. Can’t wait for the next Mamas Write Conference when you do your photography session. wink wink. =)

SomeGirl

lol – wink, wink*

When your lens is zoomed your fstop won’t go as low as when your lens is in normal position (don’t know any better way to describe that).

The 50mm lens is the best $100 you can spend on your camera equipment (in my opinion). It won’t zoom, so you’ll have to use your feet to get close up shots, but you’ll LOVE the f/1.8 function!!

Glad to hear your getting good shots with these tips!!

Lindsey

Thanks so much! I just got a Canon and have a lot to learn!!!!
I have always had a simple point and shoot camera but LOVE photography. My hubby surprised me with the Canon Rebel t3i. I can’t wait to learn more.
Thanks to Pinterest, I found your site. I will be looking frequently now :)
I love (simple)written tutorials since I some of the computers I use have trouble loading videos.
Thanks again!!

SomeGirl

What a sweet husband and great surprise!

I’m glad you came by through pinterest (an awesome place to find photography tutorials). I’m just learning myself, but have fun sharing what I’m learning every Wednesday.

I look forward to getting to know you, Lindsey!

♥ Michelle

Anna

This comment could be late-but I prefer the written ones, only because I can read it as slow or fast as I want. That being said, lots of photos help.

I have a Nikon, by the way.

SomeGirl

Thanks for your input, Anna! I wish I knew more about Nikon’s, but I think they’re pretty similar. I’ll keep you in mind in future tutorials. :)

Ashley

I think my brain is on photography over-load! I don’t have a camera in hand (yet!), so I don’t have anything to practice with. I have been trying to take in as much info as possible before I get my new camera, which may be a bad idea. I’m having a hard time understanding ISO and shudder speed! I really appreciate all the information you give along with photo examples! I will be visiting more often when I get my shiny new camera =)

SomeGirl

Fun! Are you getting it this Christmas? Do you know what kind you’re going to get yet?

Everything will make much more sense when you have your camera to play around with!

Michelle Light

I got a Canon T2i last Christmas, and have been enjoying it. I watched your video on M mode, and did the trick (as best I could) to capture the glow of the tree. (It is on my blog.)
Anyhow, the lens I have is the 18-55mm and won’t go that low on fstop. What can I increase to get the ornaments to be in focus more on the tree? The lights glow but the ornaments seem so out of focus.

Also in the pics above, did you use the 50MM lens outdoors too? I thought is was for low light?
Thanks much I am enjoying learning more from you.
Michelle

SomeGirl

Sorry it took so long to reply… Looks like you figured things out with the photo of your children at the tree. There are two things you could try for the other photo, that you may have learned already… use the remote timer so you don’t press on the camera shutter release causing some camera shake blur. And use manual focus instead of auto focus – your camera may have a hard time focusing on the ornaments in the low light.

The 50mm is typically called a low light lens because the low aperture allows more light to come in. In bright light settings the low aperture created a wonderful blurred background. So, it’s not really just for low light, it’s just called that since it does the job so well. Hope that makes sense. :)

♥ Michelle

Michelle

Found your tutorial on Pinterest.

Couple questions for you.

1. I want to turn the quality down so that I can quickly upload to the internet AND still be able to print quality photos when wanted. How low is too low?

2. You mentioned turning the aperture down as low as it will go to get the blurred background. Mine only goes to 5.6. So unless I get a different lense, I wont be able to get big blur?

3. How do I know when to use M and when to use AV?

I’m sure these questions are answered somewhere…but I JUST got my camera. Still learning and playing and don’t really have anyone around here that can answer my questions for me.

SomeGirl

Hi Michelle!

I have the quality set to large jpeg in camera (RAW if I want to do shoot stock photography). I then change the size on the computer for the internet… I use Lightroom and Photoshop, but picnik has an easy resizer. However, if you really want to change the size in your camera, you could go down to 5megapixels (according to my sweet husband). :)

Nope, with 5.6 you won’t be able to get a big blur, but you can still get some. If you’re able to change lenses, the 50mm is a WONDERFUL lens for just $100. :)

I’ll write a post about when to change from M to AV and back soon!

