Settings for blurred backgrounds

edited February 2012 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
I've been using Nikon D3100 for 3 months now. I love taking pictures where you can actually blur the background and focus on a specific subject. What's the best way to blur backgrounds and put more focus on a specific subject, apart from configuring the setting under GUIDE and soften backgrounds. Thank you for your time and your helpful tips! :)


  • edited March 2013
    @leslieaubrey - In order to capture a shallow depth of field (small area in focus), it's best to use a lens that can obtain an aperture between f/1.4 to f/2.8. Lower aperture f-numbers allow you to isolate subjects against buttery smooth backgrounds.

    Without knowing which lenses you own, I'm assuming you have the 18-55mm kit lens. This lens can only go down to f/3.5 when shooting towards the wide-end of the lens (18mm) and only f/5.6 when shooting towards the long-end (55mm).

    Since you can't get down to an optimal aperture f-number, you're going to have a tough time getting the blurred background effect that you're after. One way you can do this with your kit lens is to zoom to 55mm and create some space between you, your subject and the background. Shoot in Aperture priority (A on the mode dial) and select the lowest available f-number, which would be f/5.6 when shooting at 55mm.

    This "trick" isn't always possible, especially when shooting in tight spaces when there isn't enough room. My advice is to start saving up for a 35mm f/1.8G or a 50mm f/1.8G lens. These lenses will allow you to capture sharp subjects against silky smooth backgrounds in a variety of shooting situations (daylight and low-light).

    As for settings, you would shoot in Aperture priority and select the lowest available f-number...which in this case would be f/1.8. Hope that helps and happy shooting! :)
  • edited March 2012
    If you're shooting pictures of action sports like snowboarding, you can achieve a cool panning effect (capturing background movement while keeping the subject in focus) by selecting a higher aperture f-number (which should be easy with your 18-55mm) and then set the shutter a little longer. This will allow you to pan or to track the subject across the scene.
  • edited October 2012
    Would the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX lens work? There are so many options, it can be overwhelming to know which lenses are worth it to snap those cool effects in photos without spending $800.
  • edited October 2012
    The 35mm or the 50mm would be fine; it depends how you feel about shooting distance. If you're shooting portraits then either will produce fine images.
  • edited November 2012
    Hey guys, Dan here. I'm just wondering what lens to get; the 35mm or the 50mm? I know the 35mm acts like a 50mm so I'm leaning towards that. If I bought the 50mm what would it be good for and bad for?
    I like to shoot urban/street photography, landscape, and buildings (the only thing I'm not to keen to shoot is portrait). Any tips or info is appreciated! Thanks!
  • edited March 2013
    @moose - Just joined your forum and it has been so helpful! Thank you so much! Bought the Nikon D3100 and just ordered the 50mm f/1.8 lens, since I am looking for blurred backgrounds for fashion blog pictures. Hope it makes a big difference in my pictures.
  • Howdy @FashionL - Thanks for the kind words and welcome to the forum! :)
  • edited March 2013
    @DanTheMan I would recommend the 35mm before the 50mm simply because one can get closer more often than back up. It will serve you well in close quarters, and if you need to zoom in with it take a couple steps forward.

    One way to tell which field of view you would like better would be to set your kit lens to 35mm for a while then to 50mm for a while if you have a lens that covers those ranges.

    Who knows, you may end up with both someday. But it really is preference in the end.
  • edited March 2013
    @Moose - So I got my 50mm lens, but I am so new with this type of camera (which I am absolutely loving).

    I did some practice shots indoors of my dog and I definitely could see the difference, but the purpose of me getting this lens is for outdoors.

    I may also do indoor fashion blog shots, so my question is what settings do I need to set the camera on?

    Usually fashion blog shots are full body, but close enough to focus on the subject and blur the background.

    I see the lens has a distance scale. Is this for me to set the distance my pictures will be taken on?

    Please help. I'm just trying to get it set to right settings. Thank you so much for your help in advance!
  • edited August 2013
    Howdy @FashionL - Don't worry about the distance scale (the clear window on your lens with various numbers). I would start with the following...

