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How To Blur The Background To Compliment The Subject

Presence or absence of a background has a huge impact on your composition. A cluttered background draws the eye away from the subject. A complimenting background aids the eye to focus on the point of interest in the photograph. When taking a photograph, at times you may want to place your subject  in the context of the surroundings, at other times you may want to compliment your subject with a beautiful background. However the last thing you need is a cluttered, distracting background. Previously we shared some tips on how to make effective use of backgrounds. Let’s explore some ways to eliminate background distractions. One solution to this is to effectively “blur the background”. Here are some easy ways through which you can eliminate the clutter of a distracting background:

  1. Aperture Settings: The ultimate credit of the blurred background goes to the DOF (depth-of-field) effect by controlling the aperture. When you decide to eliminate the background or complement your subject with the background hue, all you need to do is to tweak your camera to two simple settings:
    1. Set the camera mode to “Aperture Priority”: This is (A) in Nikon’s camera and (Av) if you’re using a Canon. Check your camera’s manual for details.
    2. Adjust the aperture: Set a wide (large aperture or low f-number) to obtain a narrow depth of field. This ensures focus on a very narrow plane in the entire depth of the scene there by taking the focus off the background.

    This works best for stationary or immovable objects.

  2. Medium shutter speed: For moving subjects use the panning technique to eliminate the background clutter and yet achieve a complementing background perspective to portray motion.
  3. Lens’ Focal Length: Given that all other settings remain constant, a higher focal length achieves shallower DOF. Thus at times varying the focal length alone can assist you in obtaining the blurred effect.
  4. Subject’s Distance: A subjects distance from the camera also affects DOF. The closer the subject, the shallower the DOF and the blurrier the background. Additionally, since the subject is closer, it fills more of the photograph frame there by reducing the coverage of background altogether.
  5. Use Zoom: Zooming in through a lens is also a way to increase the subject size and have more of the subject fill the frame thereby reducing the area covered by the background.
  6. Off Camera (Post-Processing): Backgrounds can be selectively blurred using photo editors like Photoshop etc. The basic step is to select the background and apply the blur effect. When doing this through a photo-editor take care to ensure that the photo doesn’t feel over-touched or pimped up.

While you are blurring the backgrounds, remember that backgrounds make interest subjects too, especially abstract ones. And creatively employing the backgrounds in the context adds a perspective… a narrative to the picture.

1 comment… add one
  • Fotor January 24, 2011, 6:02 am

    Well I’ve been using a camera for as long as I can remember and more often than not bring one with me. It won’t be true to claim I’ve got the hang of all the less important things that make a great image. Nevertheless I am pretty confindent I can handle almost most things, even a flying saucer.

    It’s the after effects that is bugging me. I just can’t understand the software thing. The result always seems unnatural to me. Friends always tell me it turns out great but I can’t be really sure whether it’s true or a compliment. The people I work with are always happy with my creations btw but that’s normal. Deciding on the right gadgets is simply theoretical knowledge described in technical books. Sometimes although I am careful I somehow manage to achieve kind of smeared exposure, unadjusted brightness or contrast. I confuse the levels combining the colors sometimes. It can be actually very frustrating but rant stops here.

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