One of the most commonly asked questions on my garden photography workshops is “how do I get that blurry background effect in my flower photographs?”.
Although there are several contributing factors, a soft, blurry background in your photographs is primarily the result of reducing ‘depth of field’ – the commonly used term describing the amount of acceptably sharp focus in front of, and behind, your subject. It’s fairly easy to achieve if you follow these three simple steps :
#1. Shoot telephoto.
A telephoto lens (or the telephoto setting of a zoom lens) has a reduced depth of field compared to standard or wide-angle lenses.
#2. Use a wide aperture setting.
Wide lens apertures such as f2.8, f4 or f5.6 also reduce the depth of field compared to smaller lens apertures such as f11 or f16. The higher the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture – this number can be f22, f32 or even higher on some lenses.
Assuming you’ve focused correctly on your flower, using a telephoto lens combined with a wide aperture will reduce the depth of field sufficiently to leave your flower nicely sharp whilst blurring the background.
One further thing you can do is…
#3. Ensure the background isn’t too close behind your subject.
Once you’ve achieved a shallow depth of field through your choice of camera settings, it’s worth considering the positioning of your subject in relation to the background. It follows logically that a distant background will be more out of range, and therefore less in focus, than a background in the same plane of focus as your subject.
You’ll find this easier to achieve if you can isolate a single flower against a background that is at least a metre further away, rather than try to photograph a flower that’s surrounded tightly by other blooms. That said, there are some creative effects that can be achieved by shooting through a mass of out of focus flowers, so it’s worth experimenting once you’ve mastered the technique.
Follow these three basic steps and you should achieve a blurry background to your flower portraits every time. Why not try photographing a single flower using lenses (or different focal lengths on your zoom lens) and at different lens apertures to see the effects for yourself? It’s the best way to learn…