DSLR Tips Workshop: How to take portraits with blurred backgrounds
Professional portraits often have a blurred background which really makes the subject stand out. It’s actually an easy effect to achieve with any DSLR and in this workshop I’ll show you how.
In the portrait below left, I’ve used the camera’s automatic settings and both the person and the background are in sharp focus. In the photo below right though, I’ve adjusted the camera’s ‘aperture’ setting which has ensured only the person in the foreground is sharp, while the background is blurred. In my video tutorial below, I’ll explain how to achieve this effect, and at the bottom of the page you’ll find a reminder of the steps you’ll need to take.
Checklist: How to take portraits with blurred backgrounds
1: Switch your camera to Aperture Priority mode by turning the mode dial to ‘A’ or on Canon models, ‘Av’.
2: Stand back a little and zoom-in your lens – this will accentuate the effect.
3: Choose the smallest f-number that’s available. If you’re using a kit lens and you’re zoomed-in, this will normally be around f5.6.
4: To further accentuate the effect, increase the distance between the subject and the background. So keep the person relatively close to you for a head and shoulders shot, and position them against distant background.
5: After taking your photo, remember to set the mode dial back to Auto or Program mode.
If you really like the blurred background effect you should consider buying a lens which has a bigger aperture, and therefore a smaller f-number. These can give a much greater blurring effect than a kit lens.
Lenses with smaller f-numbers can be expensive, but there’s one popular exception which is also perfect for portraits. Look out for a standard 50mm lens with an aperture of around f1.8 or even smaller. Affordable 50mm lenses are available for every DSLR and can give a far greater blurred background effect than a typical kit lens. They may not zoom, but 50mm is an ideal length for portraits and will deliver better quality than most zooms. Note Nikkor’s 50mm f1.8 lens is not an AF-S model, so it won’t autofocus on the D40 or D40x models.
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