Smart and Simple Tips on Taking Photos With a Blurred Background

Tips to take pics with a blurred background
So you got your camera and you're out taking pictures. You roam around, taking pictures of things and people that you see. You see a cute girl, and in an attempt to impress her, you take a really awesome snap of her, only to have a muscle jock in the background. How can you get rid of that pesky distraction? Welcome to the world of blurred backgrounds.
Yeah I blurred the jock into oblivion with my camera when I took the photo, so she won't go, "Wow! Look at him!" I didn't want that. I will now teach you the same secrets that I know to help make the front 'pop out'.
First up, the need for blurring backgrounds. You need a blurred background,
  • If you need to get rid of something unsightly that might reduce the photo value.
  • If you need the foreground really stark in comparison.
  • If you're taking a macro (close up) of an object.
  • If you are into Bokeh.
This may also happen often that you take a picture, only to later realize there's a disturbance in the background, or the center object could have been sharper. To prevent this from happening, you will first develop the sense to use the camera according to the picture you want to take. If you're a novice, the one thing I can tell you to do is to experiment. The mind-bender in my case was, I always got a blur when I wanted a still and a still when I really needed a blur. Yeah, that can happen. Play with your camera until you figure out all that it can do. Maybe you'll even come up with some new, cool way to take a picture! For now, we'll concentrate on how to get a blurred background, the right way.
Blurred Backgrounds and How to Get Them
There are essentially two ways to do this; using the camera lens and Photoshop. If you're using Photoshop, all you need to do is get the background in one layer and the object in another, and add the blur filter or the 'Smart Blur' to the background. If you want to accept the challenge to get the perfect blur, however, you need to use your camera right.
Choosing Your Center of Focus
Dog and Traffic
Backgrounds blur according to how the center object holds itself according to the background and how you hold the camera to the object. You're basically giving the object more attention than the rest of the things. It's a good practice to focus on the eyes when you take a portrait. That way whenever someone sees the photo, they see the eyes first. In the dog's picture, the focus on the eyes blurs out even his nose a little bit.

Another way to focus on the object is to pan with the object as it moves, like a runner or a car. This is a tough method and takes a little practice, but you end up getting a dynamic picture with a blurred background, accentuating the object's movement. The other way is to keep the subject still while the background moves, like the New York traffic cop and the taxi. You can also get a better blur if you fill more of the frame with the object than the background.
The Right Camera
Colorful Leaf and Gamble
Smaller digital cameras can get you a blurred background, but it won't be as good as you might expect. The reason? The lens won't be wide enough or fast enough, and the imaging plate won't be large enough. Simply put, what you'd be doing is throwing the background out of focus. You just need to reduce the area of focus of the lens, so that anything outside it gets blurred. There are a number of things that come into effect to create the right kind of blur.

An easy way to get a simple blur would be to get a camera that has the Portrait Mode (colorful leaf on a branch), a special mode that automatically prompts the camera to give more focus on the subject. It won't be as good as a blur on macro mode (like the dice on the right), but get your distances right and the background will go into a partial blur. Other things you'll need are a manual flash selection and a good optical zoom rather than a bad digital zoom. If you own a simple digital camera or are trying to get a blurred background on a cell phone camera, the Macro Mode would be the best option for you.

A wider aperture gives a smaller depth of field and a smaller aperture gives a wider depth of field, the depth of field being your area of focus. So, to get a blurred background, you need a lens that can give you a greater or wider aperture. Get a camera with a maximum aperture of something around F/1.8 or more. This is where your experimentation really matters. Switch to the A Mode on your camera and try getting the same image with various aperture settings. Another thing to remember is if you change the lens aperture settings, you also change the shutter speed. Most cameras today do this automatically. If you want to, you can play with this too. Just be careful to not get too much exposure with a slow shutter speed.

The other thing you need your lens to have is a long enough focal length. You can get a better blur in the background if you zoom in on the center object, and the more you zoom in, the more the background gets blurred. For a good zoom in, you'll need a lens with a high natural focal length, say around 50 mm.
Distances
Girl and Green Apple
Distances are one of the important things to consider when you're trying to get a blur. The two distances that you need to take care of are; the distance of the center object from the background and the distance of the camera from the center object.

If the background is further from the object, a narrow focus from the camera lens will disregard anything that's too far out in the back, giving you an almost complete, incoherent blur. Take a closer look at the left hand of the girl. It's a little blurred too because of the narrow focus.

If the camera is closer to the object, the multiple objects in the background tend to cluster together and eventually blur. This may also give the center object a blurred outline. The background can also turn out smoother as the colors tend to spread and mix up together. This is more prominent if the background is in shades of the same color, just like the apple on the right.

Another thing to be kept in mind is the background lighting and it's distance to the subject. For example, the sunlight bouncing off the girl's hair adds to the entire blurred background, while creating a bit of a contrast effect, with the sunlight to her left and the greenery to her right.
Naturally Blurred Backgrounds
Rainy Traffic and Blurred Window
They are nothing but light dispersion created using fog or glass. The most common way to get this is the clear glass in a house or on a car. The child (right) looks on into what's not necessarily a blur to him, but the mist settling on the glass blurs the trees outside for us.

Rain falling on the windows of a car (left) gives a paintbrush type of background, each stroke distorting the light that enters the glass. Again, it's great to experiment when you're learning something, try to get a shot in macro with the subject in front of a naturally blurred background. It will add to the blurred effect.
Bokeh
Champagner With Bokeh Background
'Bokeh' means 'blur' in Japanese. If you're not Japanese, Bokeh means 'artistic blurs'. It's basically the art of creating a blur. You can get a pattern in the blur, you can superimpose the blur to the foreground. The main thing about Bokeh is the fading of the main object into the background. The other main thing is the lighting in the background.

More often than not, you'll have shapes of smaller individual lights in the backgrounds. These shapes can also be manipulated according to your wish, you can use crosses, hearts, polygons or plain circles. To get them, you'll have to get lens kits like the Lensbaby aperture kit. Another trick while trying Bokeh is keeping your camera as close to the subject as possible and 'drops' of blurred light in the background. The light needs to fall on the subject's outline, adding to the blur.
Whatever your style, I hope you now have a good idea of how to get the right kind of blur that you want in your background. In the end, the camera can be only as good as the photographer. And if all else fails, do what I do; stand still, aim your camera, hope for a still and get a blur!
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