Blurred Background

Posted in: For Photographers

Blurred Background – Megan Noll Photography

Dear Megan,

I got a camera for Christmas and I love it!, but don’t know exactly how to use it. I mainly want to take pictures of my daughter and family, without just using auto! I love the blurred background look and candids, but want it to look more “professional” if you will. I would love some resources and advice on how to get started and learn how to use my camera!


Baby Steps


Baby Steps,

First of all, welcome to the club! Getting a camera is so exciting, and don’t worry, you are not alone! Your question is probably the one I get asked most!

Honestly, I have been avoiding this question, because as simple as it may seem, there is A LOT to unpack here! But if you are up for the challenge, so am I! So let’s dive into the basics!

Bokeh is the official name for the “blurred background” that most people desire in their pictures. This blur is a result of shooting at a lower aperture or f-stop, so that the depth of field is more shallow. (Beginners note: Aperture and f-stop are the same thing)

When you set your f-stop, you are telling your camera two things. The first is how much light you want let in, and the second is how deep you want your depth of field to be. The more shallow your depth of field, the more of a blurred background you will get.

The lower the f-stop the more shallow your depth of field, and more light will be let in. The higher the f-stop, the more deep your depth of field will be, and less light will be let in.

Real life example: When I am shooting large family pictures, I have to raise my f-stop to make sure that each person is in focus, but that also means my image will be darker.

Blurred Background, Bokeh, How to get blurred background, Family pictures need higher f-stop
This picture was shot at an f-stop of 4.0. My ISO was at 500 and my shutter was at 1/60. I did use flash with it as well!

Real life example: When I am inside, I lower my f-stop because it is darker and I need more light to work with. When your f-stop is wide open (or as low as your lens will allow), it might mean that you may not be able to shoot more than two people without some of them being out of focus.

You with me still?

So for you to get a blurred background in your images, generally, you are going to want to purchase a lens that has the capabilities to go to a low aperture. Most kit lenses (lenses that come on your camera) will go only as low as 3.5 – 5.6 with their f-stop. To give you an idea, I shoot most of my images at an f-stop of 1.8.

For beginners, I recommend the 50mm 1.8. It’ll set you back about $125, but it is a good introduction to prime lenses (prime means that they don’t zoom). If they don’t zoom, they are able to get a much lower f-stop. The 50mm is closest to what your eye see’s naturally, so it is a perfect starter lens.

I hope this sets you in the right direction! If you ever would like to do a mentoring session, sometimes this stuff is much easier to explain with someone walking you through it, so let me know!

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on the blog? Email [email protected]

Here are a few more examples!

This picture was shot at an f-stop of 1.4 because I really wanted the focus to be on the bride and groom as opposed to the bridal party.
Blurred Background, Bokeh, How to get blurred background, bridal party pictures with low f-stop
The rest of my settings were as follows: ISO 400 | Shutter 1/640

And like I said earlier, I have found that 1.8 is my sweet spot many times!

ISO 250 | f-stop 1.8 | Shutter 1/1600

Blurred Background, Bokeh, How to get blurred background, bridal party pictures with low f-stop

  1. Robin

    March 14th, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    I love that you are doing a series on this. Looking forward to the rest!

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