Creating a softer background in your photographs

September 30, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

How to create a softer background

A question I get asked quite often, is how to create a blurry/soft background that isolates the subject, and generally looks nice! A soft background can be achieved in a few different ways. One way is to use a larger lens aperture. The larger the aperture in a lens, the shallower the area of focus, or what photographers call depth of field (DOF). This means you can get your subject in focus with a lovely dreamy background, however this can sometimes become an issue when photographing dogs for instance, as you may get their eyes in focus and not their nose, and vice versa! This sometimes can make a striking shot, and it's great if that was what you were trying to achieve, but sometimes means a photo can be spoiled because you haven't focused on the right part.

Unfortunately this method isn't available to everyone, most mobile phones and some compact cameras do not allow you to change the aperture of your lens. The next option is to take a few steps back and zoom in. The action of the glass in the lens when you zoom in, causes perspective to flatten, and seems to bring the background closer to the subject and make it larger, and often causes a nice softening effect, and can get rid of some distractions. I've added some pictures at the end of this post to show you the difference this makes.

 

 Another way is to physically increase the distance between the subject and the background. This moves the background out of the depth of field of the camera, and softens it. Here are a few examples, the first two are taken on my mobile phone. It's much more difficult to illustrate with a phone, as it automatically changes the aperture to try and get as much in focus as possible, also it's always at wide angle, so includes lots of other things as you move back, but it will give you a general idea if you just have a phone camera. (Please excuse my very untidy garden, and my rather small horse!) 

Close to the nettles

 

Moving the subject about 8 feet away, look how soft the nettles look now.

 

Some slightly better examples from my camera now, I fixed the aperture at f4 for these pictures, and the zoom at 18mm (wide angle) and just moved the subject away.

Close to the background:

About 4 feet away:

About 8 feet away:

The next two pictures are taken when the horse was close to the background, but I moved back and zoomed in, 45mm and 70mm. As you can see this gets the best isolating effect.

 

So as you can see there are a few tricks to get the look you are after! There are more complicated and technical ways to improve this, but I wanted to keep this simple for those with less camera experience. Hope you have found this helpful, I'd like to thank my very well behaved horse for posing for me ;)

 


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