So you got a nice camera...Now what?

Five long years ago I bought my first DSLR camera- a Nikon D5100 with a kit lens, the 18-55mm 3.5-5.6f, and I have learned a lot since then. The good news is, I want to share all my knowledge with anyone who is interested, so if I don't cover a topic or a detail that you want to know, leave me a comment at the end of this post, or send me a message and I will get back to you. Also, I plan to cover just one topic per blog post, and hopefully cover it pretty thoroughly, so if this is not what you need help with, just keep watching for future posts that will cover other topics. Now- let's just dive right on in, shall we?

Q: How do I get a really pretty, blurry background?

A: First of all, that blurry background is what's known in the photography world as "bokeh", and there are several factors that must be considered when trying to master this look.

  1. What is your len's maximum aperture? (When the maximum aperture is referenced, I'm actually talking about the lowest number. That can be confusing but maximum aperture=lowest 'f' number. <--write that down.) Not sure what an aperture is? It's usually labeled on your lens and often times its a number with a decimal. (ex: 1.4, 1.8, 2.8, 3.5, get the picture (ha)) This number also may be referred to as the "f stop" and may have an "f" located directly after it. ANYWAY- The LOWER this number is, the creamier/blurrier the background. 
  2. Distance between you (the photographer) and your subject. The closer you are to your subject, generally produces a greater depth of field in a photo, also. 
  3. The focal length of your lens can also play a major role in the amount of bokeh in a given photo as well. The focal length of the lens is the "mm" information that is printed on it. The smaller this number is, the wider- or more horizon there will be in any given photo. For instance, if you photograph your sweet little baby with a 50mm 1.8f lens at the closest distance your lens will allow, your background will have a substantial amount of bokeh. If you photograph your sweet little baby with a 70-200mm 2.8f lens and you zoom in all the way to 200 and snap a photo, your background will be as smooth as buttah....which is kind of like butter except even creamier. 

Here are some examples of photos I took of the same subject over and over again, but with different focal lengths, apertures, and at different amounts of space between the subject and myself. For demonstration purposes, I never once moved the subject. 

For the set of pictures above, the subject (Mickey) never moved, the focal length(85mm) never changed, and the distance between the camera and the subject never changed. The only thing that changed throughout this set of photos was the f stop, aka aperture. 

Same thing here as the first set of photos.

For these photos, the aperture did not change (1.8 in both), the distance between the camera and the subject did not change, but the focal length did. The first photo was taken with a 50mm lens and you can see that it is wider, meaning there is more horizon in that photo than there is in the 85mm photo. That is a result of the longer focal length, and as you can see, even though the f stop is the same, the focal length being longer does have a pretty major impact on the depth of field, aka its "blurrier", aka it has better/more bokeh.

This set of photos is another demonstration of the previous set. Same distance between subject and camera, same f stop, different focal length.

With this set of photos I kept the setting the exact same as the previous set. The only thing that changed from this set from the last was that I moved my camera MUCH closer to the subject. Notice the difference between the 35mm f2 where the camera is backed far away from the subject as compared to when the camera is moved much closer to the subject. The distance between the camera and the subject can make a major impact, even if no other changes are made.

And this is basically the same thing as the very first example again. Same distance between camera and subject. Same focal length. Different aperture. Dramatic difference in depth of field. 

So there you have it! To sort of summarize everything in this post I'll recap by saying that in order to get the blurriest background/the most bokeh/the greatest depth of field, you need to set your f stop to the lowest number possible, move as close to your subject that your camera will allow you to obtain focus, and use the longest possible focal length. If you follow those three 'rules' you will be taking the dreamiest and creamiest photos in no time flat!

If you have any questions, leave your comments below!