Written by: Drew from The Picture Show
The other day, I got to thinking back to when I was a brand new photographer with only my Rebel, an 18-55 kit lens and the zeal to capture beautiful photos. I started noticing this really cool “effect” that professional photographers achieved…a blurry background. No matter how hard I tried, the blurry background was not happening. Sadly, I started thinking that photographers must be creating this with a Gaussian Blur in Photoshop. (You don’t even want to see those photos I edited!)
Here’s what I learned. It’s difficult to get bokeh with a kit lens but not impossible.
Let’s get started and learn how to accomplish this!
Here is what helps you determine the blurriness of the background:
1. Aperture – Make that aperture wide! (which means smaller numbers)
2. Focal length – Zoom in!
3. Distance subject is from the background – Pull the subject far away from the background.
4. Distance photographer is from the subject – Get close to the subject.
Why is it Difficult?
There are two reasons why it is difficult to capture great bokeh with a kit lens:
1. A kit lens does not have a wide aperture. Most kit lenses can only open up to 4.0 when zoomed out and 5.6 when zoomed in. When you consider that higher end lenses range in apertures from 1.2 to 2.8, it’s easy to see how an aperture of 4.0 can be limiting.
2. A kit lens does not have much zoom. Most likely, your kit lens reaches a maximum of 55mm. Photographers that have telephoto lenses that can zoom to 200, 250, 300 and so on can get a blurry background without even trying.
What can I do now?
Since we are working with our kit lens and can’t open the aperture any wider and are similarly limited on zoom, there are two options remaining from the list to work with:
1. Distance subject is from the background
2. Distance photographer is from the subject combined with focal length
Creating Bokeh Examples
Let me illustrate with my “model” (he was chosen because I knew he wouldn’t move on me!), Fetch.
In these 2 photos, Fetch is right next to the fence in my backyard.
For consistency, I stayed in AV mode with an ISO of 200 and aperture of 5.6. I no longer have my kit lens, so I used a lens with similar focal lengths (Tamron 17-50mm).
- This photo is zoomed out (17mm):
- In this one, I backed up and zoomed in to 50mm. Fetch did not move a muscle.
The background is slightly blurrier in the second photo due to zooming in, but because Fetch is so close to the fence, the difference is negligible. (A side benefit to zooming in rather than using wide angle is that Fetch’s nose doesn’t look nearly as bulbous. This applies to people too!)
In the next set of photos, I moved halfway across my (very small) yard. We are now about 25 feet away from the fence.
- Again, this one was taken at at 17mm:
Isn’t Fetch a great model? So cooperative!
- And now at 50mm:
It may look like Fetch moved, but he is in the same exact position. The background is blurrier and the fence appears closer.
Next, I moved as far away as I could from the fence (approximately 50 feet).
- Starting at 17mm again:
- And changing to 50mm:
The difference in blurriness between the two backgrounds is really starting to show!
In summary, to get a blurry background with a kit lens:
1. Get the subject as far away from the background as possible.
2. Back up, fully zoom in on the subject, and then step closer until the subject fills the frame.
Now, just for fun, check out the bokeh you can achieve when you are able to adjust the aperture and/or increase the focal length.
Opening up the Aperture
I took this photo with my 50mm prime lens at 1.4 (wide open) about 25 feet away from the fence:
Fence? What fence?
Increasing the Focal Length:
This photo was taken at 250mm with the dog about 25 feet away from the fence:
Makes it a little more clear as to why photographers have so many lenses on hand!
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Andrea Riley is a photographer and teacher from Ohio and a proud member of the I Heart Faces Creative Team. She and her sister Angie currently specialize in fusion high school senior photography with their company The Picture Show. When not in the role of photographer or teacher, Andrea enjoy spending time with her husband and three children and their dog. Follow her on her blog Happy Chaos or on Twitter at @the.picture.show.