One of the questions I’m most often asked about photography is how I get that “blurry background” in pictures. And the answer is simple – it has to do with the aperture.
Chances are you’ve heard of apertures. And if you’re anything like me when I first got my camera, you have no clue what that means or how it’s related to your photography. In fact, I can remember totally giving up on trying to learn about apertures one day because I couldn’t keep my terms straight and it all didn’t make sense. But let me encourage you, this stuff all seems so simple and basic to me now, just a short matter of months after I began learning. And it can for you, TOO!
In photography, aperture refers to the amount of light the lens lets in. A wider aperture lets in a lot of light, while a smaller aperture lets in less light. Wide apertures are low numbers, and vice verse. For instance, an aperture of f/1.4 is a very wide aperture while f/22 is a very small aperture. Let me show you a diagram, which can be found at this site.
Now, the smaller the aperture, say f/22, the greater the depth of field will be. That means that more things are going to be in focus. You’d use these kind of apertures for landscapes. If you have a very wide aperture, say f/1.4, only the focal point will be in focus. The rest will appear blurry, as a lot of you have commented that you like. You’d use these kind of apertures for portraits to help the subject stand out.
To demonstrate what I mean, I took a series of pictures of the same flower but with different apertures. Take a look. It starts with the widest aperture and works its way down.
Can you see the different in blurriness of the background?
Another thing I should point out is that when you use a small aperture (remember, small aperture means high number), less light is getting in and the shutter needs to stay open longer for a good exposure, so you have susceptibility of camera shake leaving a blurry picture. Blurry in a bad way. So when you get to smaller apertures, you may have to increase the ISO. In this series, once I got to f/15, I had to increase from ISO 100 to 200 and then to 400 for f/20. More on that to come next time.
Now it’s your turn. If you have an SLR camera, you can control the aperture. Most point and shoots have the ability to manipulate this as well. In fact, my cousin Aprille has a point and shoot camera, but has amazing photography skills and really pushes herself to get the most out of her camera.She’s still able to obtain the blurry background with her point and shoot. So just because you don’t have an SLR doesn’t mean you can’t take amazing pictures!
But since I have a Canon DSLR, I’ll show you how to change the aperture on that. Get your camera out and turn the knob on the top to Av, as circled below. (You can also adjust apertures in the fully manual mode.)
Now that you’re in the mode to control the aperture, you can turn the dial (as circled) to your desired aperture. It will appear on the screen in the top center as f__(insert aperture). You don’t need to worry about shutter speed because when you’re in Av mode, the shutter speed is automatically done for you when you choose the aperture. I should also mention that your aperture is limited by the camera and the lens. I used a 50 mm f/1.4 lens for the photos above, so I could go anywhere between f/1.4 and f/22. Kit lenses are usually more limited with apertures. (More on lenses to come.)
So now the only thing left to do is experiment! It’s one thing to read, but when you do it and see the results for yourself, it will stick. And what better to experiment on than faces for I Heart Faces!
Again, don’t be discouraged if it seems difficult. Once you begin manipulating apertures it’ll become second nature.
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Rachel is a self-taught blogger-turned-photographer and mother of two. Once the “bad picture taker” of the family, she opened up her own photography business within a year of buying her first DSLR. She is located in Eastern North Carolina and can be found at Savor Photography and her blog, The Adventures of an American Mum.