Hope you’re having a great time learning! Feel free to ask questions here anytime. It just might take me a bit to reply. Sorry about that! ♥ Michelle

gina plumlee

thank you, you have been a big help to some one that is trying to learn but a little on the slow side thank you

Miriam Wickett

Thanks, lovely and simple with a dash of humour!

Cara

Thanks so much for your tutorials! I like the written tutorials myself. Very informative!

mike

super nice web site and you have good attitude and friendly.

both is good, the written info , and the videos… a you tube site is an easy way to get the videos available, and this site is great for the text with pics.
thank you
very nice site
michael

Ana

Thank you so much for the tutorial! I’ve searched everywhere for something like this. Everything you wrote, the reference pictures…I can follow these and learn!
On my way to Bodie CA this weekend and will definitely put to use what I’ve learned from you today.

Jill

Hi Thank you for posting this. I have a quick question though. If I am shooting races and want to blur the background, what should i set my shutter speed and f stop and iso at? I have tried so many different things and I cant get the background to blur. Please email me.
Thanks

ChamberlainOfPh

Hi! I am trying to take photo using GE X500 camera and I am trying to take a photo with blurring effect especially with this link photo in this blog (http://somegirlswebsite.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/IMG_45101.jpg) and I just want to clear it out since I am not that good with camera.

In “ISO 100 f/2.8 shutter speed 1000” as you define it.

100 is the ISO
f/2.8 is the shutter speed
1000 is for what?

Please correct me if I am wrong. Thank you.

Brad

Hi Chamberlainofph 1000 is the shutter speed and f/2.8 is the aperture.

dinah sutton

Thank you sooooo much…just started a class with my new Nikon D3100 and so needed this tutorial to clarify things for me…one fellow Christ centered girl to another…

Brad

Nice guide thanks.
I find that aperture 4 and shutter 1/60 iso 400 ish inside will give very sharp clear pictures .

I am still playing with it and love the 50 mm 1.8 canon lens.

vivek

awesome for beginners
The best tutorials i have ever been through
Thanks a ton
Written tutorial is of a great help

Nikhil

Great tutorial, good to see pics as examples and the shooting modes are very useful!! I also think a blurred background can give a mystical feel especially when the background is of a lake/sea or a monument. Do you have any other tutorials like this?

thanks

Allison

Hi, just wanted to say thanks a million for such a simple walk through. I’ve had my camera for 3 years now, but have struggled to find the time and patience to get to grips with it properly..until this morning. I have just been to the beach and got some great shots of my daughter, and only wish I’d have found your lesson earlier. Many many thanks, I’ll be referring back regularly! x

Alissa

OMG! This was so helpful. I just got a canon rebel and couldn’t figure out how to get a blurred background. Thank you! I just bookmarked you.

Mandar

HI, I have purchased Canon sx 500 camera, i want help to about how to get the blur backgound using this camera.

Chelsea

I just stumbled across your page, and I recently bought a canon rebel t3. I really enjoyed your written tutorials because I have absolutely no idea how to use my new camera. Thank you so much!

Karla

I generally prefer video tutorials, but this one was great! Thanks for the info!

Elizabeth

So in Av mode on Canon does it adjust the shutter speed for you by the ISO it’s set at?Or can you change the shutter speed AV mode I learning so anything you can tell me will help thanks…..

Elizabeth

Also when I turn it to AV mode my shutter speed box is blank until after u take picture is that how its supposed to do?

boni

you’v been my great inspiration.. thank you alot for the knowledge

Holly

Thank you so much for writing this. I have had a canon rebel for 3 years & read a lot but it never makes sense. This I understood & can’t wait to try it. Thanks !!

Nischal Hegde

Hi,
Really nice…… Thanks a lot for such a wonderful spoon feeding tutorial.

globug

Thanks!! The examples of when to change ISO is just what I needed! Took a couple of awesome shots this morning after your tutorial! Thanks for sharing the knowledge!!

