Settings for blurred backgrounds

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 May 2015
    Not sure just whose post is being referred to above.

    If you want a blurred background, you must have aperture at widest (smallest number), distance to subject not too great, and focal length as long as you can get away with.

    If you're using something like the 18-55mm kit lens, then at most settings you simply cannot do it very well. The aperture is too small for the available focal length. Instead of artistic and appealing blur, you may end up just with the appearance of bad focus. Not all portraits should use background blur, and for some situations you should, instead, find backgrounds that make visual sense when they're in focus.

    The further apart your subject and background are, the easier it is. If your background is a wall a couple of feet behind the subject, it will be in focus. If your background is a waterfall fifty feet behind the subject, it will be out of focus.

    The closer your subject is, the blurrier. Macro always has a shallow depth of field. This shot was taken with a typesetting macro lens of very short focal length. If it had been focused at a normal distance everything would be sharp, but as you can see, at a few inches from the camera, even parts of the subject are soft:
  • I am new to this photography adventure and am struggling to obtain a blurred background with the settings and process you have suggested. I am using am the standard 18-55mm lens. Is it me or is this just sometimes unachievable with this lens. Any help would be greatly appreciated
  • edited June 2017
    With the slow aperture of the kit lens, a blurred background will always be a challenge. The best you can do is to put the zoom at 55 millimeters, the aperture wide open (which at 55 is only 5.6), place your subject as close as reasonably possible, and try to maintain the greatest possible distance between your subject and the background. That relative distance is crucial. Your issue is depth of field, and the background has to be far enough from the subject not to be within that depth of field.

    Even then, the effect will be limited, and even when you can, you will get a blurred background but not a completely abstracted one. For that reason, try if you can to find a background that does not make a lot of sense visually. A brick wall will look like blurry bricks until it's quite far away, but a concrete wall with graffiti might become "less concrete" when it blurs, if you can't quite tell what it was. The less recognizable the background, the more the subject will stand out against it.

    Sometimes you can get a better effect (and a little different viewpoint) by getting low, and shooting upward at your subject. Background objects will tend to be further away then. You can shoot downward too, but you run the risk of belittling your subject. Good for kids, perhaps, but less for adults.

    On a previous page above, panning was recommended, and if you have an animated subject, you can try this even with a person. It does not take a lot of movement to get the background fuzzy. Panning will give you a different kind of background blur - streaked more than blobby - but can work well.

    Finally, don't forget that although a blurred background which isolates your subject can be very effective, it is not the only way to capture a subject, and though often good, it can be a tempting cliche. I have in the past mentioned some of the most famous "environmental" portrait photographers, who took the opposite approach, shooting for sharpness all the way back, but making their background compliment the subject. Arnold Newman is famous for some of these portraits, in which the work of artists and others is made a part of what they are. The background objects are often compositionally sort of abstract, but sharp and recognizable. Google for Newman's famous portrait of Stravinsky at the piano. Check out Annie Liebovitz's portrait of Queen Elizabeth, too, for a more recent example. It's unconventional, but the Queen is sitting in a room, with the door open, and the yard clearly visible outside. She is the Queen of all you see. It's a different sort of challenge to make a portrait in which everything has meaning, but it can work.

    PS. I see that Annie L. has done many portraits of the queen, but this is the one I was thinking of:
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