    1. Enable Aperture priority (A on the mode dial)
    2. Set the Aperture f-number to f/1.8
    3. Set the ISO to 100 if shooting outdoors and Auto ISO if indoors/low-light
    4. Adjust the focus mode to Single-servo (AF-S) and your focus point to Single
    5. Pre-focus on the eyes by half pressing the shutter and then re-frame for a better composition (continuing the half-press)
    6. Then fully press the shutter

    If you notice the eyes are out of focus when you re-frame your shot, then you'll need to first frame your shot and then choose a focus point near the eyes without moving your camera.

    The tiny area of focus at an aperture of f/1.8 can change dramatically even with small movements (either the subject or you).

    I also recommend reading my guide on taking portraits with your D5100. It's got more tips and tricks for you to experiment with.

    If you're really into fashion photography, the next step would be to edit your images using Lightroom and utilizing presets/plugins to get the "look" that you're after.

    All the best and happy shooting! :)
  • edited March 2013
    Thank you so much, your tips are so helpful! I am so stalking your forum from now on! The guide is extremely helpful! That is a beautiful baby by the way on the guide for D5100; great portrait. I'll be back I'm sure.
  • edited April 2013
    I'm new to this form and photography, and I just purchased the Nikon D3100. After reading these posts, I am leaning towards purchasing the 35mm f/1.8g lens because I am looking for blurred background pictures while focusing on my 4 year old son. He doesn't always sit still during pictures, so if anyone can suggest what setting to set my camera to in order to capture the best picture please let me know. Also I just have the stock flash. What is a good flash I can purchase? Thank you and please help me! :)
  • edited April 2013
    @ljmancini - For portraits of small kids that move unpredictably, I would start with the following...

    1. Enable Aperture priority (A on the mode dial)
    2. Set the Aperture f-number to f/2.8
    3. Set the ISO to Auto
    4. Adjust the focus mode to AF-C and your focus point to AF Area
    5. Set your release mode to Continuous
    5. Half-press the shutter to continuously focus on your son
    6. When ready, fully press the shutter and hold it down to rattle of a burst of images

    The "burst" will improve your odds of capturing a keeper.

    As for flash, I'd start with the SB-400. It will give you the ability to bounce light off a ceiling which then spreads the light evenly throughout the room giving you much more natural looking light and better looking shots of your son and family.

    Hope that all makes sense and happy shooting.
  • @Moose thank you so much for your help. I plan on purchasing the new lens and flash this weekend so I will let you know when I get it and how the pictures turn out. :)
  • edited April 2013
    I'm also new to DSLR; made the jump to a D3100 from a point and shoot. I'm still learning this awesome camera and the 18-55mm kit lens that it came with. After reading the good reviews on the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX lens, I went out and bought it. I have to say that the 35mm took my pictures to another level. I highly recommend it. Thank you for all the great tips.
  • What is the best setting to capture sunset or sunrise so it doesn't look like a big light blob?
  • edited June 2014
    I'm a bit late to answer, but trying to take a photo of sunset is like taking photos in bright sunshine. Meter from a bright spot in the sky (not directly from the sun) and use exposure lock or write down the settings your camera gives you. Use ISO 100! Land will be dark but you can catch the sky smoothly!

    To make pretty landscapes where land exposure is correct and the sky is correct, you will need a tripod. Take two photos; one of land with long exposure time to get all the details (sky will be completely blown) and one of the sky with low ISO (land will be dark). Mix these shots in photoeditor.
  • edited April 2015
    I'm using a 105mm lens and I want to know if it maintains the standards of blurred backgrounds when you shoot fashion on location. Please help to clarify that for me.
  • edited April 2015
    The longer the focal length, the shallower the depth of field. You'll end up with plenty of blur, and depending on how far away from your subject you are, you may well have to stop it down a little to get all of a head in focus. Although it's a bit long for DX format, a 105mm has always been one of the choicest lengths for portraits in FX format.

    Adding a bit to the above question of sunsets, the contrast is usually too great to get good exposure of both the sky and the land. If you're not able to blend two exposures, you'll probably have to compromise and end up with relatively dark land. One thing that can help a lot is a graduated neutral density filter. Made for just this kind of purpose, it is darker on top and lighter on the bottom. It won't work seamlessly if you have a complicated horizon but helps a lot. If you're using one of the AF lenses whose front element rotates, you'll have to set the shot up, lock the focus, then rotate the filter since it will rotate when AF operates.
  • edited May 2015
    I couldn't take a picture with a blurred background using the way you described. Please help me dear.
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