MJ

This was so very helpful! Thank you! :)

marshall t

I have a canon efs 18-55mm f/3.5 is my lowest apeture. How can I acheive the blurred background with that lens. I’m shooting my friend and want thier full body in the shot and background blurred. How close should i be to the subject…and how far away should they be from the background

Dhatri

Hey!!

Love this article… It is simply and honest!! haha , love the part – blurring makes anything look cool! :D

Satish

Thank you so much for your tutorial it really helps me. I really appreciative your tips in between on how to tc of the Camera :)

Heath Hornsby

This was so helpful! Thank you so much, just got my T3i and had no idea how to blur the background! We are going to the beach next week and this will be awesome!! Blessings!

Heath Hornsby

Just wanted to update my post! Got my new lens you talked about on this post and put it to work!! WOW I can out with some outstanding pictures!! Once again you are the bomb and thank you for all your info!!

Anand Kr Maloo

Very informative and lucid post. What I had been doing till now is use the Creative Auto setting in the Canon and move the marker to extreme left to increase blur. Would try AV mode now too.

Also informative was the relationship of ISO, shutter speed, and blurring of image.

Thanks

Anand

little desert

I like the helpful information you supply on your articles.

I’ll bookmark your weblog and take a look at once more here frequently.
I am somewhat sure I’ll learn plenty of new stuff proper right here!
Good luck for the next!

jarrod

Just found your site from a pinterest post. Great tutorial I use nikon 5100 myself ans use it to take pictures of my high school run on his cross country team events any settings or tips for taking clear action pics of him running toward us would be emensily appreciated and welcomed. Or even thots on different styles of shooting the shot.

Marilyn Faughner

Hi and thanks for the tutorial. It is EXACTLY what I need.

We do Yorkie Rescue and the ONE THING that gets a dog a home is a GREAT picture. NOTHING else matters. JUST the best picture. I try to impress this on my rescue volunteers who try but the pictures they send are horrific. They scare people away, don’t show the dog well at all and make it much harder for people to envision the dog. I KNOW how important it is and I was given a grant of a wonderful Nikon camera with a big lens. I just don’t use it often enough to learn how to set it up. Thus YOU are important to me .I wanted to learn how to blur the background so that the DOG stands out. I am going home now to practice and take a bazillion pictures. I bought a very high speed memory card that can store thousands of pictures. I have thousands on my computer and all over the place. I am going to retire in a few months (17!) and I think this will be one of my favorite things to learn. I will volunteer to take pictures at shelters and for rescues. Thank you again. You accomplished something important with this post. PS Your local shelter would welcome you to help them take great pictures of the dogs waiting for homes – especially black dogs. They are the last to find homes because they don’t photograph well.

Heather Pena

Hello! I found your A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Blurred Backgrounds in Photos tutorial to be very helpful. My husband recently bought me a Canon Rebel T3i and I have dabble with it a little but not much because I’m always scared to mess something up but I have an 8 month old grandson and just had another grandbaby born this weekend and I would love to be able to take some amazing pics of them. I also have a very large family and would like to get some great family photos.

Again thanks, for your help.

Karen

THanks for this tutorial!! I love pics with step by step! I have had a larger sony cybershot camera for 5 years or so… rarely used it b/c it’s bulky. My 2nd child is turning 1 in a few months and I am planning a cake smash for him… I am trying to save $ by doing my own photos with my own props and whatnot… This tutorial on having backgrounds blurry is DEF for me!! SO easy to follow! Thanks SO much!! I can’t wait to see/read more from you :) I can safely say I now know how to change my ISO and F!

Marita

I like written!! Can’t always watch videos but can always read!!! Thanks!

Samantha

This was very helpful! Thanks!!!!

Ashton Stapler

Hi!
This was a GREAT article. I am about to purchase a Canon Rebel T3i but I currently have a Canon EOS 30d. With the T3i it says that the lens has a minimum apeture of 3.5. Will I be able to get a decently blurred background with this lens? I mostly do outdoor portraits.

Thanks!
Ashton

Torii

Actually love the written comment. Easier to go back and read over then starting and stopping videos.

Karen

This was very helpful, but I would prefer a video. :)

Stu

Nice tutorial, thanks!

Nellie

I like both video and written, and thank you.

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