Hi there! I got a very positive response from my last photography tips post, so here we go again!
If you are like me, one of the very first things I wanted to learn how to do with my fancy shmancy camera was to achieve those nice blurry backgrounds so my subject would be the focus (and IN focus)! I found out that there are 3 main ways that you can get that effect IN camera (with no photoshop help). We’ll talk about them here.
1. Aperture. What is aperture? The aperture is a little “hole” inside the lens. It has a series of overlapping blades that open or shut depending on the dials you turn on your camera. It’s kind of like shutters on a window. The more you open the shutters, the more light gets in. It looks something like this:
You’ll notice a bunch of numbers around the top of the diagram with an F before them. These are called “F-stops”. Basically, a lower “f-stop” or “f-number” (for example, f3) means the aperture is wider open (I know, kind of counter-intuitive, right?). When you select a higher “f-stop” (for example, f16) the lens opening is smaller, letting in less light. We could talk about why you would want to use different f-stops in different lighting conditions, but today we want to focus on something called the “depth of field” or the area of sharpness (from near to far) within a photograph.
Some photographs are sharp from the foreground to forever(like many landscape photos). Those photographs were shot using a higher f-number, like f22. Some photographs have only a small part of the photograph in focus, while the rest is blurred. Those photographs were probably shot with a lower f-number like f2 or f3.5. Basically, the lower the f-stop, the less will be in focus in your photograph. Got it?
Check your camera. If you have a point and shoot camera, try seeing if you have an ‘M’ mode you can shoot in. Usually, you can change your f-stop in that mode (but check your manual on how to do this – look up aperture, or f-stop). If you have an SLR camera, set your camera to ‘A’ mode (for aperture) or ‘AV’ mode on some models. While shooting in this mode, you will be able to select your f number (or aperture) while the camera figures out the rest. Try shooting using different f numbers and see how it affects your depth of field.
If you have a point and shoot and can not change your F-stop, try using the portrait setting (it’s the setting on your dial that looks like a person’s head). What you are doing when you choose this setting is making your camera use it’s lowest f number. Another great setting to use to achieve this effect is to use your macro setting, which looks like a tulip or another flower. This will also give you the blurriest background your camera can muster! Give it a try!
Keep in mind that the lower the f-number, the wider the lens is open so more light will be let in. Your camera will use faster and faster shutter speeds the lower your F number is in order to balance out how much light is being let in.
So, the first thing that can affect the Depth of Field is your aperture. It’s probably the thing that affects it the most.
2. Focal length – Essentially, this is how much you are zooming in on your subject. You’ll find that you get a blurrier background the MORE you zoom in on your subject. So, try zooming in from a bit of a distance, and you’ll notice your background will be blurrier.
3. Focal Distance – this means how close YOU are to your subject. The idea here is that the closer you are to your subject, the blurrier the background will be.
SO, using these three things together, the best way to get the blurriest background would be to 1. use a low f-number
2. zoom in on your subject
3. get physically closer to your subject.
If you try doing these things, you’ll get a great blurry background!
Conversely, if you are finding that your group shots are out of focus around the edges, you might try 1. using a higher f-number (like f11 or up), 2. backing up from your group and 3. zooming out more. You’ll get more of the shot in focus then!