Quick Guide to Blurry Backgrounds

Everybody loves photos with a clear subject and a blurry background – that look is what elevates a photo from mundane to dynamic, as it draws the viewer’s eye to our subject and is really just quite pretty and professional looking.  To achieve this look, we need to shoot at a shallow depth of field, which is an excellent way to reduce the visual clutter an in an image.

This exercise will take 5 minutes, so grab your camera and get started!

4 Steps to a Blurry Background

Step 1:  Put your DSLR or Mirrorless camera into A/Av (Aperture Priority) Mode and set your ISO to 800 if you’re inside and 400 if you’re outside.

Step 2:  Use the main dial to set your aperture to the smallest number possible.   You’ll see this number changing inside your viewfinder.  This number is your f/stop and the range is determined by the lens you have on your camera.   (Don’t worry – your camera will choose the rest of the settings.) If you have a 50mm lens, set your f/stop to 1.8.   If you’re using your kit lens (the one that came with your camera), you’ll only be able to get down to 5.6 if you’re zoomed in or 3.5/4.0 if you’re zoomed out.  I recommend staying zoomed out and physically moving closer to your subject.

Step 3: Position your subject as far from the background as possible but within a few feet of you and your camera.  If your subject is prone to running away (hello, toddlers), give them something to keep them occupied for a few minutes (lollipops work well).    If you’re indoors, make sure your subject is facing a window or open door so that there’s plenty of light to shoot without the flash.

Step 4:  Make sure your camera is set to single-point focus, which will allow you to set the focus point instead of letting the camera do it for you.  Once it’s set, align the chosen focus point with the subject’s eye and take your photo.

There you go!  Your subject should be sharp and clear and everything in front of and behind your subject will be nice and blurry.  The smaller your f/stop number, the blurrier the background will be.  You can think of this way:  the smaller the number, the smaller the slice of focus, as illustrated here:

depth of field illustration

Here are some examples:

example of blurry background in a photo

Because I had two subjects in this photo, I didn’t want my slice of focus to be too small, or I’d risk one of them being slightly out of focus. Shooting at f/3.5 solved for this while still offering the desired effect.


example of blurry foreground in a photo

Here’s an example of the shallow depth of field providing a blurry foreground, which is a fun and interesting look!


example of artistic and blurry background in a photo

I love combination of dramatic window light and the shallow depth of field. Such a sweet and non-traditional way to photograph a mom and her baby.

Questions?  Head to Facebook and ask away!

If you want to dive deeper into Aperture Priority Mode as well as the other creative modes on your DSLR or Mirrorless camera, then download my FREE Guide to your Camera’s Creative Modes!

free dlsr camera guide