How to Get a Blurred Background in Your Photos, Without Shooting Wide Open!

We chatted recently about how to master shooting wide open, and I wanted to follow up that post with more discussion on achieving a nice blurred background, or bokeh, in your photos. Who doesn’t love it? It’s that creamy background that really separates your subject and helps them jump off an image to catch your eye. Especially if you’re new to photography, you may be wondering how to get a blurred background in your photos. Most of the conversation around good background blur in an image revolves around shooting at a wide aperture, but there are times when shooting wide open just isn’t practical. Did you know that you do NOT have to shoot wide open to get amazing bokeh?!? Even a kit lens can blur the background if you know how to use it well! Here are three tricks that you can implement into your photography today to get a blurred background in your photos, without having to shoot wide open!

Use a Longer Lens

The focal length of a lens plays a large role in the amount of background blur your image will have. Longer lenses, or telephoto lenses, are excellent for producing a very shallow depth of field and creating a lot of compression in the background. Here is an example of two images, one taken using a Sigma Art 50mm lens, and one taken with a Canon 135L. Both were taken at f/3.5. Notice the increased quality of the bokeh in the image taken at a longer focal length.

how to get a blurred background in your photos

Distance From the Background

Pulling your subject away from the background will create more blur and bokeh in your image. The further your subject is from that background, the smoother the bokeh will be. In the example below, you can see how close the subject is to the background shrubs and trees in the first image. The greenery shows quite a bit of detail, and less blur.  When the subject was pulled away from the background an additional 15-20 feet, you can see the background beginning to smooth out, and the light on the foliage becomes gorgeous bokeh that adds some great dimension to the photo.

Bokeh 2

Close to the Subject

How close you are to your subject also plays a role in the quality of bokeh you can achieve in your images. While you want to be far from your background, being close to your subject also amplifies the blur in your images. The three images below show a comparison of how distance from your subject influences your background blur. All three were shot at 135mm at f/3.5. You can see that the closer I moved to my subject, the more blurred the background became. Can you see what a difference this makes in the quality of the bokeh? When you move in closer to your subject, you can really compress that background and achieve great blur!

Bokeh 3

This is another comparison showing how distance from your subject can impact your background blur and compression. These images were taken with a Canon 85mm 1.8 lens.

Bokeh 3b

All three of these tips are excellent ways to really increase the quality of bokeh in your images, but the very best results will come when you combine all of these methods!  In the image below, I combined all of the above tips for maximum effect, and the background is like pure silk!

how to get a blurred background in your photos

Achieving the coveted background blur in your images is more than just shooting wide open. I hope these tips help you to add gorgeous bokeh to your images, even when it’s not practical to shoot wide open! Go give these tips a try and let us know your results! And if you’re wanting to learn more about depth of field in your images, you can read more here!