Understand Shallow Depth Of Field (& How to Blur Your Background)

Shallow Depth Of Field: How to Get a Blurry Background

Have you been wanting to learn how to create beautiful images with blurred backgrounds that bring attention to your subject?

Understanding Shallow Depth of Field is the key to make that possible!

What is Depth of Field?

A basic definition of depth of field is the area within your photo that is in focus.

Some images that have very small zones of focus.  This is called shallow depth of field.  Having a shallow depth of field is great for portrait photography as it helps force your viewer to focus on what is in focus and ignore what isn’t.

Others iamges may have a very large zone of focus.  This is called deep depth of field.  Landscape photos often use deep depth of field in order to get as much of the scene in focus as possible.

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So, how can you utilize your camera, lens and subject positioning to achieve the best shallow depth of field?

Shallow depth of field is maximized when you combine these 3 components when shooting:

  1. Aperture
  2. Distance Between the Background and the Subject
  3. Focal Length

Now let me show you how these components work to help you achieve a shallow depth of field:

Photo Using Depth of Field

1. Aperture Settings

To achieve a shallow depth of field, you will want to shoot with the widest aperture possible.  Wide apertures are lower f/stop numbers such as f/1.8, f/2.2, f/2.8, etc.  If you aren’t familiar with ISO, shutter speed, and aperture and how they work together, I suggest you do some research on the exposure triangle first.

Aperture not only affects your depth of field, but it also greatly affects your exposure as well.  So you need to have an understanding of the exposure triangle to make sure you can keep your exposure correct when working with a wide aperture.

Aperture settings are measured in f/stops.  They can range anywhere from f/1.8 to f/22.  The tricky part is, 1.8 would be considered a large or wide aperture, whereas 22 would be considered a small aperture.  When you see or hear the term wide aperture, think small numbers.

To get a very blurred background, start with adjusting your aperture.  And don't forget, the smaller the number, the shallower your depth of field will be and the less of your image will be in focus.

Shallow Depth of Field Portrait Photo

2. Distance Between Subject And Background

Another key to getting that blurred out background with a shallow depth of field is by increasing the distance between your subject and background.

If your subject is standing against a wall, it doesn’t matter how wide your aperture is, the wall will not be blurred out.  The more you pull your subject away from the wall while shooting with a wide aperture, the better blur and out of focus background you are going to get.

And, of course, wherever you have your focal point set to will be the sharpest part of your image.

How to Use Depth of Field in Photography

3. Focal Length

Longer focal lengths allow less depth of field, compress the background, and allow you to keep some distance between you and the subject.  Distance between you and your subjects is important when you are working with busy toddlers, as you can remain stationary and shoot from a distance while they run and play about.  But it can also can create gorgeous images when you are looking to have parts of both the foreground AND background blurred.

Maybe you are in a field of flowers and want your subject sharp, but all of the flowers surrounding your subject blurred out?  A long focal length will help blur the background and foreground.  This is one of the reasons I love my 200mm lens.

Shooting With Shallow Depth of Field

Combining Aperture, Distance and Focal Length

Combining the three factors we've talked about in this tutorial will greatly improve your chances of achieving a wonderful blurred background in your images.

Play around with your camera settings and practice using subjects/objects in different locations with different backgrounds.  Adjust your aperture, focal length, and distance from subject to background and you will see first hand how they work together.

The best way to master anything with your camera is to shoot anything and everything as often as you can, familiarizing yourself with all the camera buttons and options.  Learning these things does not happen over night.  Learn from your mistakes, take notes, do your research, and just keep shooting!

For beginners, these may take a little practice.  But with a little patience, knowledge, and hands on learning, you will be getting great results in no time!

Do you have any questions or comments about Shallow Depth of Field & How to Get a Blurry Background?  Leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

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